In Review: Hollywood Dead

This is a supercharged, supernatural, action novel of a half-dead hellion trying to save the world.

Hollywood Dead by Richard Kadrey

Published by Harper Voyager on August 28, 2018. Hardcover of 368 pages at $26.99. Also available as an E-book and an audiobook from HarperAudio. 

Note: I received an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.

The cover: A frightening entrance to the Devil’s Door Dive-In resembles a creature with two glowing eyes and an equally glowing open maw, complete with jagged teeth. This structure is so lit up it seems as if it’s powered by the flames of Hell. To either side of this entrance are two punkers: one sitting down with a guitar and the other standing, looking off into the distance. A single red car is driving into the maw of this beast. The book’s title is at the top of the illustration, complete with nicks to make it seem this copy has gone through several hands. At the bottom is a blurb from Entertainment Weekly, the author’s name, and the star of the novel and three other characters. I like this cover and wish that there had been a specific credit to the artist. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “James Stark is back from Hell, trailing more trouble in his wake. To return to LA, he had to deal with the evil power brokers Wormwood — an arrangement that came with a catch. While he may be home, Stark isn’t quite himself…because he’s only partially alive. There’s a time limit on his reanimated body, and unless Stark can find the people targeting Wormwood, he will die again — and this time there will be no coming back. Even though he’s armed with the Room of Thirteen Doors, Stark knows he can’t find Wormwood’s enemies alone. To succeed he’s got to enlist the help of new friends — plus a few unexpected old faces. Stark has been in dangerous situations before — you don’t get named Sandman Slim for nothing. But with a mysterious enemy on the loose, a debt to pay, and a clock ticking down, this may truly be the beginning of his end…” I’ve heard of and seen several Sandman Slim novels, but, for whatever reason, never picked one up. I’m happy to be finally giving a book in this series a read. This is the tenth novel in the series, so I’m hoping I won’t have any difficulties jumping in at this point. Overall grade: A-

The characters: James “Sandman Slim” Stark is your no nonsense, hard talking, wise cracking, killer. He’s also been returned from Hell for a job. He’s taken this job so he can be returned to a full blown human. The problem is the job he’s taken is constantly evolving, doing his body considerable harm. He’s straight with his friends and if you’re in his way, you will go down in a bloody mess. Considering his state and what he’s been through, he’s very sympathetic, but he’d put me down for saying that. His greatest flaw is that he puts others before himself, resulting in him making some poor decisions for himself. He was in a a relationship with Candy a year ago, before he died, but she’s moved on, living now with Alessa. They women have a close relationship. James’s return is only going to complicate things. Working with the women is Kasabian, who isn’t happy to see James because monsters and guns always follow. The antagonists of the novel are Wormwood, which is composed of two warring factions of evil magicians, each vying for control of the group. Stark is brought back to life by Eva Sandoval’s original Wormwood group. She and her “roaches” as James calls them, which includes Barron Sinclair and Howard, want him to find out how the other Wormwood group plans to take them out. They have no names and no leads, but their elimination is supposed to happen soon. This lack of a start and their attitudes towards James angers the hero. The reader knows that there will be some kind of payback at some point. A surprising character in the novel is Marcella, who works for the other Wormwood group. Her first meeting with James has her torturing him, but their relationship, and her character, expand in a most interesting way. There are other characters who appear, many who die, but each was intriguing. Overall grade: A

The settings: Sandoval’s mansion is where the book opens. Well, actually down in the bowling alley. In addition to this key locale, James visits the living room, kitchen, and personal quarters of this massive building. It’s just as one would expect, with subtle supernatural overtones. Donut Universe is visited early and at the end of the book. I’ve been to LA at night and this is exactly how a gimmicky donut store would be. Bamboo House of Dolls is a dive bar that’s taken a turn for the worse, according to James. It’s described wonderfully and I wish such a place existed. Max Overdrive is a store that sells some unique items. It’s visited several times, both its exterior and interior, and it’s as one would expect. Very briefly, Hell is visited and it’s unique described and not a place I would ever want to go to, but Jimmy says we’re all going there now. There’s a safe house that James needs in the last third of the novel. I won’t spoil it, but I would love to see this location on the big screen or visit such a place. This wide variety of settings is true to LA’s nature and I swear I’ve driven by a few of these locations. Overall grade: A

The action: You want messy action? Look no further than this book. A half-dead killer takes down the bad guys with blades, guns, and some hoodoo spellcasting. It’s violent, it doesn’t hold any punches, and it goes over the top several times adding a deliriously insane aspect to the book. If one inconceivably grows tired of the story, there’s sure to be a tough as nails action sequence that will swallow you back into the plot. Overall grade: A+

The conclusion: There are some good surprises in the climax, with a nifty solution to James’s current predicament. There’s a tease for more books, but one could easily read just this book and be more than satisfied by the solution. Overall grade: A

The final line: This is a supercharged, supernatural, action novel of a half-dead hellion trying to save the world. I was sucked into this world by the fantastic first person point of view, the voice of the protagonist, and the insane action. I’ve now got to go back and read the first nine novels. Sandman Slim is sick and slick reading. Overall grade: A

To order a copy of this book go to http://www.harpervoyagerbooks.com/book/9780062474179/hollywood-dead-2/

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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