August 26, 2013

Slim to None: a review of Richard Kadrey's "Devil Said Bang"

Devil Said Bang (Sandman Slim #4)
by Richard Kadrey
Harper Voyager (2012)
400 pages
ISBN13: 9780062094575

If you haven't read the first three Sandman Slim novels, chances are you are going to have a helluva time trying to keep track of what happens in this fourth installment. I half expected a reset of some kind with this fourth book, since the third book (Aloha from Hell) had put a nice cap on a major story arc and set up a new chapter in the life of Sandman Slim. Devil Said Bang offers nothing of the sort. If you've been following along with the series though, you're going to feel right at home.

So, at the end of Aloha from Hell, Stark managed to not only rescue his dead ex, Alice, from the bowels of Hell, but also got his revenge on Mason, the maniacal sorceror who condemned him to Hell the first time around and killed Alice while he was trapped there. On top of all that, he also managed to save Lucifer's life and avert a new holy war between Heaven and Hell. Ande what did the devil-may-care crusader get for all his troubles? Trapped in Hell once more, this time as the new Lucifer, while the old one sits on the throne of Heaven and the old Heavenly Father has gone outhouse crazy and splintered into multiple little gods. Wonderful.

Hell was bad enough for Stark the first time around, battling demons in the arena for the amusement of the underworld, but now he's in charge and it's even worse--now he's stuck in board meetings everyday going over fabric swatches and bureaucratic B.S. as Hell is rebuilt from the ground up in the aftermath of the almost holy war.

If not for Stark's serrated sense of humor, the first hundred pages of this novel would have been Hell for me, too. It felt like it took the longest time for anything of substance to actually happen. Finally though, Stark gets wind of a conspiracy to bump him off, which winds up helping him figure out how to escape Hell and return to Los Angeles. But once he's back in his old stomping grounds, he finds the city being terrorized by a ghost on a killing spree--demons, humans, even other ghosts aren't safe from the ghost of a little girl and her very sharp knife.

Once Stark is topside, Devil Said Bang became the profanely action-packed series I've come to know. But that first half of the book was a bit of a slog while waiting for the plot to kick in. In fact, the first half of this novel feels disconnected from the second half, like it's two novellas mashed together. Kadrey offers more of the tried-and-true dialogue and Starkisms that have made the first three novels so fun to read, but I had my hopes up for something a little less murky heading out of the whole Get Mason story arc of those three novels. It's fun, gruesome stuff, but I'm hoping the fifth novel, Kill City Blues, offers something more clear cut and in quicker fashion.

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