Many Bloody Returns, edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Keiner, is a vampire anthology with a twist. The theme that ties them all together is the idea of birthdays - birthday parties, birthday gifts, public or private ways of commemorating birthdays.
I picked this anthology up because it had a Henry Fitzroy story by Tanya Huff (Blood Wrapped, in which Henry and Tony hunt monsters and debate what to give Vicky for her 40th) and a Garnet Lacey story by Tate Halloway aka Lyda Morehouse (Fire and Ice and Linguini for Two, in which Garnet and Sebastien encounter some unnatural weather en route to Sebastien's birthday dinner). While that's enough reason for me to acquire an anthology of vampire stories, there were quite a few other tasty treats on hand, most notably stories by several other authors whose well-known vampire series I'd always meant to try but hadn't yet.
I know this may be difficult to believe of someone who really likes vampire lore, but this collection was my introduction to Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse universe, in the rather amusing Dracula Night, where the birthday in question is that of the great Vlad Tepes himself. In The First Day of the Rest of Your Life, I met Rachel Caine's Morganville vampires, and found myself in great sympathy with a young woman who chooses not to accept her family's vampire Protector on her 18th birthday. And, while I've always meant to read the Harry Dresden series - and did watch and enjoy the short-lived TV show based on the books - the Dresden tale in this anthology, It's My Birthday Too, which features Harry's vampire brother and a nasty after-hours dust-up in the local mall, was my first foray into Jim Butcher's work. Also new to me was P. N. Elrod's vampire detective Jack Fleming, who takes on a fake medium with plans for his victim's birthday in Grave-robbed. Kelley Armstrong contributed Twilight, a short story set in her Women of the Otherworld series featuring Clarissa duCharme, whose birthday into her vampiric life brings with it a requirement she is having trouble fulfilling.
Completing the anthology were various stand-alone stories, some of them by first-time vampire fiction writers.
Most of the stories in this collection fall into the category of paranormal fantasy or supernatural romance, with sex and humour filling out the spaces between blood-drinking and death - including Jeanne C. Stein's The Witch and The Wicked, Bill Crider's I Was a Teenage Vampire, and one of my favourites, Elaine Viets' Vampire Hours, a revenge fantasy about a woman who finds a unique way to get back at a cold, controlling and adulterous spouse. Several, of course, are about vampire detectives of one sort or another - though not always exactly urban fantasy, as in the case of Toni Kelner's How Stella Got Her Grave Back, in which 82-year-old Stella returns to the small town where she was born and died, only to solve the murder of the unknown woman buried in what had been her own grave.
Two of the stories - The Mournful Cry of Owls by Christopher Golden, about a young woman who discovers the truth about herself on her 16th birthday, and Carolyn Haines' The Wish, about a woman who sees Death - fall into the realm of more classic supernatural horror, and perhaps for this reason are two of the strongest entries.
All in all, it was a fun bit of reading, and if none of the stories are masterpieces of supernatural fiction, certainly all of them were entertaining.