Kill the Dead (Sandman Slim #2)
by Richard Kadrey
Harper Voyager (2011)
I like my urban fantasy with a bit of a mean streak and Kadrey's Sandman Slim series really fits the bill.
James Stark (aka Sandman Slim) is a few months separated from laying his wrath on old enemies after finding his way out of Hell. Now it's his arch-nemesis, Mason, down in the lake of fire, but it turns out that might be exactly where Mason wanted to go because he's looking for a hostile takeover. But this story isn't about Stark going back down to Hell for his showdown with Mason--stay tuned for that in a later novel I guess. This is a story about Hell on Earth, sort of, since Lucifer is in Los Angeles and hires Stark to be his bodyguard while he oversees a Hollywood bio-pic with a sympathetic take on the Devil.
On top of that, Stark also has to contend with a SWAT-like agency with a divine connection that he works with periodically, an emerging zombie threat from underground, missing persons, and a gorgeous porn star who moonlights as a zombie hunter. You know, that old chestnut.
All the hard-boiled, cynical stylings that made Sandman Slim so fun to read the first time around is back and even more effectively than the first time out. If I didn't think reading the first book was a requirement to fully enjoy and appreciate all the subplots and call-backs in the second book, I'd recommend starting with Kill the Dead. I imagine this novel could work well enough as a stand-alone since there's no real cliffhanger for the third book, and there's just enough exposition to give new readers a fair idea of what Stark is all about and why, but that first book was just so rewarding I think it'd be a shame to start this one without having read the first.
In one way, the book could be seen as weaker than the first, for the sake of the storyline diverging away from Stark's rivalry with Mason, but the interactions with Lucifer alone make Kill the Dead a very rewarding read. Plus, the exploration of L.A.'s underground demon scene was so well drawn out, I could be content to see Stark remain topside and not be bothered with Mason and Hell for a while yet.
This is a series I'm totally on board with and am eager to read the third installment, Aloha from Hell. The evolution of Stark as a character is captivating, with heavy doses of comedy and tragedy. And while zombies might be a well-worn monster, what monster isn't getting rough around the edges in genre fiction these days, and Kadrey offers plenty of backstory and variation on the old cliches to give the undead a very unique feel. The book isn't really about the walking dead though, so if you have an aversion to "zombie" novels you can read this one without worry. It's a truly great series and I suspect it's only going to get better.