The author of 'Dirty Streets', Tad Williams is an established old hand who's been down this road more than twice, so he's well versed in the art of writing fantasy sci-fi. It shows, too; this is a far more polished novel than most para-preter-supernatural stories of angels moving among us everyday 21st century folk.
The core of the story is a traditional urban American noir gumshoe detective tale, slickly spliced to supernatural spindrift in the shape of angel and demon advocates, who hold hearings over every dead body and argue for the eternal redemption (or otherwise) of each mortal soul. It's a credible interpretation of the `angels walk among us' theme, and gives Williams an excellent excuse for populating a city bar with angels hosted in human bodies, sans wings and harps, bitching about their paperwork while avoiding trips 'upstairs' to head office. The other part of the story, if you strip away the demons and replace them with old-style Las Vegas gangsters, hoodlums and hard men, couldn't be more traditional if it tried. The hero has a mystery to unravel and he goes about it the pulp fiction way; tapping up underworld sources (literally underworld, in this instance), tracing paperwork on land registries, and falling hard for the gangster's moll, an archetypal bad girl femme fatale. `Dirty Streets' ticks all the boxes you'd expect to find in a Jimmy Cagney movie, yay unto the night on the wrong side of the sheets with the girl from the wrong side of the streets -- was is a set up? Does she really have feelings for him? Has she betrayed him to the crimelord or saved his sorry ass? Is she really a victim or is that a heart of pure ice? In lesser hands this would turn to pure corn, but Williams has the tone just right, and the action scampers along with just enough original ideas (like the pig; he's a winner) to keep readers who have themselves been round the block entertained. At times the dialogue feels like it's desperate to be spoken in a slow drawl by Philip Marlowe... So 'Dirty Streets' is a nifty mix of old fashioned pulp detective fiction and al la mode supernatural saga. This is the first in the series so much of it is devoted to establishing the core characters, situations and set up, and I was not entirely satisfied when I reached the end. It felt like quite a small story, stretched over a large canvas.
I'm also a little sad that the mystical wonder of the supernatural world -- which is in part why this genre first attracted me -- is being slowly battered down to grim reality; every eerie or awesome aspect gets tarnished with the humdrum inevitability of human interpretation. For me, this tale of angels was just too ordinary, although it was a pleasant enough way to pass a day. 7/10
If you are a rational human being you are probably unaware of the vast amount of fantasy based crime fiction that is out there. Jim Butcher has created a Wizard PI, Charlie Huston a Vampire PI and Kim Harrison a Witch Cop. There are loads of books like it out there and fantasy writer Tad Williams wants a piece with his novel `The Dirty Streets of Heaven', a book that features a Bobby Dollar, an angel that seems to get involved in crime solving against his will. As well as having one of the worst names in fiction history, Bobby is your atypical PI, leading with a snarky remark as well as a gun. Similar ingredients to this worked for Butcher's Harry Dresden, so were did Williams go wrong?
For one thing, the book is far too long. I am a fan of crime and PI noir in particular. The secret to a good PI book is to get in and out as soon as you can - Robert B. Parker was an expert. Williams does not do this and instead allows his fantasy experience to lead him. Fantasy fans like a book they could use to knock out a home invader and this is certainly doable with `Streets of Heaven'. There is too much explanation and individual scenes go on too long. I would almost say that the book is twice as long as it should be. Williams would have been better suited writing an introductory novel for the Bobby Dollar character and then introducing more of the Angel world in future titles.
The issues do not stop here. Bobby himself is not charismatic enough to pull off the nasty comments he flings around, he reads as if he is almost as bad as the demons. I also felt that Williams had some real issues with the PI vernacular; the voices of the characters sound off. References to the UK and the European Union crop up a few times and you could add up similar references to this across all the US crime fiction I have read on less than one finger. The only thing going for `Streets of Heaven' is the concept of the dead being judged, which is a genuinely good idea and worth exploring. The rest of the book is overlong, unauthentic sounding and has an annoying main character.
