Friday, October 29, 2010

Review: "Kill the Dead" by Richard Kadrey

Richard Kadrey continues his tale of James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, in his latest efford, “Kill the Dead” ($22.99, Eos).

Stark is a man who has literally been through Hell. A feud with a rival magician sent him there, but he clawed his way out. He now lives in Los Angeles and, much to his disappointment, is regaining his humanity. The layers of scars from wounds suffered in the arenas of Hell that he uses as armor are beginning to fade. He runs a video store and takes occasional assignments from the Golden Vigil, a secret government organization run by an angel that deals with supernatural issues. His luck isn’t going so well. Then he gets a call from Lucifer. He’ll be in town working on a biographical film about himself, and he wants Sandman Slim, a legend in the supernatural community, by his side as a bodyguard. Stark accepts the assignment, but it leads him in even stranger directions.

Other plans have been set in motion that will unleash a zombie plague on L.A., and it’s up to Stark to figure out how to stop it and who is responsible.

With the glut of urban fantasy on the market these days, it takes something special to catch my eye. Kadrey’s first volume in the series, “Sandman Slim,” was able to do it, and “Kill the Dead” is not a bad follow-up. Admittedly, I didn’t enjoy the second book as much as the first, probably because of the vampire and zombie angles in the book. Both are a little hokey and overdone these days, but they’re handled as well as possible, and the “social structure” that’s set up for the zombies is at least an interesting concept. Kadrey really turns the book around, though, with some interesting twists and turns toward the end that set up a quite intriguing future for Sandman Slim and the cast of characters around him. To me, the final revelations and set up for the future of the story is more interesting than much of the tale in this book.

Stark remains a fascinating anti-hero. As in the first book, Kadrey takes a character that’s cold-hearted and despicable, with few if any redeeming qualities, and makes the reader want to cheer for him. True, that owes something to the fact that the people up against him are even more despicable, but there’s still a certain likeability about him despite his many flaws. The characters that are closest to Stark are also intriguing in their own right, but I am disappointed that some of the other characters introduced in the book were not developed a little more. One in particular -- a foreign porn star trying to make it as a legitimate actress in L.A. who is really a zombie hunter from a family of zombie hunters – seems to be ripe for developing into an integral character, yet after a bit of build up, she’s largely left as a piece of the scenery in this book. Perhaps we’ll see her again in the future.

While not quite as good as the first book in the series, “Kill the Dead” succeeds in building some anticipation for the future installments in the series. All Hell is about to break loose, and hopefully Kadrey can deliver on the promise that he’s made.

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

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