Title: Dead Set
Author: Richard Kadrey
Publisher: Harper Voyager
When I think of horror, I think of Freddy Krueger or Nightmare on Elm Street or Stephen King, even.
If I were to categorize Richard Kadrey’s books, they would be urban fantasy, which also have a dark twisted underbelly to them.
But many have categorized Kadrey as horror, and since I’m not big on quibbling about labels, I’ll just say “‘Kay.” Because what it all comes down to is story. What is the story and how is the story told? That’s what makes a great read for me.
Dead Set is the story of Zoe and how her teenaged life got derailed after her father dies. The only thing good she can count on is visits with her dream brother, Valentine, when she goes to sleep. But then, (good stories always have a but then) …
But then, a black dog starts appearing in her dreams. And she meets a guy at a record shop storing records with souls captured on them. For a seemingly small price, he’ll let Zoe commune with her father.
And then, Zoe actually goes to her father and nothing is even close to how she imagined it might be.
Kadrey’s stories are creepy, that’s for damned sure. But they’re also interesting, well-thought out and entertaining. In Zoe’s story, he captures that heart-ache of a teenage girl trying to fit into her own life, and make sense of the changes that have happened. It’s the story of a girl longing to re-connect with the love she once felt from both her parents, and to use her teenage rebellion for something other than just being a rebel.
I love the Sandman Slim series. Love it. In Dead Set, we have a quieter protagonist whose world is almost as dangerous as Slim’s. And I loved it just as much.
Satanists make junior high school Goths look like NASA. (p. 143)
I’ve been taken with Sandman Slim from the very beginning. Not only is he a mostly unrepentant badass who embraces that part of him. He uses it to try to make life better for those he loves, and the world in general, although were the world to be aware of Slim, they wouldn’t thank him for his efforts.
At the end of Devil Said Bang, Slim is the only person to have escaped Hell twice. This is quite an accomplishment, given that no one is supposed to escape ever, especially if you’re a gladiator expected to fight to the death the first time you’re there.
Kadrey shakes the notions of Heaven and Hell, God and Satan, around a lot in his Sandman Slim books. His notions match mine that all is not so cut and dried as Christians would have us believe, there’s a lot of grey area. And to shake that notion even more, it’s revealed in the first book, Sandman Slim, that Slim, aka Stark, is a nephilim. This part angel, part human thing makes just about every supernatural being mad. To say Slim’s home life was screwed up wouldn’t even begin to cover it.
It is also the conjunction of many celestial mythologies which make the Sandman Slim books so interesting. Along with other supernatural beings you might not expect to mix with creation and destruction myths.
Devil Said Bang suffers from mid-series dementia. Something often found in other series by other authors. There’s just something about the fourth or so book which is messy. Kevin Hearne’s fifth book in the Iron Druid series, Trapped, suffered from this.
And I will say the same thing about Devil Said Bang as I did about Trapped, there’s too much information being thrown at us. Too many characters and too many machinations. I couldn’t keep up.
With that out of the way, what I like about this book was the continued battle Slim has with himself. He knows that maybe he could do better, but there are times when he just wants to break stuff. It’s what he knows best.
Nice people are fucking weird. (p. 244)
There are always interesting characters with “interesting” hobbies, which turn out to be some sort of key to the plot. In Devil Said Bang, it’s Teddy Osterberg and his collection of cemeteries. Yes, collection.
For generations, Teddy’s family has been moving cemeteries from their original plot of land to the family land outside Los Angeles. There’s a lot of detail about the supernatural aspects of the cemeteries, but it comes down to Osterberg as caretaker of the more “special” cemeteries. It is from this the scary little girl with the curved knife, who is running around killing people, comes.
Did I mention Sandman Slim is dark?
Not only am I fascinated by the mythology Kadrey uses, the machinations and politicking also fascinate me. How do people think like that? How do they know how to find that piece of information which will allow them to manipulate others? How do they think three, four, five steps ahead of the others? Reading Slim play off the others who think they have one up on him in Hell is fascinating. As are all the new and inventive tools used to kill the nasties for whom a shotgun isn’t enough.
Richard Kadrey’s books are not for the squeamish, or for those who hold their mythology dear. I find them very entertaining, if sometimes gross, and I always learn something new about mythology; especially Christian mythology. Kadrey sends me scurrying into the stacks to look up information, and gives me things to think on deeply which allows me space to reframe what I think I already know.