Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
“Life sucks, then you die. Period. Unless you’re James Stark, a hitman in Hell for eleven years before escaping back up to Hell-on-earth L.A. – looking for revenge, absolution….love, maybe. But Hell’s not through with Stark. Heaven’s not either.”
Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey is an urban fantasy featuring an unstoppable anti-hero wreaking his vengeance on the people who wronged him. Condemned to Hell by his peers, James Stark fights his way back out of the Pit and he wants payback. During the time he has been away, he has been forced to fight in the gladiatorial arenas of Hell to prove his worth. Stark has become the monster that kills other monsters. He is Hell’s only human hit man and earned the nickname Sandman Slim.
The novel is written from the first person perspective so the reader immediately gets to know exactly what is going on in Stark/Sandman Slim’s head. He suffered endless torment during his eleven years ‘Downtown’ but the result is on his return to Earth, he is much harder to kill than before. I really enjoyed Stark’s attitude when dealing with all and sundry. Doesn’t matter if they are human, angel or devil, Stark deals with everyone in exactly the same manner, he hates them all.
As the story progresses the reader learns more of Stark’s history. We find out about who James Stark was before his journey to Hell, as well as the details of incident that sent him there. We also learn a little about the five other magic users who he holds responsible for his prolonged stay. In addition Stark finds himself stuck between the armies of Heaven and Hell. Everyone has their own agendas and Sandman Slim is the key element in everyone’s plans. The story of Stark’s revenge runs in parallel with the never ending battle between these two opposing forces that control the universe. On one hand you have the intimate tale of a man who wants nothing but revenge while on the other you have the epic ongoing war between the very essences of good and evil. The author manages the tricky task of combining these two elements without either ever overwhelming the other.
It struck me that there are elements of a classic Western in the novel. There are good guys and bad guys with Sandman Slim in the middle. Each camp tries at various times to control or destroy him as he is an unknown quantity in their plans. Stark, meanwhile, spends his time tracking down each of his betrayers, one at a time, like a grizzled gunslinger. There is a definite Clint Eastwood-esque tough guy quality about him.
Stark’s character is well defined and his motivations are never in doubt. He escaped Hell when he learned that his girlfriend had been murdered by the people he thought were his friends. This anger fuels his mission; he is like a force of nature as he stomps around Los Angeles looking for people to hurt. He is a runaway train on a collision course with destiny, never deviating from his chosen target. Understandably, all this anger doesn’t make him a particularly likeable character but it does make him interesting one. He’s not adverse to stealing cars or picking fights to get him closer to his goal. Stark’s single-mindedness makes him an enjoyable character to read. If he is in your corner he will back you to the hilt and this is his only real redeeming feature that he is always looking out for his friends.
It was a shame that I didn’t get the same level of insight into some of the other characters in the novel. I felt I only really got to see a glimpse of them. A good example is Lucifer who shows up toward the end of the novel. He is only in a handful of pages, but I was immediately intrigued by him and curious to know more. Hopefully this maybe something that is dealt with in the second novel, Kll the Dead.
Overall, I enjoyed Sandman Slim, it’s a rough and ready novel crammed full of violence, betrayal and revenge. Those easily offended by adult language may wish to stay away but if you like your protagonists hardcore then this could very well be the novel for you.