mystery

Review: Happy Hour in Hell, Tad Williams

Happy Hour in HellHappy Hour in Hell (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Tad Williams (website)

Rating: ★★★½☆

I’ve been told to go to Hell more times than I can count. But this time I’m actually going.

My name’s Bobby Dollar, sometimes known as Doloriel, and of course, Hell isn’t a great place for someone like me – I’m an angel. They don’t like my kind down there, not even the slightly fallen variety. But they have my girlfriend, who happens to be a beautiful demon named Casimira, Countess of Cold Hands. Why does an angel have a demon girlfriend? Well, certainly not because it helps my career.

She’s being held hostage by one of the nastiest, most powerful demons in all of the netherworld – Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell. He already hates me, and he’d like nothing better than to get his hands on me and rip my immortal soul right out of my borrowed but oh-so-mortal body.

But wait, it gets better! Not only do I have to sneak into Hell, make my way across thousands of miles of terror and suffering to reach Pandemonium, capital of the fiery depths, but then I have to steal Caz right out from under Eligor’s burning eyes and smuggle her out again, past demon soldiers, hellhounds, and all the murderous creatures imprisoned there for eternity. And even if I somehow manage to escape Hell, I’m also being stalked by an undead psychopath named Smyler who’s been following me for weeks. Oh, and did I mention that he can’t be killed?

So if I somehow survive Hell, elude the Grand Duke and all his hideous minions and make it back to the real world, I’ll still be the most hunted soul in Creation. But at least I’ll have Caz. Gotta have something to look forward to, right?

So just pour me that damn drink, will you? I’ve got somewhere to go.

Details

Series: Bobby Dollar #2
Genre: Paranormal fantasy
Published: Hodder & Stoughton, 26 September 2013
Pages: 400

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository 
E-copies: Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk Barnes & Noble

Please note: This review is for the second book in the Bobby Dollar series and so contains spoilers for the first, The Dirty Streets of Heaven. You might prefer to read my review of that book instead!


Review

Hell is a pretty horrible place, designed to be eternal punishment. Somewhere you’d ideally avoid, right? Bobby Dollar, angel and advocate is heading down there, though, to rescue his girlfriend.

Trouble is, Bobby has no idea how to get there, let alone how to steal Caz from Grand Duke Eligor and get out again. Then there’s the strange business with the Third Way and the investigation by the Archangels Bobby is embroiled in. It’s a mess, and it’s only about to get messier.

I’m having trouble putting words together for this review. On one hand, the detail, depth and imagination in this book is amazing, as I always expect from Tad Williams. On the other hand, the story didn’t quite flow as well as I would have liked and I got the feeling that not much actually happened, even though Bobby goes through a hell of a lot (pardon the expression).

Williams’ Hell is Dante’s Inferno gone mad – a cylindrical piston tube with each level designed for progressively worse levels of punishment. At times, places Bobby visits almost seem like really nasty parts the real world – the inhabitants still need to eat and drink, but everything is designed to keep everyone as miserable as possible, for eternity. Here’s where Bobby finds some interesting aspects to Hell – do the damned really deserve to rot in Hell for ever?

There’s not just horror and pain in this story, although grisly torture and humiliation is a major part of it. There is also hope, redemption and loyalty down there. I’m actually really looking forward to reading more about how the penitent inhabitants of Hell can redeem themselves. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend reading it while eating your lunch (from personal experience).

I didn’t like Bobby as much as I did in The Dirty Streets – time and again he reiterates that it’s his love for Caz that is getting him through this, but it seemed to me more like its his lust for her that drives him. Casimira herself is portrayed as less of the bad-ass Countess of Cold Hands and more like a helpless victim of Eligor, which I thought was a bit of a shame. Anyway poor Bobby gets taken to some very dark places in this story, both in Hell and within himself. I got the feeling several times that Mr Williams seemed to be enjoying his torture a little too much.

Because most of this book is spent with Bobby moving from one horrific situation to the next, being chased or dragged or sneaking about, there’s not a lot of dialogue. The constant descriptions of travel are great, but after a while they tend to slow the story down a bit. There is plenty of action, but it happens in chunks in-between narrated scenes.

I did enjoy the descriptions of locations in this story, even if I didn’t particularly what was happening to the characters. There are some very interesting concepts explored but, frustratingly, nothing resolved. I will be grabbing the third book though – Sleeping Late on Judgement Day is due during 2014.

Warnings: Graphic violence including plenty of torture, explicit sex scenes, some abusive.

Bobby Dollar series

The Dirty Streets of Heaven Happy Hour in Hell 3: Sleeping Late on Judgement DayTBR 2014

What did others think of Happy Hour in Hell?

