01 May 2020

Review || Ballistic Kiss by Richard Kadrey




Sandman Slim is back in Los Angeles and kicking more supernatural ass in this inventive, high-octane page-turner—the next to last volume in the popular and acclaimed fantasy adventure series from New York Times bestselling author Richard Kadrey.

As the battle between warring angels continues, James Stark is focused on seemingly simpler matters now that he’s resurfaced on earth: an invasion of ghosts. L.A.’s Little Cairo neighborhood has suddenly been overrun by violent spirits, and Thomas Abbott knows if anyone can figure out why they’ve appeared—and how to get rid of them—it’s Stark. 


Armed with the Room of Thirteen Doors, Stark quickly learns that the answer may reach back to the 1970s and the unsolved murder of small-time actor, Chris Stein. As he begins to dig into the cold case, another area of Stark’s life takes an unexpected turn when he becomes entangled with Janet, a woman he saved during the High Plains Drifter zombie attack. 

Janet’s brush with the living dead hasn’t quenched her thirst for danger. She’s an adrenaline junkie and a member of The Zero Lodge—a club that promises “there’s zero chance you’ll get out alive.” The Lodge attracts thrill-seekers who flock to perilous events such as night walks through the LA Zoo—with its deadliest animals uncaged. Joining the lodge to be with Janet, Stark makes a pair of crucial discoveries that could decide the fate of LA and Heaven itself.

To prevent the Little Cairo haunting from consuming the city, Stark must piece together the connections between the Lodge and a missing angel last seen in a Hollywood porn palace. But while he may dispatch the ghosts, Stark knows that without his help, the bloody war in Heaven could rage forever.




   

Ballistic Kiss is the eleventh book in the Sandman Slim series. The series features a half-man, half-angel protagonist, James Stark, in a world filled with vampires, demons, and magic. Those of us wanting some Dresden file detective noir happily stumbled onto the first self-titled Sandman Slim book back in 2009.   

Stark is quite an unconventional character. Being half-angel is only the start of it. He spent years in Hell, battling demons in gladiator pits. He's also a movie junkie, owning his own movie store, practically a relic these days. A lot of old Hollywood features in the SS series, fitting considering it's set in LA and you feel the culture through the writing. You would think being half-angel would mean that he's a handsome hero. You'd also be wrong. Stark is one of the most self-flagellating anti-heroes that you will meet in fiction, but at least does so with mostly humorous internal (and external for that matter) dialogue. 

"I've seen worse." "Fresno?" She bumps me with her shoulder.  "Hell, dumbass. Remember when you took me there?" "Yeah. That was brilliant. I almost got you killed." "You almost get everyone killed. It's one of your charms."

I just really struggle with Stark and his relationships. He's just so stunted emotionally that it's hard to commiserate with him during his woe-is-me moments. You spend so much time in his headspace that it wears thin pretty quickly. In this case, it's Janet with whom he's gone on a few friendly dates. Janet is non-binary and attempts to explain gender assumptions to Stark. Surprisingly, he's more accepting of it than I thought his character would be given his snarky ways and he spends the rest of the novel correcting himself with his pronouns. Janet is also the reason he ends up with The Zero Lodge, because who doesn't love playing red rover blindfolded in highway traffic. 

It has been a while since I found myself in a Sandman Slim novel but it didn't take very long to immerse myself back into Stark's world. There was a lot to like about it. The Little Cairo ghostly infestation was an interesting side job but the real zinger here is The Zero Lodge. While I love paranormal detective noir and I understand that making your character flawed makes them more relatable, a "little less talk and a lot more action" is needed for me to love Sandman Slim.