By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
Sandman Slim, otherwise known as James Stark, thinks of himself as a monster. But for fans of Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim supernatural revenge series, Stark is a beloved monster — half angel, half human, and avenger through and through. And fans will be thrilled with the release this week of the fourth novel in the series, “Devil Said Bang.”
“Devil Said Bang” picks up where “Aloha from Hell” left off: Stark has been schnookered into replacing Lucifer as the CEO of Hell. But Stark is less inclined to study financials and redevelopment plans than he is to rip the guts out of the competition. Of course, gut ripping — and an imagination-defying array of body-obliterating tools and techniques — are half the fun(!) of Kadrey’s novels.
A U.S. Marine general once said of his enemies, “It’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot ’em,” and that seems to be Stark’s battle cry. Painfully aware of his own questionable character, Stark nonetheless takes great satisfaction in killing his enemies, who are always at least a notch or two more deserving than he of Hell’s perpetual torments.
The other half of the fun of a Sandman Slim novel is well represented by “Devil Said Bang,” in which Stark makes his way out of Hell yet again, only to be confronted in Los Angeles by a serial murderer in the form of a little girl with pigtails. Clearly, Kadrey’s writerly gifts are in full force for this one: a deliciously evil sense of humor, some wonderfully snarky pop culture references cum commentary, complexly plotted action, and a cast of characters that requires a Rolodex close at hand for reference.
This poses one of a couple challenges within “Devil Said Bang”: The recap of previous Sandman Slim novels meanders through the first 30 or so pages and pops up sporadically through the rest of the book. This potentially leaves a reader new to the series stumbling a bit over repeat characters they’ve not met before. Also, the lack of proofing evident in previous Sandman Slim books is more pronounced in this one, with props such as a duffle bag appearing in two places at once, sans benefit of magic.
However, the writing remains powerful, entertaining and exotically profane — a perfect basis for Stark’s perpetually bleak attitude and compulsion to punish the bad guys, if for no other reason that to stay alive. Whether in Hell or back in a battered Los Angeles, with few demarcations between good and evil, Kadrey is caught in a vicious cycle of ending and initiating feuds between entities vying for control of the world, or at least a piece of it.
Think of it as a brutally, vengeful supernatural feud between succeeding generations of Hatfields and McCoys, ever more inbred and grotesque. It’s unlike anything many folks have ever read. For that alone, the Sandman Slim series is worth exploring. But start with the first book, “Sandman Slim,” and work your way deeper into the Hell that is James Stark’s existence. If you start now, you’ll be geared up for the release of the fifth book in the series, due out in late summer of 2013.
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Price: $24.99, ebook prices vary
Author website: richardkadrey.com
Kit-Bacon Gressitt is a writer and host of Fallbrook’s monthly Writers Read open mic. She blogs at www.excusemeimwriting.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.