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