Killing Pretty: Stark gives mainstream life a try, and fails brilliantly

Killing Pretty: A Sandman Slim Novel Killing Pretty by Richard Kadrey urban fantasy book reviewsKilling Pretty by Richard Kadrey

Killing Pretty is the seventh book in Richard Kadrey’s SANDMAN SLIM series. Barnes and Noble included this book on their list of series books you could start if you hadn’t read the earlier books, and I think this is true. The book is not a reboot by any means, but James Stark, who was known as Sandman Slim when he fought in the arena in Hell, does some ruminating about what his life in L.A. has been like the past few years, and savvy readers would have no real trouble catching on to the story.

At first, Killing Pretty is a little worrying, because it looks like Stark is going legit. He is an employee of a licensed private eye, Julie, who used to work for the Golden Vigil, a hybrid agency comprised of Homeland Security agents and heavenly angels — and that law enforcement scenario should give you nightmares. Julie wants Stark to do things like get a driver’s license and buy a car, which is a challenge for someone who doesn’t even have a checking account. Stark is feeling the loss of one of the most potent artifacts he brought from Hell, and hates the idea of having to buy a car. Life isn’t too mundane for our boy, though; just after New Year’s, a man approached Stark saying he was Angel of Death. He was in a human body that was missing its heart. Stark was inclined to be skeptical, but since New Year’s no one on earth has died. That seems to support the man’s story.

Julie has taken on the case, and Stark’s investigation into who trapped the Angel of Death in a mortal body leads him to the American Nazi movement in the 1930s, to the magical community known as the Sub Rosa and to a new group of power brokers. The push-back he gets ranges from vandalism to near-fatal attacks to bureaucratic oppression; Stark, his business partner Kasabian and his new friend Chihiro get an eviction notice on their video rental store, citing eminent domain for a freeway bypass.

The action is fast-paced as always, and it wasn’t until I finished the book that I realized there is actually quite a bit of hanging around the store and sitting in cars. The banter among Stark’s friends is so snappy that I certainly didn’t notice that while I was reading.Sandman Slim (10 Book Series) by Richard Kadrey

Part of Stark’s charm is his (or perhaps Kadrey’s; it’s hard to tell) love-hate relationship with Los Angeles. In earlier books, it was clear that Hell, or at least Stark’s Hell, was based on Los Angeles. In Killing Pretty, Stark thinks about his home city:

…This city is built on a bedrock of high crimes and rotten death. The Black Dahlia. Bugsy Siegel. The Night Stalker. We’ve buried and forgotten more bodies than all the cemeteries of Europe. Someday the water is going to run out and the desert will strip this town down to its Technicolor bones. Even the buzzards won’t want it and the city knows it. Maybe that’s why I like it.

The Nazi-mysticism twist and the plan of the people who tried to kill Death are plausible and fit in well with the Sandman Slim world. I stayed up until midnight to finish this; I wasn’t always grasping the arms of my chair or anything; it was moving so quickly and was so interesting I just didn’t want to put it down. I love Stark’s voice, his moments of vulnerability, and his skewed view of the world.

One thing confuses me. The cover and the jacket copy both mention specifically The Girl With the Graveyard Eyes. If she was in there, I missed her. There are two possible candidates; one is Chihiro, but I wouldn’t call her eyes “graveyard eyes” exactly; the second is a character we meet about halfway through the book. Stark never talks about her “graveyard eyes” either. What did I miss?

Despite this puzzle, I enjoyed Killing Pretty. While I think you owe it to yourself to read all the books in order, I agree that you could start here and comfortably follow the plot. Stark may have tried a nine-to-five job, but don’t worry. He’s not going mainstream anytime soon.

Publication date: July 28, 2015. Sandman Slim investigates Death’s death in this hip, propulsive urban fantasy through a phantasmagoric LA rife with murder, mayhem, and magic. James Stark has met his share of demons and angels, on earth and beyond. Now, he’s come face to face with the one entity few care to meet: Death. Someone has tried to kill Death—ripping the heart right out of him—or rather the body he’s inhabiting. Death needs Sandman Slim’s help: he believes anyone who can beat Lucifer and the old gods at their own game is the only one who can solve his murder. Stark follows a sordid trail deep into LA’s subterranean world, from vampire-infested nightclubs to talent agencies specializing in mad ghosts, from Weimar Republic mystical societies to sleazy supernatural underground fight and sex clubs. Along the way he meets a mysterious girl —distinguished by a pair of graveyard eyes — as badass as Slim: she happens to be the only person who ever outwitted Death. But escaping her demise has had dire consequences for the rest of the world… and a few others. For years, Slim has been fighting cosmic forces bent on destroying Heaven, Hell, and Earth. This time, the battle is right here on the gritty streets of the City of Angels, where a very clever, very ballsy killer lies in wait.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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