Thursday, 6 September 2012
'The Dirty Streets of Heaven' - Tad Williams
I often say how the protagonists in crime novels all share very similar traits, and this is even more true in urban fantasy. They are usually around average height, of a more sinewy build, but they do know how to throw a punch and excel at taking a beating. The last bit is essential as the key ingredient is a smart mouth, and you know werewolves, vampires and demons hit pretty hard. World weary and cynical goes without saying, and if you are not slightly depressed by their company after a few pages, something is wrong. Then there is that added spice, their knack for something which makes them special and interesting. Constantine has his magic, Matthew Swift is a frigging electric angel, and all Felix Castor got was a flute.
Bobby Dollar is an angel, no electricity involved, but the soul of a mortal who perished, and was lucky enough to end up in heaven. This processes is a lot more convoluted than I thought, it's not an instant process where your actions are weighed and the scales tipped into fiery oblivion or a heavenly paradise. No. A representative from both heaven and hell argues your case in front of a judge. Bobby Dollar is one such heavenly advocate. It's all pretty much business as usual for him until one day when the defendant does not turn up. This has never happened before and what happens with a soul after a person's death is clearly defined in the treaty signed by both sides after the big upset. A soul not showing up for its own trial is not part of that treaty and the two sides are quick to blame each other. You'd think heaven is a tight knitted group where everyone has each others' back, but you'd be wrong. At least according to Bobby Dollar who is worried he will somehow be the scapegoat for all this, so he decides to look into it on his own. The smoking hot demonic investigator sent by the opposition has nothing to do with this decision. The smoking hot, it's actually burning, demon might have something to do with it. Fear is a great motivator.
The Dirty Streets of Heaven is one of those books I was quite happy to pick up and get back into it, in spite of a few issues. Sometimes, the sum is greater than the parts. I do wish Tad Williams had equipped Bobby Dollar with a slightly less annoying personality. We all have that one friend who think they know everything, and sees it as their duty to educate everyone else. Even when chased by demons Bobby Dollar can't help himself from telling us about all the cool shit he knows about the neighbourhood he is running through. Still, he does have a certain world-weary charm so in the end he gets away with it.
I could never shake the feeling of having read it all before, but The Dirty Streets of Heaven is still a well written book packed to the brim with action adventure. The pace never slackens, and the urban fantasy hero's legendary ability to take a beating is stretched to the limit. Somehow, it all comes together in a conspiracy theory kind of way, and the awkward judging of souls is replaced with far more interesting lore and events. I'm not sure it's enough to make me read a second Bobby Dollar novel, but it was entertaining while it lasted.
If you like urban fantasy, and if you are a fan of Chris F Holm's Dead Harvest, I'm certain you will enjoy The Dirty Streets of Heaven as well.
The Dirty Streets of Heaven weighs in at 416 pages, and is published by Hodder.