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September 3, 2013 / minusbar

Book Review: The Dirty Streets of Heaven, by Tad Williams

Book Review: “The Dirty Streets of Heaven” by Tad Williams

Bobby Dollar is an angel. But in Tad Williams’ world that’s a pretty vague description. There are judicial angels, advocate angels, special ops angels, archangels, and record-keeping angels. Bobby Dollar is an advocate angel. His angelic name is Doloriel, it’s only in his “meatsack” that he gets a cool noir-ish nickname.

Advocates have demonic counterparts called prosecutors. When someone dies, a prosecutor and an advocate meetup on the “outside” – a realm outside of time – where they argue the case of whether the person’s soul should go to heaven or hell. An angelic judge makes the final decision.

Prosecutors are the obvious counterpart to advocates, but the rest of the hierarchy seems different in hell. Big-time demons seem to have more personalized nicknames; The Countess of Cold Hands, Prince Sitri, The Archduke of Hell.  And none of them get along too well.

The story definitely follows a noir formula. The catalyst for the story is a mysterious murder of a prosecutor demon, and it’s the kind of death that doesn’t allow for transfer into a new body. The other notable plot device is the most obvious example of a MacGuffin you’ll ever see. In fact, the object in question isn’t even named until near the end of the book.

The Countess of Cold Hands (real name Cazimira) is a true femme fatale, with emphasis on the fatale. She’s an irresistibly good looking demon with pale skin that’s icy cold to the touch. But inside she burns like any other demon. And I mean inside in that mind-in-the-gutter way. Bobby is reluctant to trust her, but less reluctant when she’s naked. I know from the synopsis that she’s the driving force behind the upcoming sequel to “The Dirty Streets of Heaven”.

I love the characters in this book. One demon or angel is entirely different from another, both in looks and motivation. They all have a degree of smugness that really fits with the noir genre. I also like the action. It’s almost always well-described and easy to follow. Usually it’s even believable, but there is one instance involving a motorcycle stunt that I just couldn’t accept.

The writing is pretty basic. I guess that’s normal for noir, but I thought Williams’ history with epic fantasy might lead to some lavish prose. But it’s all to-the-point. No wasted words here.

Okay, maybe a few wasted words. As a writer,  though admittedly novice, I tend to notice when authors lean on things; phrases, words, transitions. In this case, the phrase in question is even as.

“Even as we reached it, Sam thumbed the remote again and the gate started down.”

Those two words appear 18 times in the 400 page book. Not that much when averaged out, but 17 of those times happened after page 200, 10 instances being after page 289.  It’s those clusters that started to become redundant for me. “Even as” appeared 5 times between pages 205 and 209. Even as I was reading, I was aware of “even as”. It’s not that big a deal. But I think some of the especially tight clusters should have been caught during a proofread.

Overall I really enjoyed the book. I usually read more literary-minded sci-fi and fantasy. I’d call “The Dirty Streets of Heaven” a guilty pleasure. I could easily see how this series could hook someone. I may be reading the sequel myself when it’s released.


Dusty Wallace

Guest Contributor



One Comment

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  1. Ivynettle / Sep 3 2013 6:03 pm

    And since the sequel came out today, go get it! I had the honour of reading it early, and it’s amazing and disturbing at the same time.

    Tad’s writing style is quite different in this one. In my experience, a lot closer to his own speaking voice.

    Often-repeated expressions can be so distracting, though. I didn’t notice them in Dirty Streets, but G.R.R. Martin has driven me crazy with a few, so I feel your pain!

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