Aloha From Hell is Richard Kadrey’s (@Richard_Kadrey) latest book in the Sandman Slim series (the first two being Sandman Slim and Kill the Dead). Kadrey’s mix of urban fantasy, hard boiled crime, and supernatural elements make for a fun read, but it’s Stark (or Sandman Slim, as he is known to the monsters of this world and the underworld), that really shines. How could a smart-ass, ass-kicking, “monster who kills monsters” not be fun to read about?
Attention: SPOILERS ahead. If they bother you, skip this paragraph. In the earlier novels, Stark’s magical rival, Mason, killed Stark’s girlfriend Alice and dragged Stark down to Hell. Stark, already a magical badass, discovered even greater powers when he fought and killed in Hell for years before escaping to L.A. to seek revenge on Mason. Sandman Slim was that revenge story, and it was probably the best of the series. In Kill the Dead, the cast of characters expanded, and Stark saved L.A. from hordes of zombies while also serving as Lucifer’s bodyguard (who visits L.A. to supervise a film based on his life). FYI, Kill the Dead is a little disorganized and not quite the page-turner that Sandman Slim was (it’s probably the weakest of the series, but still worth reading). The series leaves off with Lucifer abandoning Hell and returning to Heaven. Mason, now trapped in Hell, takes advantage of the power vacuum, gathering the hellion forces in an attempt to destroy both Heaven and Hell. /SPOILERS
Aloha finds Stark settling into a relatively comfortable and normal existence, if that’s what you’d call stealing magical relics with an immortal friend. Whatever he’s become though, Stark is no longer the killer he once was. When Stark is asked to look into a botched exorcism performed by a defrocked priest, he begins to see signs of his old nemesis Mason. Stark must return to Hell to fight Mason, save the universe, and rescue his long-lost love Alice. Along the way, there are angels, demons, God, older gods, monsters, and serial killers. Par for the course in the Sandman Slim books.
Like the other books in the series, Aloha is gritty, violent, and snarky. In other words, it’s exactly the book you want to read during the holiday season. Ultimately, Aloha is probably the second best of the trilogy. At this point, readers can see where the story is headed from a fairly early point (which isn’t to say it’s completely predictable, just that I found myself sometimes thinking “get on with it, already”), and there is a bit of a deus ex machina solution at the end that I found a bit unsatisfying. However, don’t let that stop you from reading the series. I think you’ll definitely enjoy the ride. Kadrey is a clever writer who ably mixes mystery, magic, and myth. And Stark is an engaging character, at times funny, loving, and terrifying. I have definitely enjoyed watching him grow over the course of the three books.