The blurb on the back of the book is a little misleading because the main character, Bobby Dollar, isn't actually a Private Detective; he's an angel who acts as an advocate for the souls of people who have just died. Bobby is based in San Judas, in California, and when he receives a call to the death of a wealthy philanthropist, he is surprised to find that the soul isn't there. Not only that, but Hell's advocate has also met with a sticky end. The rest of the novel deals with Bobby's attempts to find out why souls are going missing whilst trying to navigate round threats to his life from people who think he might be somehow involved.
This book is a nice easy read. I haven't read any other of Tad William's books so I'm not sure how it compares but the plot did propel me through it very quickly. Williams does have a slightly irritating habit of explaining things as he goes along, so there were quite a few times when the narrative said things like; `You might be wondering why I didn't just (fill in blank) but that wouldn't have been possible because...' This just felt like bad planning/ editing and tested my patience somewhat.
I'd certainly read another in this series because I think the character has plenty of scope to develop, This novel was fine as an introduction but I doubt it's his best work.
Before picking up 'The Dirty Streets of Heaven' (TDSOH) I had never read a book by Tad Williams. I was vaguely aware of his work, but had never felt a desire to try any of it. Having finally finished TDSOH I can't say that feeling has changed.
TDSOH is essentially a urban-fantasy noir-ish detective story where the twist is that the 'PI' is an Angel and many of the characters involved are creatures of either Heaven or Hell. Set in the fictitious but contemporary city of San Judas, on the San Francisco Bay, the book is narrated by Bobby Dollar. Bobby is an Angel on earth and defender of recently departed souls on behalf of Heaven. As the story unfolds he also becomes amateur sleuth, investigating why some souls appear to be vanishing before they can be judged and dispatched to Heaven, Hell or Purgatory. As with all film-noir detectives Bobby is cynical, world weary, beaten up, disillusioned and anti-authoritarian. Think a contemporary Humphrey Bogart in the Maltese Falcon but with wings.
At least I think that's what Tad Williams would like readers to imagine. Everything about the books screams out that it wants to offer a new, fantastical spin on classic detective motifs, from the seedy bar where the hero and all his friends hang-out, through the (literally) ice-cold femme-fatale, to the outwardly respectable but inwardly dastardly big boss with his lantern jawed henchmen. They and many other are all there, and many of them are interesting twists on old concepts and work very well.
Unfortunately the whole book suffers from two fatal flaws. The first is Williams writing style, which simply doesn't suit the genre he's trying to work in. Crime-noir needs to be punchy and hard edged, just like its protagonists. Dialogue and narrative both need to rattle along with the rat-a-tat tempo of a machine-gun. Prose needs to be spare and to-the-point. By comparison Williams writes like many fantasy authors; using three words when two would do. Brevity and conciseness are not his strong point. His dialogue doesn't fizz and the pace of the plot is just too slack.
He then compounds his error by giving the story too much flab. There is simply too much going on in the book. Detective stories require twists, double-crosses and blind alleys, but there are too many here. There are also too many incidental and unnecessary characters within the story, none of whom contribute anything but an extended page count. An example would be two ghosts who crop up in one lengthy scene. Its a nice concept and well executed, but adds nothing to the plot. It just slows the narrative down even further.
Overall TDSOH should have been half the length it actually is. It looks and feels like a typical-doorstep fantasy novel when it needs to be a far slimmer affair.
When I compare it to works by other writers working in the same genre it suffers by comparison, which is the book's other key flaw. If I compare it to Jim Butcher's Dresden series, even the early ones such as Storm Front: The Dresden Files Book One it doesn't even come close stylistically or in terms of plot and character. Butcher got the whole hard-boiled detective style spot on from the word go. The early Dresden novels are first and foremost great detectives stories with fantastical elements. Only once he had established the character of Dresden and his world did he begin to expand the books' scope and plots, but he has always maintained that hard-boiled style. Williams by comparison never offers up that same edge and tries to do to much world building too soon, burying the central plot in unnecessary detail and action and leaving it struggling for room to breathe.
