When James Stark wakes up in the old Hollywood cemetery, still smoldering after lifting himself out of the fiery depths of hell, it feels like Sandman Slim is little more than a pulpy crime noir revenge story with one exception. Stark isn't an ordinary detective.
If fact, he is no detective at all. Stark is a natural-born magician who has just spent the last eleven years of life in hell. And naturally, he is pretty pissed off at the people who sent him there. Except, he isn't nearly as pissed off as one might think.
After enduring more than a decade split disproportionately between being tortured, fighting monsters in hell's arena, and working as Azezell's pet assassin, Stark seems more perplexed to be back among the living than angry. So much so, he stumbles along for a few pages with a mix of monologues, character development, and back story for identification.
James Stark emerges an anti-hero in the vein of Spawn meets Jack Sparrow.
The mashup isn't as fun as it could be, but fortunately it's just fun enough. It's something to keep in mind before ever opening the cover. At times, the story will move forward as a jacked-up urban fantasy thriller. And other times, it gets lost in its own rambling swagger. It is a side effect, perhaps, of undisciplined literature but sharply satirical storytelling.
If you can muscle through the opening, the plot breaks away from the singular setup of revenge as Stark is thrust into a cosmic showdown that promises to be worse than heaven and hell. There are more ancient and able-bodied enemies for mankind standing between him and his bounty.
Kadrey calls them the Kissi (pronounced kee-si), which are nonhuman, non-angelic beings loosely modeled after the Qliphoth. For those less familiar with its Hebrew origins, the Qliphoth is (roughly) the husk or shell that's left of creation (or the backside to the Tree of Life). Kadrey embraces one perspective of the Qliphoth to create anti-angels who thrive on chaos and live in nothingness.
Stark quickly finds himself out of the frying pan and into Armageddon.
The Kissi are just the sort of creatures that a young antagonist magician, Mason Faim, might be drawn to summon in order to remove someone he considers a rival from their group of six. And, they also have more sinister plans in mind too.
In fact, their plans are sinister enough that the Kissi are only a third of Stark's problems. He also has to contend with the Sub Rosa, who aren't very excited by the attention Stark brings to their seedy and unseen (but everywhere) subculture. And, there's the Golden Vigil, which consists of mostly of a somewhat deranged and righteous angel, magicians, and Homeland Security.
All of it forces Stark to navigate the treacherous waters between friends, enemies, and other non-interested parties. Except that Stark isn't used to wading around gently. He'd rather trudge forward and bang his head against the wall until it breaks.
A brief bit about Richard Kadrey.
Kadrey is a freelance journalist, photographer, and writer living in San Francisco. Until recently, he was probably best known for his cyberpunk novel Metrophage and collaborative graphic novels including Accelerate, which is set in future Los Angeles. He was also editor of print magazines Shift and Future Sex and has written extensive articles on art, culture and technology.
Sandman Slim may have changed all that when it landed as one of 13 books listed on Barnes & Noble’s “Best Paranormal Fantasy Novels of the Last Decade" list. The Dino De Laurentiis Company optioned film rights for Sandman Slim as a feature film in 2009, with Lorenzo De Maio heading production. But keep in mind, De Maio has plenty on his plate over there.
Sandman Slim By Richard Kadrey Rises To 3.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
Since the initial installment, Kadrey has written Kill the Dead: A Sandman Slim Novel and Aloha from Hell: A Sandman Slim Novel. With each new novel, Stark becomes even more vulgar, politically incorrect, and delightfully hardboiled. Kadrey has already said there will be a second trilogy (and likely many more to come).
Where the writing sometimes slips is when Stark is overshadowed by Kadrey. The character is always at his best with lighter monologues and when he is matched in a scene against the right characters. In the first book, Kasabian really isn't one of them, even if he is a mainstay as a despairing alter ego.
Sandman Slim is available at Amazon. You can also find the novel at Barnes & Noble or download it from iBooks. The audiobook is read by MacLeod Andrews, whose voice makes for a perfect monster who kills other monsters.