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Aloha from Hell is the third book in the Sandman Slim series, but above all accounts it can be read stand alone. There are many references to the previous books, but important details are explained so you won’t be lost. The book follows Sandman Slim, a man built with a bad attitude stuck between heaven and hell,who acts as a sort of detective between those worlds and our own. Slim doesn’t necessarily want the job of detective, but since he’s half angel he can survive a fight with demon or angel, so he’s the only guy fit for the job.
Los Angeles is his home, and Kadrey adds a lot of flair to the already hellish place that is LA. Expect many explanations of why LA is already Hell, and why Sandman Slim belongs there. This connection makes LA a character onto itself and further defines Kadrey’s take on Hell. The central story revolves around an old enemy of Slim’s trying to take over Hell and Slim must leave the hell that is LA and go to Hell proper to make things right again.
To get there, just outside LA is Eden, ironically the only Earthly doorway to Hell, and it requires the help from a highway goddess who survives on gas stop junk food. It may sound silly, but Kadrey does a great job creating American myth to go along with what we know about Heaven and Hell. It’s a great way to rewrite what we know about America, and it helps make Slim’s already mythical world that much more grounded in a reality. Slim trudges through miles of desert to locate Eden. Nearly there, Slim comments,
“If I ever get out of here, I’m going to find whichever angel invented sand and make it eat this fucking desert while getting a Tabasco enema.”
It’s nonsense writing to some extent, but part of the joy this books bring is the slurry of anger and attitude Slim brings to the adventure. Kadrey does a good job writing in a pulpy way but also slings so many wtf moments it feels like anything can happen. That’s a good and bad thing when reading the book as it makes everything very fan fiction esque, and things seem to just happen perfectly at the right time to keep the plot going. The fast action pace of the book is also a bit of a problem as it doesn’t allow the character to be fleshed out beyond his archetypal detective character. But that's why this book is good and different from most. You know you're getting an adventure that's cheap, easy to read and enjoyable enough.
That said, Hell is an interesting place. Once past the door inside the tree of knowledge a set of rusty stairs leads down into Hell. Everything about Kadrey’s Hell is grounded in reality. Once down the stairs, Hell looks just like Los Angeles, only on fire, with piles of trash burning and hellions running around chasing the damned. Things have changed since Slim first encountered it though,
“The sky Downtown used to be all bruised purples and bloody reds. A mean perpetual twilight. Now it’s a solid mass of roiling black smoke. Lit from below, it looks like the belly of a black snake the size of the sky crawling over us.”
Hell it seems has gone to shit, because Lucifer isn’t the man in charge anymore, and Hell has become even more Hellish. In Kadrey’s hell, instead of a land that has been created to show the worst case scenario as in Damned, Hell is what we know on Earth but burning and ruined.
“Sunset Boulevard looks like it was blow torched from below...The only thing still standing are the palm trees. They burn like votive candles in a dark nave, throwing more shadows than light. Smoldering fronds fall like burning snow.”
Kadrey paints a very vivid place that’s at once scary and beautiful. The description of hell is something akin to a video game. Things are described quickly and there’s a sense of atmosphere, but Kadrey’s focus is never about the surroundings. Instead, this book is about Slim breaking necks and taking names. It’s an action book first and a descriptive meaningful read a far, far second.