Since I don’t write book or audiobook reviews at anything close to a regular rate, I thought to get one out before 2016 was more than half way finished. Probably helped that author Richard Kadrey care of his Kill City Blues novel gave me a reason to do such a thing in prep of Spring, or Daylight Savings Time, crashing down upon us. All of it dating back to May of 2014 — the day I started my first ‘Sandman Slim‘ novel on a whim, thank you very much.
Hold that thought…
Still trying to figure out why a series like this registers with me. My grandmother, who along with my mother provided most of my parental guidance and moral upbringing, raised me to be a good church-going mijito, would surely be aghast. Wonder if the duo are arguing in the great beyond over who screwed that one up. Maybe I’ll find out soon enough. No matter, history has a stake in this, that’s for sure.
It’s the stuff of family lore that my Mexican abuela converted from Catholicism to Bible-thumping Baptist after migrating to Tejas. Converted the whole clan right along with her, too. Husband (her second) and all of their children. That is, save for one…my mother.
Mom would remain Catholic her entire life, till her premature passing in ’78. Though baptized at birth in her (and once grandma’s) faith, I was regularly hauled off by her mother to the more boisterous Protestant church1 each and every Sunday for most of my childhood. As a teen, though, I naturally rebelled. Started attending Mass at nearby St. Matthias Roman Catholic church to witness firsthand and learn why mom always kept her rosary close.
Had she lived long enough, would have been happy I’d married my wife, 27 years today, in the Catholic church right down the street, St. Bernadette, from where we live now (though I’m the least religious between the two of us, easily).
Perhaps experiencing the similarities and incongruities between these sects early in my development kept them at a distance. Subverting them somehow, for all one knows. Either that, or reading Stephen King horror and Michael Crichton science-fiction did it. To say nothing of the movies I watched — at the very least Friedkin’s treatment of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist2. My grandmother performed the sign-of-the-cross upon any mention of it…
No wonder Kadrey’s noirish, violent, and humorously supernatural tales of L.A. anti-hero James Stark met a threshold a childhood like mine gravitated toward. Also known as Sandman Slim, these darkly bon mot ‘Hell’s Hitman’ books worked abundantly well for that. No doubt, due to their unexpected mixture of horror tropes that upend church tenets and delve into a celestial bureaucracy ripe with corruption. I tell you, how could any fan of film noir not be drawn to it3.
Synopsis: “Another day, another apocalypse…
James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, has managed to get out of Hell, renounce his title as the new Lucifer, and settle back into life in L.A. But he also lost the Qomrama Om Ya, an all-powerful weapon from the banished older gods. Older gods who are returning and searching for their lost power.
The hunt leads Stark to an abandoned shopping mall—a global shopping paradise infested with Lurkers and wretched bottom-feeding Sub Rosa families, squatters who have formed tight tribes to guard their tiny patches of retail wasteland. Somewhere in this kill zone is a dead man with the answers Stark needs. All Stark has to do is find the dead man, recover the artifact, and outwit and outrun the angry old gods—and natural-born killers—on his tail.
But not even Sandman Slim is infallible, and any mistakes will cost him dearly.” ~ Richard Kadrey
This the fifth book in the series highlights all of this4, and in spades. Even has the best character recap and catch-up for new followers, at that. Let alone be another showcase of Kadrey’s encyclopedic movie knowledge he consistently sprinkles on readers throughout his line of novels. Right along with those spot-on observations of his, we who live in SoCal will readily concede.
Case in point, this sample from Kill City Blues that showcases the caliber of his writing, and keeps me coming back for more:
“Back when I was still Lord of the Flies, I’d walk through the Chateau Marmont lobby like Errol Flynn back in the day. Now that I’m not, I creep through with my head down like a flea-bitten hillbilly trying to sneak out on a bar tab. Sooner or later word is going to get out up here. The local Satanists might be nouveau riche headbangers and trust-fund creeps with a grudge against the world, but they have some good psychics on their payroll. One of them is going to pick up Mr. Muninn’s vibes and start wondering how Lucifer is doing paperwork in his palace in Hell and ordering kung pao shrimp in his Chateau penthouse at the same time.”
Oh, I’m going to get a wifely eye-roll for nostalgically touching upon my pre-marriage days in the People’s Republic of Santa Monica, but I still love her.
Naturally, some books are better than others, but as a whole, if you’re not too much thrown by pious fervor or indignation…or the sex and violence, they really are head-and-shoulders above most that get lobbed into the “urban fantasy” genre these days. Kill City Blues even moseyed over to my old beachside community stomping grounds, kept a consistent smile on my face, even an intermittent snicker or occasional grimace or two, during my sessions with it.
The author’s sly wit and a wicked sense of humor made the novel the most-liked of my current crop of books (did I mention my love of reading came from good ol’ mom?).
Hollywood, if it had any sense or originality left, would snatch up a series like this for adaptation. It’s a natural progression from Harry Potter, certainly post-Deadpool. If fans are lucky, cable or Netflix will realize this scandulously dark bit of occult material is just waiting to send Goth kid hearts aflutter, upset the Religious right, and shoot ratings skyward. I say this with all sincerity and appreciation for the work of someone from, of all places, the Bay area5…
…but no one writes Chandleresque fantastical tales like Richard Kadrey.
When it comes to listening to a book, primarily one that exhibits all sorts of distinct and somewhat peculiar characters, having a gifted narrator perform the material is what audiobook listeners live for. Certainly, Harper Audio could not have picked a more talented reader than MacLeod Andrews for this otherworldly cast in a universe of the bizarre. First introduced to me by way of his stellar work in Steve Hamilton’s The Lock Artist a few years ago, MacLeod skillfully shepherds the series.
No kidding, this is yeoman duty, to say the least. From the gravelly throated Sandman Slim to the silky smooth intonations of the former archangel Lucifer (Samael having given the job to Stark for a short bit before he tricked it on to Mr. Munnin) to the sirens keeping the lead character on his toes (the “Jade” Candy to the Czech ex-porn star Zombie Killer, Brigitte), and everything else in-between Heaven and Hell, takes something special. None inflected as easily as this narrator makes it look, without question.
Little wonder I was glad to hear him narrate the Robert Crais’ Suspect audiobook a short while back, or tag team with another favorite, Luke Daniel, with the recent The Promise. Any way you cut, shoot, or disembowel it, Mr. Andrews brought life to them, even the undead ones. Let’s leave it to the audio clip below, staged in the well-known confectionary of Stark’s world that may well be my favorite intro of the entire series, to encapsulate what makes Kadrey’s phantasmagorical prose putty in MacLeod’s hands…voice…oh, you know what I’m mean.
- Even my father-in-law, who sang in the Catholic choir, admitted the Baptists had better music and singing during their Sunday liturgies. ↩
- Repeatedly warned I was to not attend a screening. ↩
- The recent Constantine (2007) film mined similar ground in its storyline a few years back. ↩
- From God, the Devil, angels and demons, to zombies, vampires, ghosts, even H.P. Lovecraft’s old gods, this series has it all…and then some. ↩
- Capturing what it’s like to live here in La La Land in anything approaching a fair or warm sense is rare for those from our rivalrous northern regions of Cali, some shall remain…cough…nameless. ↩