Overview; James Stark has escaped from Hell and taken revenge against his killers, and now he has bills to pay. He contracts himself out to both heaven and hell, and takes a job working as a body guard for Satan himself.
“I’m losing a lot of blood back here.”
“If you were losing a lot of blood, you wouldn’t be able to talk, so feel free to bleed faster.”
Review; Kill the Dead is the mostly successful follow up to Richard Stark’s incredible Sandman Slim. James Stark aka Sandman Slim is equal parts Phillip Marlowe and Eric Draven. Where the first novel had a clear sense of purpose as Stark investigated his death and systematically killed the guilty parties, Kill the Dead starts without a sense of focus or tension. Stark is a nearly un-killable protagonist and when he is protecting Satan who cannot be killed, only embarrassed by the body he uses expiring there is a great lack of tension.
Kadrey’s Satan also lacks any sense of menace or mischievousness. The character reads like a bored immortal lamenting existence. While there is a payoff for this behavior he was just irritating getting there.
The porn star/assassin Bridget Bardot is written with depth and has a clear character, however her role as a porn star (and why is it always pornstars never just a performer who never reached true stardom) is totally needless and has nearly no impact on the story at all. Her set-up feels too much like an unrefined juvenile wet dream. Also the name was distracting to me.
What kept me reading though is Stark himself. Kadrey has created a wonderfully realized character. His sense of purpose, hopes and dreams are perfectly realized, not in simple declaratives but the actions he takes. He talks like Marlowe and acts like Draven, if this isn't a selling point nothing will be.
Aelita as the lead angel for heaven is also a terrific character and works terrifically in contrast to Stark. The rest of the supporting cast are also well realized and avoid the cliché trappings so easy to fall into in genre fiction.
Despite its initial appearance of a lack of focus the last quarter of the book had me completely drawn in. What seemed supercilious becomes important and as the novel progresses the story grows tighter and the reader clearly understands the meaning of everything that had transpired.
In the End;
Kill the Dead rewards the reader for sticking with it. Stark is still a terrific character and Kadrey’s prose carries with it a unique and easily readable sense of identity. While I am worried by some of the allusions of what is to come, I am encouraged that Kadrey has stated this series is on a six book arc and there is a clear point we are working to. With this novel he has proven but seems a random stream of ideas can build to a clear and distinct end.