  • “… it’s scary in here in Tad’s imagination!” – Letters and Leaves
  • “The Dirty Streets of Heaven showed that Tad Williams was on top of his game, Happy Hour in Hell proves this even more the Bobby Dollar series is utterly brilliant.” – The Book Plank
  • “Of course if you’ve read any of Tad Williams’ work prior to the Bobby Dollar series then you probably weren’t surprised to hear that he gets a little, ah, descriptive in this book. The difference between the exposition in this book and, say, his Otherland series is that HAPPY HOUR IN HELL is way shorter.” – All Things Urban Fantasy

Review: The Dirty Streets of Heaven, Tad Williams

The Dirty Streets of HeavenTitle: The Dirty Streets of Heaven (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Tad Williams (website)  

Rating: ★★★★½

Bobby Dollar is an angel—a real one. He knows a lot about sin, and not just in his professional capacity as an advocate for souls caught between Heaven and Hell. Bobby’s wrestling with a few deadly sins of his own—pride, anger, even lust.

But his problems aren’t all his fault. Bobby can’t entirely trust his heavenly superiors, and he’s not too sure about any of his fellow earthbound angels either, especially the new kid that Heaven has dropped into their midst, a trainee angel who asks too many questions. And he sure as hell doesn’t trust the achingly gorgeous Countess of Cold Hands, a mysterious she-demon who seems to be the only one willing to tell him the truth.

When the souls of the recently departed start disappearing, catching both Heaven and Hell by surprise, things get bad very quickly for Bobby D. End-of-the-world bad. Beast of Revelations bad. Caught between the angry forces of Hell, the dangerous strategies of his own side, and a monstrous undead avenger that wants to rip his head off and suck out his soul, Bobby’s going to need all the friends he can get—in Heaven, on Earth, or anywhere else he can find them.

Details

Series: Bobby Dollar #1
Genre: Paranormal fantasy with a side of detective work
Published: Hodder & Stoughton, September 2012
Pages: 406

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository 
E-copies: Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)

The Dirty Streets of Heaven

Review

It’s been a long while since I read anything from Tad Williams. Since I absolutely loved his Otherland series, I was interested in what his spin on an angels and demons story would be in the first of this new paranormal series. As it turns out, he pulls it off amazingly well.

Bobby Dollar, or Deloriel, is an angel – or more accurately, an Advocate of Heaven. After death, each person’s soul is judged on their actions and it is decided whether they go to Heaven, Hell, or spend some time in Purgatory. Bobby’s job is to argue the case for Heaven – to try to spin the life of the recently deceased into something positive that will get them into Heaven. The demons who argue Hell’s case are pretty nasty guys, but even they are worried and upset when souls start going missing after death, without being judged. Bobby Dollar realises he is in serious trouble when he is accused of stealing something valuable from one of the higher Demons, and he doesn’t even know what it is he is supposed to have stolen! The Hellspawn are angry though, and they’ll go to any lengths to get back what is theirs.

Don’t be put off by the whole religious subject matter – this is Fantasy rather than Christian lit, after all, and the business of which religion actually gets it right is glossed over rather well – the Angels just don’t know that, they onlt know they serve Heaven and the Highest. The concepts explored in this story are fascinating – from the whole hierarchy of Angels and the society of Heaven and Hell, to the mysterious Third Way and what happens when we start to question the reasoning of those who are supposed to be acting in our best interests.

There’s a lot of explanation at the start of the book, which is probably necessary to explain the complicated nature of what happens after death. There’s quite a lot of action throughout the book including car and motorbike chases, shoot-outs and even a boat chase (James Bond, anyone?), but the action is often interspersed with Bobby doing his gumshoe work to find out what’s going on – something I found slowed the pace dramatically. Perhaps that’s just because I don’t particularly like cop dramas that much. I did wonder why, as an advocate for souls with guardian angels to tell him about the lives of the recently deceased, did Bobby have such an extensive network of informants and hackers at his disposal? He never mentions having to do other kinds of “spook” work for his bosses.

The descriptions are fabulous – of Heaven, of the Outside, even of San Judas itself. I think this story would make a great screenplay because I could almost see the scenes coming together as I read them, and the humour is spot on and had me giggling to myself on the train.

What really made this story stand out for me was Bobby Dollar himself. He’s snarky and often unpleasant, but at the core, a really decent, funny and good guy. If I was using D&D terms, I’d call him “chaotic good” – his methods may be unorthodox but his intentions are always for the best. I really hope one day, there’s an angel like him on my side!

