Review: Kill the Dead / Author: Richard Kadrey / Publisher: Eos / Release Date: October 5th
Kadrey's Sandman Slim was a tasty cocktail of dark fantasy, urban humour, knowing pop culture references and thunderous action, and Starburst gave it ten out of ten. Sadly, the sequel, Kill the Dead, doesn't have anywhere near the same perfect blend of ingredients. Uh, maybe Kill the Franchise would have been a better title…
The narrator and anti-hero of the Sandman Slim novels is James Stark. Enduring an eventful sojourn in hell and living to tell the tale, he returns to Los Angeles to wreak vengeance on the cabal of magicians who sent him there. In this book, all that's in the past, and he's working as an occasional hitman for a government agency as a way of supporting his ailing video rental business and keeping his severed head flatmate in cigarettes and tamales. But then Lucifer comes to the city of angels to get into the movies, and Stark is landed with the job of being his bodyguard. Just to complicate matters still further, some of LA's most powerful magical families are being murdered in grisly fashion, and it looks as if the Prince of Darkness might be on the same hit list.
The joy of the first book was in watching the vengeful Stark go blundering around a recognizable, sharply-drawn LA. Here, the urban grit is lost as LA becomes a fantasy ground of vampires, necromancers and portals to other dimensions. A similar unwelcome mutation has befallen Stark himself, originally an impulsive, nihilistic ruffian whose main supernatural attribute was that whatever didn't kill him made him stronger. In Kill the Dead, he turns gumshoe, patiently poring over clues and interrogating witnesses whereas before he would have hit them over the head with a bottle of Jack Daniels and asked questions later. His powers seem to wax and wane in an amorphous way, as though Kadrey no longer knows quite what to make of him.
The same tentativeness permeates the entire novel. Sandman Slim was bursting with colourful characters, but those that recur no longer carry the same weight, and the new ones verge on cliché – witness Brigitte Bardo, Czech porn star by day, zombie slayer by night, yawn… although to be fair she does provide some useful tips on how to kill a walker (rip out the spine to destroy the nervous system, in case you were wondering.) As for Lucifer, he made a memorable cameo appearance at the end of the first book, but casting him as a major player in this one leads to that whole familiarity-breeding-contempt situation.
Throughout, Kadrey constantly ups the ante in this way, with a consequent loss of nuance and mystique. There's a lot of bustle and some funny lines, but it all feels a bit soulless and plastic. An author well-versed in the movies, Kadrey has delivered that most Hollywood of products, a sequel that tries too hard and lays it on too thick, thus burying a good idea.