Richard Kadrey’s Kill the Dead is the sequel to Sandman Slim, and James Stark has been keeping himself busy working for various entities in order to pay the rent. The Devil is one of the entities that makes use of Stark’s services, and he wants Stark to serve as his bodyguard while he’s in town on business. Stark is forced to juggle the obligations of both Heaven and Hell, and manages to place himself in the middle of a conflict that started at the dawn of time.
Richard Kadrey’s writing style is awesome. Seriously, I want this guy to write my epitaph after I die. I imagine it would go something like this:
“Here lies Justin Blazier. If you owe him money, you’re a lucky son of a bitch.”
Kadrey continues the gritty shit-kicking approach to writing that made the first novel so great. However, I do use the word “gritty” with some reservations. If I were to create a “Justin’s Scale O’Grittiness” and use it to grade the Sandman Slim novels — it would look something like this:
Normal Gritty = Rugged cowboy squints at the sun and then says something manly.
Using that as a base of grittiness and then applying it to a Sandman Slim novel:
Sandman Slim Gritty = Rugged cowboy squeals in terror whilst getting gang raped by coyotes and left to die on a cactus in the middle of the desert.
Now that I’ve established some perspective you might understand why “gritty” fails as an adequate descriptor.
If you thought Sandman Slim was sparse on the secondary characters’ development, book 2 doesn’t even try. Stark’s friends Vidocq, Allegra, Kinsky and Candy are all relegated to just a few pages. I found their lack of face time to be rather disappointing, since all the characters I just mentioned were worth spending more time with. Stark’s character comes off as sort of whiny, which is a contrast from the previous book. Stark was always prone to complaining, but in Kill the Dead it’s all he does. Stark redeems himself by the end of the story, and in hindsight the change in Stark is more than likely intentional, but it’s just a tad overdone.
The plot of Kill the Dead is fun and exciting. Kadrey uses a few Urban Fantasy staples, but does so in creative ways. Kadrey’s Zombies, for example, come in several varieties, ranging from the shuffling groaning kind to the chess-playing savant kind. Kill the Dead also contains angels, demons, homeland security, warrior gypsies and even a porn star. Kadrey brings all these elements together to create a truly unique universe.
I listened to Kill the Dead on audio CD by Brilliance Audio. The audiobook is voiced by MacLeod Andrews. Mr. Andrews sounds abrasive with a sarcastic edge, the perfect voice to portray Stark. However, his portrayal of Vidocq’s French accent makes him sound more mentally challenged than anything else. The other characters are fine, but none possess the personality he imbues into Stark. The audio version is worth listening to simply to hear Macleod give life to James Stark.
Kadrey has an awesome writing formula and has solidified Sandman Slim as one of my favorite fantasy characters. Fans of urban or dark fantasy should be required by law to read at least the first novel, which is the better one. Richard Kadrey is a man with a lot of talent and strange interests, and I for one am glad he has chosen to express some of them in the form of Sandman Slim.