The Dirty Streets of Heaven was a very enjoyable story – fans of Williams should enjoy it, and well as anyone interested in a different take on the Heaven/Hell mythos. I’ve seen it compared in Goodreads reviews to Supernatural, and to the Dresden Files series (neither of which I’ve seen or read – perhaps I should!).

The second in this series, Happy Hour in Hell, is due for release sometime later this year.

Warnings: Graphic violence including torture, explicit sex scenes.

What did others think of The Dirty Streets of Heaven?

  • “While far from perfect, The Dirty Streets of Heaven is a really fantastic book. Set against a fascinating religious backdrop, brimming with all sorts of exciting ideas, and maintaining a seamless blend of action and humor throughout its entire length, everything here is worth reading.” – The Ranting Dragon
  • “Bobby Dollar is every inch the sarcastic, self important maverick detective he should be, happy to pursue even his friends past the limit of patience and willing to take risks with his job (and his life) in his search for answers.” – The Upcoming
  • “I will admit the Angel and Demon warfare aspect of this book is what I enjoyed the most; Williams added some interesting concepts and blended some theology in as well and I think it balanced out nicely.” – Literary Exploration

Review: Great North Road, Peter F Hamilton

Great North RoadTitle: Great North Road (Goodreads)
Author: Flag_uk Peter F. Hamilton (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

In Newcastle-upon-Tyne, AD 2142, Detective Sidney Hurst attends a brutal murder scene. The victim is one of the wealthy North family clones – but none have been reported missing. And the crime’s most disturbing aspect is how the victim was killed. Twenty years ago, a North clone billionaire and his household were horrifically murdered in exactly the same manner, on the tropical planet of St Libra. But if the murderer is still at large, was Angela Tramelo wrongly convicted? Tough and confident, she never wavered under interrogation – claiming she alone survived an alien attack. But there is no animal life on St Libra.

Investigating this alien threat becomes the Human Defence Agency’s top priority. The bio-fuel flowing from St Libra is the lifeblood of Earth’s economy and must be secured. So a vast expedition is mounted via the Newcastle gateway, and teams of engineers, support personnel and xenobiologists are dispatched to the planet. Along with their technical advisor, grudgingly released from prison, Angela Tramelo.

Details

Series: Stand-alone
Genre: Science Fiction “Space opera”
Published: Macmillan, September 2012 (will be released in the USA on Jan 1, 2013)
Pages: 1087
My copy: For review from Pan Macmillan Australia, thanks!

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies: Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk  Barnes & Noble

Review

Science fiction in general at the moment seems to feature a lot of dystopia and generally depressing views of the future. Great North Road is different in that it presents a rather optimistic view of the near future – quite a lot has changed but the basic human nature seems the same. This story is the first by Peter F Hamilton that I have read, but I’m now very interested in reading some of his many other works.

Where to begin with a story of over a thousand pages? Let’s start with a bit of background. In the beginning of the 21st Century, Kane North has been working on a cloning program, specifically to clone himself. After several failures he does succeed – Augustine, Bartram and Constantine North are born. In the middle of the 21st Century, gateway technology is developed (think Stargate but on a corporate scale), allowing instant transport across vast distances. Connections are made to distant planets, and the three North brothers create Northumberland Interstellar Corporation to take advantage of developing resource-rich new worlds across the galaxy. They focus their development on Sirius’ planet of St Libra, growing algae-paddies to harvest bioil for use back on Earth and across the inhabited planets. The North brothers create further clones of themselves and these so-called 2Norths become the management of Northumberland Interstellar.

Fast-forward to 2141, and one of the 2North clones is found dead in the Tyne River in a wintry Newcastle upon Tyne. Detective Sidney Hurst is in charge of the investigation. The case receives a considerable amount of attention given the high-profile victim, but also because the unidentified North was stabbed through the heart by a five-bladed knife (or claws) – the exact way Bartram North and his household were slaughtered twenty years previously on St Libra. Back then, the only survivor, Angela Tramelo, had sworn she had seen a monster in the mansion – a black-armoured humanoid with blades for fingers. Her story was not believed and she was incarcerated for life.

But now, the Human Defence Agency (or HDA) are reconsidering the possibility of sentinent alien life on St Libra, and mount an enormous expedition to the planet to try to track any trace of the alien down. Angela is released from jail, on the condition that she accompany the expedition as an expert advisor. So while the murder investigation continues in Newcastle, the HDA and their legionnaires head through the gateway and into the unknown north continent of St Libra.

