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Bookends: Just Back from Hell and Looking to Raise Some November 8, 2011

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.

Bookends: Just Back from Hell and Looking to Raise Some

By Dan Davidson

November 2, 2011

Star, Nov. 4/11

– 765 words –

Sandman Slim

Richard Kadrey

Eos (HarperCollins)

416 pages


James Stark prefers to go by his last name, and don’t ever call him Jimmy. That makes him angry and, as another fellow once said, you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. Actually, he’s angry most of the time, and you probably wouldn’t like him any way.

In this first novel of what has become a continuing series, Stark has just escaped from Hell, having the distinction of being the only human being who has ever been banished to the nether regions without having died first.

During his early life Stark was a magician (NOT a wizard, he says. That’s Harry Potter stuff.), and he hung out with a number of others who had the talent. One of them, Mason, was jealous of Stark’s natural supremacy in the magic department and set him up for a trip to down below.

During the eleven years he was there, Stark changed. It began when it turned out that no matter how ripped up he might be in the arena he didn’t die. In fact he healed up stronger than before, and you couldn’t damage him that way again.

This odd talent turned him into a prime draw in the games, and he became the human that demons talked about to scare each other. He became an assassin (hitman or sandman) for one of Hell’s lords and eventually came into the possession of a couple of artifacts that enabled him to escape back to earth, where he had unfinished business with his old friends.

Stark is about as subtle as a kick in the teeth. He has but one objective – revenge – and nothing better get in his way while he’s after it. That said, the book moves from one set piece conflict to another with very little time for Stark to do anything else other than find fresh clothes. There are signs that, given enough time here on his home world, he may become slightly human again, but for most of this story he is a force of nature, or perhaps un-nature, to be reckoned with and feared.

Neither Heaven nor Hell had better get in his way until he takes his revenge for his own fate and the death of the woman he loved when he as just a man.

This book churns along at breakneck speed in the present tense, but manages to sketch the outlines of a very different universe than the one we live in. Devotees of the adventures of Sam and Dean Winchester (on Supernatural) might find it slightly familiar.

Demons visit the earth from time to time. Bad tempered angels have clandestine alliances with very secret branches of the American legal and intelligence community. There are monsters of various types that most people don’t know about. There’s a third order of created supernatural beings called Kissi that the Almighty created by mistake, and they’ve been trying to pay Him back for the error ever since.

As it turns out, Mason has a plot cooking which involves a lot of bad times for planet earth if he should manage to pull it off. The nasty beings with which he is allied are quite Lovecraftian in their malevolence, and it just happens that it will take someone like Stark to save the world. Not that Stark cares much about saving the world, but he doesn’t mind as long as it’s a byproduct of his own mission.

There has been a real vogue in noir fantasy over the last decade. The bookracks are full of vampire detectives and magicians in Sam Spade’s leftover trench coats. Sandman Slim is one of the darkest characters I have encountered. The tone of the books is similar to Richard Stark’s Parker novels, and I wondered if the character’s name wasn’t a homage to Donald E. Westlake’s most famous pseudonym.

Dan Simmons’s Joe Kurtz trilogy had something of that flavour too, but none of the magic.

As I mentioned, Stark is just back from Hell, still raw from his eleven-year ordeal and seething with a need for vengeance. Even so, there are a few points in the story where it seems as if he might grow back some humanity if he hangs around long enough. Apparently there are three more books out since the appearance of this one, and there’s lots of room for this fellow to develop. It might be interesting to check in later on and see what happens to him.




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