Sandman Slim, #1 – Richard Kadrey

On break from work for a few months (loving unemployment so far) and I have decided to use this time productively, i.e. read my old (and new of course) favourites and write reviews.

This book is as Dark as Dark gets – maybe not “Irreversible” movie dark but it has its moments.

James Stark, who does not like being called ‘Jimmy’ or even ‘James’ has literally come back from the dead. In a magical ritual he was pushed into ‘Hell” or what he refers to as ‘Downtown’ at nineteen and now he is thirty. All he owns is a few pieces / artifacts from hell that have come with him and the clothes he presumably ‘died’ in. His magical coin ‘Veritas’ leads him to one of the six from the circle of friends.

“Its Kasabian, one of my friends from the old magic cried. One of the six on my list”

Leader of this circle is Mason, his sidekick / enforcer Parker, two ladies, a weak guy who killed himself wracked with guilt soon after and the loser turned into a Frost man running a video store. Stark’s girlfriend Alice has been murdered by Parker (directed by Mason) and Stark is out for blood – of all of them.

I loved reading the whole Stark chopping off Kasabian’s head and depositing it in cupboard (since he needs information and does not want to let K die just yet). As the story unfolds, we see shades and layers of grey – the pain, the agony, the grief and the humanity, which refuses to die out. He cuts off the head but doesn’t let Kasabian die and as confessed towards the end – he just couldn’t. He starts by a) revisiting his old apartment and finding an old friend maintaining it for him, then b) the place of his betrayal – which is now a land plot, and c) trying to find where his girlfriend maybe buried.

On one side we see Stark adjusting or trying or not trying to earth, we see the ‘monster who killed the monsters’ in hell and on the other side we see him still at nineteen mentally (girls), and what he has missed – what is blackberry, how do I ‘get’ internet and of course all the clothes he burns through at an astonishing rate.

Stark finds trouble or trouble finds him. As he discovers that in exchange for his journey to the hell, the circle of six except one suicide and one video store guy, four got powers beyond imagination. M & P (Mason & Parker team – almost sounds like a law firm) abducts Kasabian (wait can you abduct a severed head and a body – not dead), kill the two out of the six – the two women – one running the highest class bordello and the other teenage idol and proving yet again how psychotic they both are.

While focused on his quarry, Stark attracts the attention of two groups – one “SubRosa – are the people regular people aren’t supposed to know about. Its not that we don’t like you; its that you have a habit of burning us at the stake when you notice us” – in other words the magical community and the second ofcourse the national security. National Security guy (who of course is cocky) is the first to refer to Stark as ‘Sandman Slim’ – a pseudonym he earned in Hell. We are yet to discover if there is a deeper meaning behind the name.

The way the structure of the book is laid out is so simple and yet so complicated. There is of course Heaven, Hell and Earth. Angels, Demons and Mortals “We’re the punching bags in their family psychodrama” Hellions, except Lucifer are unable to travel to Earth unless they have the key that opens thirteen doors (which is one of the artifact Stark has). Angels try to recruit Stark with the whole redemption and sinner and in service to God marketing spiel, which did not take.. Its pretty astonishing – from the beginning Stark said he will kill everyone in the magic circle and go back to hell – as if he is convinced he belongs there – not on earth and definitely not in heaven (self worth issues!). Author introduces us to a new ‘species?’ Kissi (pronounced KEESHEE) who are the creatures of chaos.

The book answers so many questions and yet opens so many possibilities. Its a fantastic depiction of LA as a place, as a society and culture. “THERE’S ONLY ONE problem with L.A. It exists.” The writing is rich and the wit is sharp. Characters evolve realistically – no one is too good or too bad (except perhaps M&P) they all are multifaceted and human with individual quirks.

Stark aka Sandman Slim has saved the world twice over by the end of this book – once by dealing a strong blow to the Kissi – we dont know if they have been entirely eradicated byt for now the threat is contained, and second by maybe defeating Mason by handing him over to Hellions in Hell (Parker has of course been killed).

The first book ends on a cryptic note with Lucifer leaving Kasabian’s head wtih Sandman Slim as his ‘mouth piece’. Allright, i am going to read the second book now, see you soon with the second part.

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