ALOHA FROM HELL by Richard Kadrey

Harper Voyager
Release date: October 18, 2011
$23.95

I recently had a conversation with a lady friend about the books I read, and she said that they are all about “scrappy individualists against the world.” At first I was like, “you’re full of shit…” and then I realized she was totally right.

I dig Richard Kadrey. His “Sandman Slim” books are truly original. Most books, I’d say, are use once and then maybe not destroy, but at least trade-in, or ignore, or place at the bottom of the pile. Not his. I firmly believe that Kadrey’s books can be read over and over again. There is so much detail and so many things going on, a casual single read through will not do them justice. If you go down the road of rereading these novels, these characters will become larger than life to you and their world will become as clear and vibrant as an HD film.

I noticed the “Sandman Slim” books months ago. Now, something that frequently happens is I will pick up a book at the library, look at it and think to myself that it might be cool, but will end up putting it back and moving on. Fast forward 3-4 months and the book will be in my hands as I scream to myself in my head, “This book kicks fucking ass, what the hell was I waiting for?”
OK, I’m going to try and lay out some basic facts because these books need to be read but I will not spoil them for anyone:

Sandman Slim in his human life was a man named James Stark. Through some magic, necromancy, voodoo, Satanic shit he winds up in Hell. I’m talking literal Hell, like Lucifer Hell, or the Hell that Slayer made a name for themselves singing about. He winds up as a gladiator down there, does a bunch of years killing all kinds of shit and picks up some cool Jagger-like moves. Basically, he becomes a badass motherfucker of the highest order. One thing leads to another, and he comes back to Earth as a very scary man with a chip on his shoulder and things to make right.

Aloha from Hell is the third book in the series. The title comes from a Cramps song (RIP Lux), which made me smile. The series as a whole reminds me of an HBO TV series: as you get further in, more is revealed. Just like in The Wire, where you knew that the first two seasons were gearing up to something serious, Aloha from Hell is the culmination of events in the first two novels. At just ¼ of the way in, I couldn’t put the book down. I was floored at how cool it was: the images and action sequences blew me away. (Actually, I believe these books would make an excellent HBO series – too much to try to pull off in a big screen film series, wouldn’t do them justice.)

A couple of sidenotes: A paramedic I work with loves to read the same kind of stuff I’m into, and yesterday we were sitting around the base in between calls. He pulls out the first “Sandman Slim” book and says, “You need to check this out.” In response I pulled out my advance reading copy of Aloha. He called me a motherfucker, and I just laughed.

The other thing I need to mention is I would love to hang out with Richard Kadrey. His books are filled with references to many of my absolute favorite music and movies. Can any of you tell me the last time you saw a reference to the Spaghetti Western Death Rides a Horse in a novel? I’ll buy you a drink if you can, and are willing to come to Boston to collect.

Dave Wahlman