James Stark's returned to LA from hell's gladiator pits and has been tearing things up ever since — but what do you get for the monster who has everything? Killing Pretty has the answer.

The Sandman Slim adventures have been a game of chicken that Richard Kadrey played with himself and his readers — when every installment involves peril to the very fabric of reality itself, how can each volume top the last for hard-boiled snark and ultraviolent end-of-the-world mayhem?

Making things even more complicated is the fact that each of James "Sandman Slim" Stark's adventures buffed him up further, leaving him with even more powers and assets he could use to clobber his enemies. As he approached (literal) godhood, he was in real danger of slipping from his spot as the beloved underdog and into a kind of decadent king-of-the-roost-hood.

Of course, there's one enemy that only gets harder the fight the more powerful you get: yourself. For seven volumes, Sandman Slim has struggled with his own nature and his relationship to the people around him. He's got ample reason to dread personal attachments — people around him get dead quick, and when they do, he can't forgive himself — but he's lonely and hurt and he needs those people, no matter how much he hates this fact.

In Killing Pretty, Sandman Slim once again finds himself as the sole force standing between the world and total destruction. This time around, it's the Angel of Death, who was murdered (heart cut out, no less!) and then found by Stark, who finds himself nursing Death himself back from the grave. Meanwhile, all over the world, the comatose are piling up, as there is no Death to sever their souls and take them into the afterlife.

It's Death Takes a Holiday with hard-boiled characteristics — this is no heartwarming story of Death finding his humanity. Instead, its a story of limitless desperation and cruelty, Hollywood style, where occultists and talent agents join forces to pit-fight the ghosts of desperate D-list celebrities for the amusement of venal LA vampires (literal and figurative).

But while the other adventures have been long on Stark's journey through the Satanic underworlds, overworlds and netherworlds of the whole history of weird and extreme belief-systems, all that stuff merely forms the backdrop in this installment. In Killing Pretty, Sandman Slim discovers what Spiderman, Superman, Wonder Woman and countless other superheroes learned the hard way: being an immortal superpowered badass doesn't mean that your friends can't hurt you — and that you can't get them hurt.

Kadrey's done amazing work keeping one of literature's great anti-heroes in adventures this long, and Killing Pretty proves that he isn't slowing down.

Killing Pretty [Richard Kadrey/Harpercollins]

Previous reviews: Sandman Slim, Kill the Dead, Aloha From Hell, Devil Said Bang, Kill City Blues, The Getaway God.

-Cory Doctorow