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Hell in LA
on 21 July 2012
There are hints in 'Sandman Slim' that Richard Kadrey is a fan of Werner Herzog's films. First, one of his characters, Kinski, appears to be named after the star of most of Herzog's films. Secondly, one of those films, 'Fitzcarraldo', is referenced during the novel. I mention this because Kadrey's novel seems to share Herzog's pessimistic view of humanity, although while the latter's work is melancholy, Kadrey's novel is a mix of action and gallows humour.
The title character, who is actually known as Stark for most of the book, comes across to me not so much a flawed hero as a villain with virtues. Sent to Hell while alive he escapes back to this world, seeking to destroy those who sent him there. Both he and his adversaries have magic powers and the nature of the battle is somewhat macabre. There are few characters in the story you would want to rub shoulders with; the innocent tend to be comprised of bystanders who are in the way and are therefore expendable. We are also frequently reminded that the love of Stark's life was killed before he went to Hell. This device comes across to me as an arbitrary means of persuading us to empathise with him. I think what is missing is the detail, what sort of character she was, what they shared and what he loved about her, rather than her just being dead.
For all that this is a decent novel, bolstered by the author's sense of humour. It has a cracking opening and there are several page-turning scenes. There are, however, several scenes which for me lack momentum. I usually read a book of this length in three days during a working week. This one took me twice as long. Though there was never any chance I wouldn't finish it, I put it down frequently when I didn't have to.
The book's premise seems original enough. It is also an example of why genre labels are so troublesome. Described as a 'supernatural fantasy' on the cover, it is a lot stronger than so-called 'dark fantasy' and has none of the romantic elements usually found in that genre.
The book also contains the first hundred pages of Kadrey's follow-up which I avoided. I think if you're going to read that much you're going to have to buy the book anyway. 'Sandman Slim', though a fair read, doesn't make me want to read more by the same author.