A couple of days ago, I finished reading Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey. It is one of those books that you will either love or hate, depending on your fondness for supernatural urban fantasy. This book packs a punch – it is not the usual kick-ass strong woman protagonist (which I love…) – this time it is a kind of cynical Philip Marlowe crossed with Keith Richards or Johnny Rotten as the protagonist. This is a dark, twisted edge of the seat knuckle-ride through heaven, hell and earth in the midst of it all. James Stark ends up back on earth after escaping from Hell after being there for eleven years as a hitman. It is essentially a revenge spree against the magic wielding creeps who put him there. On the way, he gets landed in the middle of war between heaven and hell, and meets some intriguing people on the way.
Sandman Slim is one of those books I both enjoyed, but feel a little like I needed to scrape my head out a little afterwards. Mostly because the characters within the pages are not pleasant, least of all the cynical and angry Stark. I think of him more as a kind of hero in the making, more of an antihero. The dark elements of the book appealed to me since I’ve always enjoyed reading supernatural fiction. What bothered me was that there was a lot of reference to porn; granted, the themes were gritty and dirty, not at all fluffy or a cute sort of twilight-esque tale at all. Perhaps the mention of it was in context considering he holes up in a seedy second rate video store, and the proprietor seems to have a penchant for the stuff. It definitely added a kind of seediness to the book, another side of LA, in stark relief to the veneer of Hollywood glamour.
What made this book gripping was that you do care for the character and his plight. Stark is a tough hitman with a heart – he is taking vengeance on the people who murdered his girlfriend and sent him down to hell (to face unimaginable torments…). I also liked that Kadrey puts a new spin on the whole thing, that it isn’t just another kind of Vampire/Werewolf book. Don’t get me wrong, there are some brilliant Urban Fantasy series out there, but sometimes you either want something new or something maybe a little bit offbeat. It may just be as simple as making the vampire into an ordinary, not exceptionally attractive person, or avoiding some of the clichés that seem to crop up all the time. Kadrey has created something different and compelling – something horrible and scary, but definitely something you want to know more about. I found his book a new way to think about urban fantasy, breaking the mould and creating something more unique.
I’m not in a hurry to read the next book, but I will get round to it, mostly because I want to know what happens next. If you like gritty, fast paced and dark reads, this book is for you.
If I learned anything Downtown, it’s this: the only real difference between an enemy and a friend is the day of the week. – Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey.