I’m a big fan of DC comic book character John Constantine, so believe me that it pains me to no end to have to admit that Richard Kadrey’s anti-hero, Sandman Slim, would have Constantine running away and hiding in a closet, tears streaking his trench coat as he tells the big bad man to go away. There’s no pulling punches here — Sandman Slim, aka Jim Stark, half angel, half human, former assassin to Hell’s demon generals, and all-around badass, is someone we’d want on our side in a dirty fight and someone we’d never want to face down in a straight fight. I’ve encountered a lot of fictional characters with bad attitudes and vengeance on their minds, but after finishing up Aloha From Hell, the third book in the Sandman Slim series, I’ve officially moved Stark into a category of his own. He gets filed away with multiple embedded tags: Leave This Guy Alone, Do Not Come Within 300 Yards, and Do Not Friend On Facebook.
He’s not a bad guy, right? He’s just misunderstood. Actually, that’s a complete lie, as Kadrey has spent three books giving us 214 reasons why Sandman Slim is the angriest man on the planet. He’s given us 135 reasons why we should avoid ever looking Stark in the eyes, and a few really good reasons to send him a Thank You card, most of them involving saving the known universe from destruction.
Jim Stark spent the better part of the first book, Sandman Slim, escaping from Hell and chasing down and getting vengeance upon his old magic circle chums who sent him to Hell (alive) where he became the number one assassin for taking out Hellion generals and minions. You’re probably sitting back and wondering what happens when they get killed, right? They’re already in Hell, I hear you saying. But there’s are worse places to be in this universe, and Kadrey has created one seriously diabolical location that makes an appearance in Aloha. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
After getting his revenge and sending the ring leader to Hell himself, using a variety of tools such as a key embedded in his chest that allows him to move easily (via shadows) from one location to another via The Room of Thirteen Doors (kudos, Kadrey, for a killer locale that offers up an endless number of future plots) and a black knife that can cut through just about everything as well as hot-wire cars, Stark is feeling pretty good about his newly found freedom and he’s also figuring out a few things, namely why he’s so hard to kill. Along the way he’s picked up a collection of friends and acquaintances that are fleshed out enough to almost deserve their own books. There’s the 150-year-old French thief and expert alchemist. There’s the body-less head for a roommate whom Stark killed and brought back to life in Book 1 just for grins. Seriously. Grins. Throw in the mysterious collector of everything under the sun (with a great surprise backstory that’s revealed in Aloha) and Stark’s new girlfriend, a monster herself with a taste for human blood (she’s not a vampire but something much worse) but she’s in a 12-step program and currently not hunting, and you’ve got a nice little Scooby-gang who just want to be left alone in LA.
But that would be boring, so Kadrey spends the second book, Kill the Dead, throwing Stark and his friends right into another mess involving zombies and some not-so-nice anti-angels called the Kissi who are just looking to destroy all life as we know it as well as Heaven and Hell. Lucifer, in the meantime, has called upon Stark to serve as a bodyguard while the devil consults on a major motion picture that will focus on his life’s story. Stark also discovers a bit more about his backstory, including details about his parents and why the universe hates him so much. Did I mention there’s a government agency with an angel calling the shots who not only wants to destroy Stark but also has some serious Father issues that come into play in Aloha? (Without giving anything away, Stark doesn’t walk away from Book 2 without any scratches, and a major injury will have huge repercussions in Book 3.)
So now we reach Book 3, Aloha from Hell. Stark has kept the world safe and is feeling pretty good about himself. He’s not having to fight for his life, and has resorted to odd jobs to pay the bills, including stealing, theft, and grand larceny. If you told him he was getting a bit soft, you’d probably get punched, not killed. So, yeah… he’s gone soft. But the rumblings are happening again as one of Stark’s original magic circle enemies has reared his head in an attempt to direct the armies of Hell in a direct assault on Heaven. Stark’s ex-girlfriend (dead and in Heaven) has been kidnapped and is being held as bait to get Stark to return to Hell for the Fight of the Century. And that’s what Kadrey delivers, too — Hell versus Heaven versus Sandman Slim. Throw in some special appearances from such notables as God and Jack the Ripper and you’ve got a rumble brewing that has one major surprise ending… and a guarantee that this isn’t the last book in the Sandman Slim series.
Seriously, I hope Kadrey keeps putting out Sandman Slim books for the next 20 years. They’re that much fun to read. Yes, there’s plenty of salty language. NSFK, okay? There’s tons of violence and bloodshed. Plenty of blasphemous dialogue that’d make a bald priest grow hair just so it could be curled. But there’s also tons of dark humor that is so hard to get right… but Kadrey does it right. And often. The stories are written in first person, so you’re getting the internal musings of Sandman himself and I promise they’re a riot.
Knowing this book was going to be released, I went back and re-read the first two. I cannot decide which of the three I like best. Sandman Slim was all about discovery and making friends. Killing the Dead was about finding your way in this world and discovering the beauty and grandeur that’s worth fighting and dying for. Aloha from Hell is all about returning to your roots and discovering your inner strengths and who your friends are. (Well, that’s what you can tell your spouse when he/she hears you quietly snickering and shaking your head at the witty dialogue that separates almost non-stop fight scenes with the occasional universe-sized conspiracy and/or celestial war thrown in for flavoring.)
I can’t promise that these books won’t offend some readers. Hopefully I’ve provided just enough information to scare away the faint of heart. Sandman Slim is not a man you’d want to encounter in a dark alley — you wouldn’t even want to meet him in line at Baskin Robbins. But in Kadrey’s universe, he’s all we have to hold back the dark things and make the difficult sacrifices that keep him from truly being labeled a Bad Guy. He’s not misunderstood at all… he’s just complicated.
And complicated always makes for good storytelling.