In my review of Richard Kadrey’s first urban fantasy novel, Sandman Slim, I said it was like “riding a Harley at 110 miles per hour down a deserted interstate in the dead of night. While you’re drunk. And bad guys are emptying guns at you.”
The sequel, Kill the Dead, is more of the same, and manages to ratchet everything up a notch or two, or maybe five.
The first book was a straightforward revenge story: James Stark was betrayed and sent Downtown (a euphemism for Hell) by the circle of magicians he’d once belonged to. His longtime girlfriend Alice was killed by the same group. Stark managed to survive in Hell for ten long years, participating in arena fights and growing more powerful along the way as the demons and fallen angels betting on him gave him potions and elixirs that made him very difficult to kill. After escaping, he was hellbent (pun intended) on laying waste to those who did him wrong.
The sequel picks up with Stark working for a secret government agency known as the Golden Vigil, which is run by an angel who considers Stark an Abomination and would like nothing more than to see him dead. But he has his uses in fighting monsters and demons, and so he’s occasionally called on by the Vigil to dispatch a particularly nasty creature of the night.
After chasing down a teen vampire in the opening pages, Stark gets caught up in a number of overlapping mysteries. A gruesomely murdered corpse who was the last line of an ancient supernatural family, and whose death may be more than it seems; a strange sigil on the belt buckle of a dead vampire; a sudden assault by zombies in a neighborhood bar; and Lucifer himself coming to town to make a movie about his life, who insists that Stark act as his personal bodyguard. All of these mysteries slowly converge as Stark digs relentlessly to find out just what the Hell is going on.
Kill the Dead is a fine mystery novel and a highly enjoyable read. Part of the fun is Kadrey’s prose, which is electrifying in a way similar to James Ellroy’s style before the latter crossed the line into cartoonish pastiche of his own work.
I can’t wait for the next book, Aloha from Hell.