The result is a book that is too long and struggled to hold my interest as its story went around in circles. There are other problems too, such as the whodunnit element being too obvious to anyone who has every read a detective story, plot holes you can drive a car through and some fantastical concepts that really don't work or are poorly explained, and when you compare it to works by the likes of Jim Butcher or Ben Aaronovitch it comes across as a second-rate effort.
Tad Williams may be a decent author when writing in his usual genres, but based on TDSOH urban-fantasy noir is simply not his strong suit. Having only just managed to finish this first Bobby Dollar adventure I will definitely not be returning for the next in the series.
I must admit that this one `grabbed' me and I wasn't disappointed. I'm a big fan of Jim Butcher and his Harry Dresden books, so this particular book was of great interest.
Despite a slightly and I do mean slightly, sluggish start, the story picked up its skirts and ran quite nicely. Lots of twists and turns, good character depth and basically a well constructed story with humour, intrigue and a dash of good old fashioned broken heart to add to the mix.
A cracking 'celestial detective' read and well worth a look.
Most angels and heaven novels suck because they lack credibility. Don't get me wrong, this is nothing to do with religion, but because the background doesn't contain any of those details that ring true. After all, even Milton has some issues with it. The best of them, like Richelle Mead's Succubus series, confer credibility by just accepting the basis and brazening it out. With others, and I've read a few lately, the quirky lack of believability has to go alongside something else that distracts from thoses issues - like a hard on noir writing style, or overkill on romance (no names, no pack drill).
Tad Williams' "The Dirty Streets of Heaven" is something new. Sure, he's adopted the noir convention, but the worst part is the name of his protagonist - Bobby Dollar. Underlying all that is a carefully worked out, detailed and above all consistent world. He's even created a whole city, San Judas, in the Bay Area effectively replacing San Jose to set most of his action in, with some slight tweaks to the real history of Palo Alto, Stanford, Redwood City and the rest of the area. This is Heaven and Hell, with demons and guardian angels, but not quite as we might have imagined it. There's a lot going on underneath the basic plot of this novel, and I expect that will be used to build up a grader tale as the series progresses. There's also the potential for some serious metaphysical reflection.
In line with the noir tradition, nothing is revealed until it has to be, and there are no giveaways. Bobby isn't a detective, as he frequently has to point out, and maybe he's not quite smart enough.
The opening scenario is that Bobby is an advocate on earth for dead souls, and has to plead in front of a heavenly judge against a demonic advocate - and the result will be a soul to suffer eternal damnation, heaven, or purgatory with the prospect of eventual heaven: and the rules are strict.
Then souls start vanishing, and Bobby is tied into the story, which involves a conspiracy linking both heaven and hell. That's all the plot I'm going to give away, and it gets complex.
The book is long; the edition I read was over 400 pages. There's plenty of action, some sex (this is adult, not young adult), although I felt it did lag a little in the middle, and wasn't moving forward fast enough for me - largely because it wasn't clear what the significance of the various events and revelations was.
I have read Tad Williams more traditional fantasies in the past, but a long time ago. I liked them well enough then, and this change of style works well for him. I enjoyed it a lot; he made the heaven and angels theme seem far more realistic and genuine than I have found in other books in this sub-genre. I will be watching out for the next in the series, and plan to back fill on some of the fantasies I skipped over.
I chose 'The Dirty Streets of Heaven' because of the intriguing product description and it looked as though it would be a fun read, I wasn't disappointed. Bobby Dollar is an angel who spends most of his time in a 'meat' body down on Earth. He is an advocate, pleading for the souls of the newly deceased and trying to make a better case than the opposition; even though sometimes the best he can hope for is getting them a spot of time in purgatory. The fun starts when a soul goes missing, who is responsible, how could such a thing happen? Then more souls go missing and the high ups on both sides get increasingly worried. Meanwhile Bobby is being chased by demons who believe that he has something, this 'something' appears to be valuable but Bobby has no idea what it is or who has it. Heaven and hell have kept an uneasy truce going but the disappearing souls and the 'something' threaten to upset the balance.