Great North Road is an amazing tapestry of stories – the cop-drama investigation in Newcastle and the expedition to St Libra are the two main storylines, with many other smaller stories woven around them. The narrative jumps back and forth with a lot of flashbacks which is a little offputting at times, but it allows the full truth to be kept hidden right up to the end of the story, keeping the mystery intact and the tension high. The fascinating technology is discussed quite casually and not over-described, which makes the advanced tech feel quite natural. I don’t usually go for murder-mystery books but the sci-fi elements of this one really kept my interest.

There were two main problems I had with Great North Road. The first is the size of the book! The paperback is such a doorstop. It’s a stand alone story but I think it could have been split at least in half to make it more manageable to handle. It took me two months to read it (which is a very long time for me!) as I couldn’t carry it to work with me. I’d recommend the e-book version!

The second thing I didn’t really like so much about the story was the sheer amount of detail – every part of the murder investigation is mentioned in detail and it really slows the story down at times, especially in the first half of the book. Thankfully the action ramps up in the second half and it’s very difficult to put the last 300 pages or so down.

The characters are fantastic! Each personality is developed so well that we really get to know them by the end. The point of view is shared around between several main characters, which gives a lot of insight into what’s happening in the different political factions and the motivations of important individuals. The addition of Geordie terms such as referring to each other as “pet” is a nice touch – I kept having to remind myself to think with an accent!

Those who like an upbeat Sci-fi story set in the not-too-distant future should enjoy Great North Road. I’d recommend getting the e-book version if you’d rather not cart around a brick of a physical copy!

Warnings: Graphic violence, language, sexual situations (not graphic), drug use

What did others think of Great North Road?

  • “Overall, Great North Road is a highly recommended novel of 2012, while missing my top 25 where I had expected it to place.” – Fantasy Book Critic
  • “Overall, Great North Road is a very solid novel. It’s not amongst his best, but it rattles along at a good pace and handles its immense length quite well.” – The Wertzone
  • “Hamilton has once again shown why he is one of the best writers in the field today, how he can manage multiple plot threads and complicated twists and turns. Above all he can create a world that is unbelievably detailed, and can tell a vast and engrossing story within it.” – Walker of Worlds

Review: India Black, Carol K. Carr

Title: India Black (Goodreads)

Author:  Carol K. Carr

Rating: ★★★★☆

When Sir Archibald Latham of the War Office dies from a heart attack while visiting her brothel, Madam India Black is unexpectedly thrust into a deadly game between Russian and British agents who are seeking the military secrets Latham carried.

Blackmailed into recovering the missing documents by the British spy known as French, India finds herself dodging Russian agents-and the attraction she starts to feel for the handsome conspirator.

Details

Series: Madam of Espionage #1 of 3
Genre: Historical, Spies
Published: Berkley Trade, January 2011
Pages (Hardcover): 296

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.ukBook Depository
E-copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble

Review

India Black is the first book our shiny new book club decided to read, and wow, what an opener! This review is a little about what I thought of the book, and a little about the group’s opinions from last night.

India Black is the proprietor of Lotus House, an establishment in Victorian London. In other words, she’s a retired bint, now the abbess of an upmarket brothel of which she is immensely proud. When one of the regular customers dies at the house and important government documents go missing from his possession, India is drawn into a dangerous ring of spies in order to recover the documents for Prime Minister Disraeli (whom she likes to refer to as “Dizzy”).

The chase leads India and the inscrutable English spy, French, into the Russian Embassy, swanky London hotels and eventually across-country and across the Channel!

Not only was this rather saucy story about whores and spies, but India herself is a delight to read about – a very strong, snarky and rather bitchy character. She’s grumpy a lot of the time but extremely determined. She doesn’t think much about the well-being of others. Her real draw, however, is her very dry wit. She made me laugh on several occasions, while also wincing at her treatment of Vincent the urchin boy and some of the girls in her employ.

In general we felt that the characters were a little one-dimensional – although showing snatches of interesting histories, there really wasn’t any back-story told about India or any of the supporting characters. The mention of romance in the blurb might as well have not been there – there are hints of a romance but barely any action. Perhaps in the future adventures.

The chase for the Government documents is a fast-paced cat and mouse, with the English and Russian sides passing the spoils back and forth several times in increasingly desperate circumstances. By the end of the book I thought the chase was starting to draw out a little, but it wrapped up rather nicely.

I found that India Black was a very enjoyable read. In general the book club decided it wasn’t a waste of our time (although not everyone felt that way!) and it was an easy and entertaining read.

Warnings: Plenty of sexual references. Violence.

The Madam of Espionage Series

  1. India Black
  2. India Black and the Widow of Windsor (2011)
  3. India Black and the Shadows of Anarchy (expected 2013)
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