Richard Kadrey’s New Chapter for Slim
The Sandman Slim series has been going on for quite a while at this stage, with Hollywood Dead being the tenth novel penned by Richard Kadrey. It’s already been a hell of a ride until now, with some ups and downs here and there, but on the whole filled with imaginative excitement and mystery. In my opinion, it is quite difficult to keep any book series going this long without the quality taking some kind of hit along the way. After all, there is always some sort of limit as to what one author can do with any given subject or characters. However, there are rare cases when a series can maintain a certain standard throughout its existence, and none of the novels feel as if they might be heralding a premature end to it all… there are indeed times when the tenth or twentieth books are still nearly as good as the first one. In my personal opinion, though I imagine some would disagree, this latest Sandman Slim novel falls right into that category.
For those who haven’t made his acquaintance yet but don’t feel the desire to go back and read a bunch of old novels, Sandman Slim is the moniker of a man by the name of James Stark, a former inmate of hell and perhaps the world’s most overt detective. This time around, he managed to find his way out of hell and back on Earth, but there is a catch. He has made a deal with an evil power broker, Wormwood, which essentially requires Slim to hunt down the broker’s enemies. If he doesn’t manage within a certain time limit, his body will expire and then he will truly be stuck in hell for all eternity. Needless to say, hellish fiends certainly don’t have simple enemies, and Slim finds himself facing a bridge he can only cross with the help of some new friends, and perhaps old faces from his past.
A Hellion’s Place in the World
As I mentioned before, the deeper a book series goes the harder it becomes for the author to keep up their formula or find new directions to go in. When it comes to our beloved Sandman, we’ve already been privy more than a few times to his kill-and-drink routine, so-to-speak, and personally-speaking, I was starting to get a little tired of it. This is essentially why I was quite happy to see Kadrey try and take a new direction with his character, to evolve him into someone more complex and nuanced. He’s certainly not as violent as he used to be; where before he was driven by revenge, now it’s love which keeps him going. His development certainly leads to more emotionally and psychologically-complex relationships, not only with others but also with himself. Kadrey makes it apparent the man is suffering in his own right, and is slowly inching his way to finding a place in the world for himself.
With that being said, I feel Richard Kadrey might want to look towards making a few more developments to the character. There were many times in the book when Slim didn’t feel like his usual self to a bit too great of an extent, being pushed around and led by the nose an uncomfortable amount of times. These times also contrasted with some others when he was much more akin to his older, fast and furious self we’ve become accustomed to. In other words, in terms of character development this feels like a strange transitional stage which hits a few wrong notes here and there, but one I’m overall glad we are getting.
The Old Monster Slayer
Moving on from the main character and onto the story itself, the pacing in this one feels a bit slower than in the previous books, but not to the point where I would call it boring or anything of the sort. Whereas past novels went from one action scene to the next at breakneck speed, this one takes a bit of time to dedicate passages here and there to character development in various ways. I find this brings a welcome change of pace as it helps build a more intimate rapport with the characters and learn about the recurring ones, which we didn’t have all that much of a chance to do before.
The action scenes themselves and the writing in them are perhaps, once again, the highlight of this book. Kadrey has the uncanny ability to make you forget about everything else which might be happening, even if it’s a whole apocalypse. The action is described in a visceral and intimate you, making you feel as if your face is being thrust right into the heart of it all. I would even say the author’s writing in these sequences has continuously improved from one book to the next, and he might have very well achieved the pinnacle of action scene writing. Whether he’s emotionally complex or simple, driven by vengeance or love, Sandman Slim remains, at heart, a man who kills monsters in brutal and memorable fashion… and this is a facet of his identity he can never hope to lose. If this is your favourite part of the Sandman Slim novels, rest assured it’s present in spades from beginning to end.
The Final Verdict
All in all, even though Hollywood Dead by Richard Kadrey takes Sandman Slim in a slightly new direction in certain regards, it remains a solid and welcome addition to the series. It mixes together the tried-and-true elements of the series with new ideas for character development, and though they don’t always work the novel has more than enough to compensate for it. If you’re a fan of the series I definitely recommend you give this novel a shot. If this is your first foray into it, I still believe it’s a good book I can recommend, just keep in mind you’re likely to be a bit confused from time to time.
Richard Kadrey is an American novelist from San Francisco, as well as a freelance writer and photographer. His greatest claim to fame is the Sandman Slim novel, listed on Barnes & Nobles as one of the thirteen “Best Paranormal Fantasy Novels of the Decade”. He has also penned Metrophage and Dead Set, as well as some non-fiction books including The Catalog of Tomorrow and From Myst to Riven.