August 30, 2013

Hell's High Turnover: a review of Richard Kadrey's "Kill City Blues"

Kill City Blues (Sandman Slim #5)
by Richard Kadrey
Harper Voyager (2013)
400 pages
ISBN13: 9780062094599

Richard Stark might be back from Hell--again--but he just can't help doing the Devil's work. Since getting out of his job as the new Lucifer, and passing it off to one of five pieces of God himself, Mr. Munnin, Stark is trying to settle back into life in Los Angeles. He's rejoined with his angel half, has the key to the Thirteen Doors once again, he's back with his main squeeze Candy, and he still has the run of Lucifer's penthouse. Compared to board meetings and other forms of infernal bureaucracy, life is pretty sweet for Sandman Slim. And then the mechanical men show up and ruin everything.

Turns out that the "Magic 8-Ball" he found during his exploits in the last novel, Devil Said Bang, is a weapon of biblical proportions. And everyone with an ax to grind against him wants it. Too bad he doesn't have it anymore. Aelita, the renegade angel with a hate-on for all of human existence has hidden it away, and Stark needs to find it before the divine psychopath figures out how to use it.

Okay, first off: if you haven't read any of the Sandman Slim novels, then nothing in this novel is going to make sense beyond "bad guys have something that good guys want back." There's four novels worth of back story playing out here, and while the fourth novel was a bit of a letdown for me, Kill City Blues brings the series back to its full FTW glory. If you've been a faithful follower of the series, maybe your opinion differs a little. But I felt Kill City Blues got into the nitty-gritty of the story much sooner than Devil Said Bang, and it really did a lot to push the characters in new directions. Heck, this is probably the first novel where Stark has been in full-on boyfriend mode, as his entanglements with Candy has turned into a long-term relationship. And that relationship is strained when Stark starts falling into his old habits of going all Sandman Slim on his enemies, while Candy is repeatedly discouraged from going Jade on goons. Ah, the mating habits of abominations.

Stark's Scooby-Doo gang of friends finally get to band together on his latest mission, though Kasabian is still stuck on the bench. At least the decapitated sidekick has that nifty, albeit slightly beat-up, robotic hellhound body to get around in now. As for the gods imprisoned in another dimension, the ones bent on bringing all of creation to and end, it turns out the ghostly girl with the butcher knife in Devil Said Bang was just a whisper of what they're capable of should they get loose, and they're gaining allies both in Heaven and Hell. How Kadrey keeps track of all these allegiances and betrayals in his series is beyond me. His concordance of characters and storylines must make the King James Bible look like a pamphlet by now.

Kadrey's writing style offers so many quotable lines, he doesn't so much have a handle on the language as he does a stranglehold. If the plot doesn't have you turning pages, just seeing what string of eloquent expletives he'll use next will. It's a return to form in my opinion, and the same great level of quality in the eyes of others, I'm sure.

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