Kadrey's SANDMAN SLIM: a hard-boiled revenge novel from Hell

Richard Kadrey's new novel Sandman Slim is the most hard-boiled piece of supernatural fiction I've ever had the pleasure of reading. William Gibson says it's a "deeply amusing, dirty-ass masterpiece" and that's just right.

Eleven years ago, James Stark was banished to hell by his circle of magic buddies, betrayed by his supposed friends for the crime of being a better magician than them. For eleven years, he's suffered hell's torments as Azazel's mortal slave, first made to fight in the pits and then turned into an assassin. And now he's escaped hell by stabbing himself in the heart with a key that opens every lock, and he's returned to Los Angeles to seek his vengeance on the magicians who betrayed him. He hunts them across a demon-infested Los Angeles, dishing out and receiving relentless, graphic violence, determined to take his revenge and then die and leave the Earth behind forever.

In another writer's hands, this might be just another of those gonzo-funny books about demons and magic and so forth, an over-the-top, ironic novel that eschews horror for yuks.

But Kadrey's Stark is hard-boiled -- not just self-conscious and wise-cracking, but bereft of hope, burning with anger, without any of that self-reflexive, cutesy stuff that writers put in when they're worried about sounding like a poseur. Kadrey's not worried. In the way that Lovecraft's best work is totally unapologetic about the horrors of hell, in the way that Chandler is totally unapologetic about his antiheroes who inhabit a world without redemption or light, Kadrey's Stark is in a living hell, and he hurts, and he will make other people hurt, and he will not stop.

That's not to say that there's no wit in Sandman Slim -- there's plenty of that, but it's the gritty, whiskey-fuelled Tom Waits kind of wit that laughs like it has throat cancer and then spits something wet on the floor after it's done.

This is a tightly plotted revenge story that grabbed me by the throat and didn't let go. The characters are fascinating and even likable, and the gun-stuff and the magic-stuff and the demonology-stuff all feel like they're from someone who knows what he's talking about, all confident and energetic and fresh and angry. I loved this book and all its screwed-up people.

Sandman Slim: A Novel

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  1. I’ve been waiting to read this book. Is it out yet? I was at one of the local bookstores yesterday on a book buying binge but didn’t see this one or else I would have grabbed it.

  2. Cory Doctorow, you sometimes seem to possess superhuman time management skills. How do you find the time to read as many books as you review for Boing Boing, plus presumably many more that don’t merit review? Are you a speed-reader?

  3. Can we please, for the love of god, retire the phrase “it grabbed me by the throat and didn’t let go.”

    Thank you, carry on.

  4. I want to read this; it’s right up my alley. But it seems you can only get this on the US Kindle, and not as a PDF. I’m not in the US and I’m not going to buy an otherwise useless gadget to buy one book anyhow. If it were available as a normal PDF I coule read it on my cellphone like other books.

  5. may I remind the originality of Robert A. Heinlein’s scenario in the short novel “Magic, Inc.” ?

    Taking Arthur C. Clarke’s quote “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” to another level of daily usage.

    Heinlein’s quote: “One man’s “magic” is another man’s engineering”

  6. Sound like it might be fun. I’m not sure what to make of this, though: “in the way that Chandler is totally unapologetic about his antiheroes who inhabit a world without redemption or light.” At least in my reading, Chandler’s world has redemption in abundance, and light in small quantities. Not sure if the word “antihero” even really applies.

    Don’t mean to be a hater, and I understand that “Chandler” is sometimes just a shortcut term for “stylish hardboiled detective story” or “imagine Humphrey Bogart in a trenchcoat and fedora.” I’ll suggest that Hammett might be a better touchstone…

  7. “In another writer’s hands, this might be just another of those gonzo-funny books about demons and magic and so forth, an over-the-top, ironic novel that eschews horror for yuks.”

    I think I know just who you mean :P

  8. Seconding #8; Chandler is hardly one for antiheroes. In fact, in his fabulous manifesto, The Simple Art of Murder, he explicitly states that his detectives, for all that they’re tough, eccentric men, are heroes, upholding clear moral codes in a fallen world.

    Cory was thinking of Jim Thompson, maybe?

  9. Given the protagonist’s name, it sounds more like the inspiration is Donald Westlake’s Parker character from the series he wrote under the pen name – wait for it – Richard Stark.

  10. For eleven years, he’s suffered hell’s torments as Azazel’s mortal slave, first made to fight in the pits and then collector-solar.com turned into an assassin. And now he’s escaped hell by stabbing himself in the heart with a key that opens every lock

  11. Bought this after seeing this post. I finished it in record time. Loved it. Like reading a Nick Cave song.

  12. Not a bad read. I liked the use of hellish artifacts and the LA evnironment. I enjoyed it enough to read more when they are released; but did it have to draw so many parralels to elements of the Dresdin books?

    * The annoying head/skull that combines comic wit and information with a love of Porn

    * The young female apprentice

    * The sexy vampire(-ish) chick who resists her darker side and fights with him.

    * The powerfull warder/inquisitor who despite any heroic deeds accomplished still thinks the main character is scum and is looking for any excuse to take him down.

  13. i read this on Cory Doctorow’s recommendation.

    Didn’t like it one bit. it felt like a mish-mash of random “back from hell for revenge” novels, first person shooter video games, a little bit of The Crow mixed with some Spawn and Dresden stuff. . . really, nothing felt original to me.

    and Kadrey could have saved himself a lot of ink by just telling us Kas ran a porn video store. Half way through the book it became obvious that no matter what Stark was looking for down there, he’d find it in the porn section.

    another petty annoyance: on the dust jacket, it says Stark is a hitman. nice sexy job there. problem is he’s not a hitman. Ever. While in hell he becomes a pit slave on the gladiator circuit – it’s kill or die, not someone is paying to take someone out gangsta style. Back up on earth he’s not a hitman either. he just kills people for revenge.

    What i really wanted was to know more about what happened 11 years ago. the magic ritual gone wrong? what were they trying to do? was it always Mason’s plan for it to “go wrong”? How exactly Stark get the key? How did he kill some of the generals in hell? those things are so much more interesting to me than plain old revenge.

  14. I picked the book up after reading the review here and I really liked it. It’s nothing deep or life-changing, but after a series of books that required some slogging to get through (some worth the effort, some not,) Sandman Slim was fast and fun read. I’d highly recommend it as a traveling companion to anyone who has a flight this holiday season.

    As someone who does not at all enjoy the John Grisham/Dan Brown type of airport novel, I do have a soft spot for the few writers who can deliver a good, entertaining read without making me feel like I’ve shed a few dignity points along the way.

  15. Liked the novel, though the last chapter seemed to go in too much of a hurry.

    I loved the last pages, hilarious dialog! Kadrey is like Tarantino for novels. Good read!

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