At heart this is a hard-boiled detective novel where the characters just happen to be angels and demons, there is even a classic femme fatal in the guise of The Countess of Cold Hands. Even if you don't usually read fantasy but are a fan of classic hard-boiled American crime fiction then you might well enjoy this one. It is inventive and fun with a cast of very unusual characters. The writing style is engaging and although a few of the references to American culture escaped me it didn't spoil the reading experience. It should particularly appeal to fans of 'The Dresden Files' - Jim Butcher and 'The Night Watch Saga' - Sergei Lukyanenko.
Tad Williams' novel has the most unlikely protagonist I've ever met - ex-member of the angelic equivalent of special forces, now a defender of souls and part-time gumshoe. Let me explain... Bobby Dollar (stupid name, that I assume is a nod to the 1940s noir thrillers that this tries to emulate) defends souls. When people die, his job is to defend them at their own personal judgement day, opposed by a demon prosecutor. When souls fail to show up for judgement, something is clearly wrong, and Bobby has to investigate. It's not that simple, of course, one of the Dukes of Hell has decided he has something stolen from him and puts a hit out on him, and Bobby (of course) falls in love with one of the demons (cue for some hot sex, ho ho ho).
It sounds stupid and it is, but to my considerable surprise, it works. It's dark and gripping in the same way as a Raymond Chandler novel is, the ending is neat but not too neat, and the eschatological stuff is nicely presented: your (atheist) review enjoyed the descriptions of heaven and hell and thought that the religious traps were neatly avoided. Bobby is a believable character as he really doesn't have a clue what is going on most of the time, even though he is an angel.
I raced through the second half of the book in one sitting, and wholeheartedly recommend it to Chandler fans, fantasy fans and possibly even hard SF fans. It works well as a stand-alone novel, although I anticipate there will be others.
For me, a really good book not only touches you in some way but it also has a depth and layering of the story that feeds a much larger plot arc. Tad Williams here has written a book that truly fits the mould of a great opener to a trilogy. Not only does he lay out the characters and locations of San Jude, the city on earth where most of the story takes place; he also lays out the world in which the story takes place. Heaven and Hell are real. Angels are real and they have many different roles in their constant fight against demons. Enter Bobby Dollar.
Bobby Dollar is an advocate, he argues for the salvation of the recently deceased against the advocate demon. Something goes wrong on a routine call and the wider storyline unfolds.
What I really liked about this book was the scope of the story, by the end of the book things had definitely changed, the characters and their relationships would not be the same again. And the ending, as all good one's should, asked more questions than it gave answers. This left me really interested to see how the second and third parts of the trilogy play out.
I also did like the Bobby Dollar (Dolories) Character, you get the the sense that things are not all black and white and his ways of dealing in 'grey' is what is most desired about him in the plan for him. No matter how many Arch Angels he disappoints.
This is a world of many colours and I will definitely be seeing it through to the end.
Urban Fantasy novels that is. There are so many I seem to be tripping over them. But that's my fault for leaving them on the floor of the room where I keep my books. Yes, I seem to be going through a UF phase at the moment and as they come in series that's quite a lot of books.
This one matches up to the best and has a very different premise. I wasn't too sure of it at first as it seemed to have a very fundamentalist approach in its traditional view of heaven and hell -God, angels, Satan, demons, souls going up or down or to purgatory- until it became clear that they were all non-denominational and things were a lot more complicated than it first seemed. Our hero, angel Bobby Dollar is an advocate for souls arguing for a client's right to go to heaven. But he's of an independent bent and gets in trouble, so much so that it's not clear if he can even trust his own side. And how come he's never met anyone who's actually met God?
I don't want to say too much or would spoil the pleasure of you finding out what's going on for yourself. Suffice to say that this Urban Fantasy is different enough from the usual run to make it well worth investigating and it's a very promising start to a new series.