Sandman Slim (Richard Kadrey, 2009) – After eleven years in Hell, James Stark plans his return to Earth for revenge and absolution.
Ever wish Hellblazer‘s run went on a little longer? You may want to add Sandman Slim to your reading list.
Beware the monster who kills monsters, be wary of Sandman Slim. After eleven years of torture in Hell, James Stark has hardened his heart for vengeance. Now, the magician is reborn out of hell fire, almost bullet-proof with a knack for snarky comebacks.
Imagine John Constantine and his flair for the dark arts. Leave his usual British quips aside, and thrown in some American colloquialisms. Make sure his cigarettes, black humour, and massive ego stay intact. There, you have yourself a picture of Stark, a familiar but worthy anti-hero ready to unleash his rage back on Earth.
Before you go all defensive for our planet, Stark has good reasons for that anger. After all, the magic circle of ‘friends’ he trusted was responsible for banishing him to Hell, all for the sake of power and wealth. They also had his girlfriend Alice murdered for reasons unknown. All things considered, some brutal revenge seems a reasonable route to take.
When you jump off a cliff, is it better to land on jagged rocks or burning lava? I know this one. The answer is obvious: It doesn’t matter where you land. You just jumped off a cliff.
What he did not expect was to be on the side of the angels, fighting a bigger war against the demonic Kissi (pronounced, kee-shee). Thankfully, he finds a team in skilled alchemist Vidocq and a goth video store clerk Allegra, more than ready for the world of dark magic and Hellion armies.
Help also comes in the form of the Key of Thirteen Doors. Buried in Stark’s heart (literally), the stolen artefact lets him step through shadows into any place of his desire. Of course, he is not the only one who hungers for this all-powerful key.
The leading hitman’s wit add just enough distinct flavour to the killing game, echoing Hellblazer in many aspects. Plenty of wisecracks accompany the fast-paced read, with plain love for dated pop culture references (meet cokehead Brad Pitt, and a Fulci-loving Lucifer).
L.A. is what happens when a bunch of Lovecraftian elder gods and porn starlets spend a weekend locked up in the Chateau Marmont snorting lines of crank off Jim Morrison’s bones. If the Viagra and illegal Traci Lords videos don’t get you going, then the Japanese tentacle porn will.
So far, the tone and characterisation feel almost perfect. If only the women weren’t reduced to objects. It is not just the obsession with their appearance. Often in danger or killed, most exist so that they may be avenged. That alone makes for a fair bit of annoyance.
Still, author Richard Kadrey handles the mythology department particularly well. Aside from the usual fallen angels and the Nephilim, there are the anti-angels Kissis, who feed on humanity’s chaos. Cannibalistic lurkers Jades (oh no) join the carnage party, dissolving their prey’s insides and drinking them like tarantulas.
Unflinchingly violent and wildly entertaining, Sandman Slim succeeds in establishing an assured beginning to an expansive ten-book franchise. There is not much else to knock about here. If there is ever one proper way to do occult detective fiction, Richard Kadrey has definitely come close.
On a side note to studio executives, this Constantine fan here wouldn’t mind terribly, if you should cast Matt Ryan in the coming Sandman Slim film adaptation.