“Get out the chain saws and pass the mint juleps.
It’s party time…”
– Aloha from Hell by Richard Kadrey
And although Kadrey’s foul-mouthed antihero James Stark (aka Sandman Slim) is a nephilim, his very human inner conflict between the angelic and monstrous elements of his psyche is what makes this saga such an intimate, profoundly moving read. Stark is very much a metaphor for all of us – he is our daily struggle between choosing to follow our inner angel or unleashing our inner demon…
The saga’s premise is a twisted amalgam of L.A. noir, Lovecraftian horror, deviant Internet porn, and sitcom from Hell. Stark is a magician who gets exiled to Hell by a rival and, after 11 years “Downtown,” finally escapes back to Los Angeles on a mission of unholy retribution. I have described Slim, I think fittingly, as “the illegitimate lovechild of Charles Bukowski, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and the Prince of Darkness.” Envision Max Allan Collins’ iconic hitman Quarry wielding a black blade forged in Hell and having the power to instantaneously travel anywhere in time or space and you’ve got a pretty good picture of who Sandman Slim is: he is “the monster who kills monsters.”
Aloha from Hell – the title lovingly lifted from the classic song from The Cramps – may just be Kadrey’s strongest Sandman Slim novel to date. Stark is manipulated into returning Downtown to save a beloved friend and to kill an enemy bent on destroying the universe. But his trip to Hell soon becomes complicated and, after a nightmarish sojourn in Tartarus, Stark’s perception of Heaven, Hell and Los Angeles becomes decidedly more enlightened. The conclusion of Aloha from Hell – combined with the revelations leading up to the novel’s end – was simply jaw dropping. Hardcore fans of this series will be mulling the implications of these bombshells over for some time to come…
There is so much to love about this series – namely the cast of over-the-top yet undeniably endearing characters (Stark; his bodiless, porn-addicted sidekick, Kasabian; the monstrously sexy Candy; the seemingly ageless alchemist Vidocq; etc.) and Kadrey’s relentless, acerbic wit – but, for me at least, the thing that makes these novels so singularly unforgettable is the way in which Kadrey integrates his thoughts on society, religion, fate, the meaning of life, etc. into the narrative. It’s the unholy gospel according to Sandman Slim. Here are some of my favorite excerpts:
• “The universe is a meat grinder and we’re just pork in designer shoes, keeping busy so we can pretend we’re not all headed for the sausage factory.” (Kill the Dead)
• “We’re just bugs on God’s windshield. That’s all we are. Annoying. Disposable. A dime a dozen.” (Aloha from Hell)
• “Karma is just loaded dice on a crooked table.” (Aloha from Hell)
• “Memories are bullets. Some whiz by and only spook you. Others tear you open and leave you in pieces. Someday the right one will catch you right between the eyes and you’ll never see it coming.” (Kill the Dead)
• “Hell and earth are the same thing. Separated by nothing more than a thin shroud of understanding…” (Aloha from Hell)
• “Dying isn’t the worst thing in the world, but dying because you’re stupid is.” (Aloha from Hell)
This is NOT your average paranormal fantasy saga. It’s unapologetic and brutal and sometimes quite shocking – but it’s also some of the best paranormal fantasy that I’ve ever read: it's unholy literary gold.
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
Keep up with all of my blogs – as well as all of Barnes & Noble’s exclusive reviews, authors interviews, videos, promotions, and more – by following @BNBuzz on Twitter!
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