Aloha from Hell
Hardcover, 448 pages, $23.99
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
Sandman Slim returns to the underworld in Aloha from Hell. Author Richard Kadrey’s furiously funny fire-and-brimstone novel is a primer on how to write snappy, sardonic dialogue. The witticisms are wild; the descriptions devilishly clever. Kadrey’s prose engrosses, which is a major plus since the plot is convoluted and overpopulated with ancillary characters. The book contains no chapters; just space breaks that add to the sense of a relentlessly ongoing narrative that lingers too long in limbo. Fortunately, half-angel/half-human Sandman Slim (otherwise known as Jim Stark) makes observations that are lean and mean. He cuts to the quick, even when the scenario gets weighted down by a plethora of personages with complicated histories and agendas.
Wisecracking Jim Stark always seizes the opportunity to sarcastically appraise a situation. Learning that he must commit suicide to get back into Hell, this conclusion is reached: “After you’ve been shot, stabbed, slashed, burned, and almost zombified and survived it all, death gets kind of abstract. It’s like valentines and diplomas. Something other people have to deal with.”
The hardboiled antihero’s reason to revisit to Hades concerns a lost love. Alice died years ago in violent circumstances connected with Stark’s supernatural dealings. She went to Heaven, but is subsequently snatched by Jim’s enemies and transported to the depths to be used as the lure in an elaborately constructed vendetta. Simultaneously, life on earth is moving on for the protagonist, who takes a smoldering relationship to the next level. His new amour has some dangerous qualities which make her a fine match for Stark: Their coupling is ideal for them both; they destroy most of their lodging while making love. Like countless noir leading man prototypes, Jim Stark is a sucker for the ladies. While still stewing about Alice’s untimely demise, and concerned about the ramifications of another potentially deep involvement, he theorizes: “Sometimes just seeing a woman smile is like a knife in the heart. It hurts and rattles your whole system, but against all your instincts you swallow the pain and keep looking. After a while you realize it doesn’t hurt as much as you thought it would.”
What does hurt Slim is the participation of celestial entities in the malevolent melee. There’s the yin-yang quality to Heaven and Hell; and sometimes it’s hard to tell the players apart without a scorecard. One team can be equally as harmful as the other, especially when there’s a lengthy history of grievances on both sides. Stark/Slim slings verbal barbs with élan; slamming deities, demons, and their turf with equal earthy eloquence: “Hell is just L.A. with lousy head shots.”
Los Angeles receives a particularly biting Slim slam in this marvelous description of a local hotel: “It’s like a cross between a seventies swingers no-tell motel and the kind of hipster hot spot where rock stars stay when they don’t want to be seen bringing home good smack or bad strippers. The rooms are comfortable in a Zen halfway-house kind of way. But the kitchens are decorated in bright primary-colored vinyl like a Playboy-chic burger joint. The place looks like where David Lynch would meet Beaver Cleaver’s mom for secret afternoons of bondage and milk shakes.”
Aloha from Hell is an urban fantasy that excels in confab. Even during periods when the novel’s over-embellished storyline lulls, scribe Richard Kadrey proves he’s a pro at palaver.