Blasphemy. It’s all the rage. I blame the Republicans, and specifically, those types running for office. The double election of George W. Bush has them all thinking that thumping the Bible will get them elected. Meh, whatever.
Richard Kadrey’s Aloha from Hell is full of blasphemy and good old fashioned violence. But all the violence is directed at human scumbags, hellions, and demons, so it’s all non-offensive. The good kind of violence that lets you grow excited by the action without the guilt. The book is also full of entertaining neo-noir quips and a rock-solid hero born of the frothy mix of Sam Spade and Harry Dresden.
Briefly, to get you up to speed, Aloha from Hell is the third book in the Sandman Slim series. The first, Sandman Slim, focused on a guy named James Stark and the events after his escape from living ‘downtown’ (hell) for eleven years. During that time, he became a bit of a legend in the underworld for his fighting prowess and bad ass nature. We find out that a magician named Mason sent Stark to hell… alive, via a summoned portal. And he killed Alice, Stark’s girlfriend. Stark gets revenge on most everyone involved, makes a handful of friends, and goes on trying to live the life of a monster who kills monsters.
The second book, Kill the Dead, is an odd middle act. It is odd because it isn’t a traditional book two of three. It’s almost a stand alone story about Stark being hired by Lucifer as his bodyguard. Homeland Security works with a rogue angel to raise the dead to end the world, and this keeps Stark occupied while he tries to keep an eye on his employer. Kadrey does a good job setting up the pieces for book three.
Aloha from Hell picks up two months after book two. Stark and his cast of friends is hired to find a demon-possessed kid. It’s all a ploy by the big meanie from the first book, Mason, to draw Stark back to hell and play a role in the destruction of heaven and hell. Where are the big bosses, God and Lucifer? Lucifer has abdicated leadership of hell and returned to heaven. God… well… he’s around and mostly ambivalent. Stark saves the day/universe, and we’re given a nice happy ending with a bow on top (although the denouement with Stark and Alice is a bit sad).
Aloha from Hell is a fun book that is sloppily written. Stark is an amazing character who has amazing things happen to him, but inexplicably he’s pulled out of the fire time and time again. To enjoy the book, the reader simply has to roll with the punches. I’ll give you a couple of examples. Nobody in the history of time has escaped Tartarus (a place where the dead-dead’s souls go and is fed into a furnace so they’re really dead, dead-dead-dead), yet Stark drops down there, finds the one soul among millions he went to retrieve, in mere seconds figures out a way to not only escape Tartarus, but to open portals to heaven, hell, and earth.
Much is made of Stark’s black blade. Crafted with the bones of hellions, it cuts through anything. It opens locks. Starts cars. And when used in a lethal manner, you’re dead-dead, with no hope of coming back, no matter if you’re a mortal or spiritual being. Stark is practically gutted by Mason’s black blade. He even dies. But hold on, he comes back! Behold, Lucifer has placed a soul-catcher in Stark’s heart (placed there without explanation in the second book) that catches it before it darts off to Tartarus.
Wow, lucky for Stark, eh?
I complain, but when you get right down to it, if Kadrey wrote another Sandman Slim novel, I’d jump in line and buy a copy (the audio version, please). These are entertaining books. So what if the author plays loose and dangerous with his own rules, its his damn universe and his damn world. And Sandman Slim is one damned soul who is fun to follow.