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The Perdition Score by Richard Kadrey

The Perdition Score by Richard Kadrey
Book Name: The Perdition Score
Author: Richard Kadrey
Publisher(s): Harper Voyager (US) Voyager (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy / Horror
Release Date: June 28, 2016

Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series has quietly worked its way into a place of prominence on my shelf. Imagine a punk rock Harry Dresden fresh out of [expletive deleted]s to give, and you’ll begin to scratch the surface of James “Sandman Slim” Stark—Kadrey’s acerbic, violent protagonist. The Perdition Score—the eighth full novel and ninth entry in the series—continues Kadrey’s annual streak of releasing a dark, fun and funny slab of paranormal noir. It is serial fiction at its best.

The Perdition Score finds our erstwhile anti-hero installed as a member of L.A.’s Sub Rosa council, the de facto ruling body of paranormal society in the City of Angels. He sticks out like a sore thumb, and knows it. Hilarity, heartbreak and violence ensue. Stark is at a bit of an existential crossroads in this book, questioning his nature and place in the universe after the cataclysmic events of the first seven books. It seems stints as a gladiator/slave in Hell, a government operative, Lucifer, and a video store clerk tend to cause a bit of introspection. Stark is a mess. He’s given up a great deal of power to stave off the End of All Things, and while he doesn’t regret the decision he’s having trouble adjusting to his version of normalcy. And he’s turning to destructive outlets to soothe his unease.

The Perdition Score handles PTSD in a serious and respectful manner, without becoming didactic or cynical. To see a mental health issue addressed in such an elegant manner in a piece of genre fiction is both refreshing and commendable. Kadrey has clearly done his research and he sheds light on a very real issue in a way that couldn’t possibly be further detached from reality.

Fans of the series will know that Stark and day jobs don’t always mix well. He’s moody, doesn’t play well with others, and delights in subverting authority in ways both petty and grand. But he also has a practical approach to finances, which is a source of dry humor every time it comes up. When Stark is asked by Sub Rosa boss Thomas Abbot to look into the disappearance of a local child—essentially, when he’s asked to earn his salary—business begins to pick up. The investigation quickly leads to a run-in with a rogue angel and a vial of an otherworldly black substance that could be the key to tipping the scales in the war currently raging between angels in Heaven. A friend is poisoned. Old enemies re-emerge. Black humor, like fine ham, abounds. And Wild Bill Hickok makes another appearance. Yeah, I know. It is as crazy as it sounds.

And yet, The Perdition Score still feels very visceral, very grounded. Los Angeles itself is as much a character as Stark, Chihiro, Vidoc, or the absent Mr. Munin. The city—and its Hellion analogue—is the crucible in which Stark et al are continually melted down before being formed anew. Having never been to L.A., I can’t speak to Kadrey’s interpretation, but it has the same feeling of authenticity that Tom Kapinos’ Californication did. It is an L.A. that feels real, whether it is or not. And that, in and of itself, is a bit of metacommentary on Los Angeles.

Stark’s race to find a cure for his friend—while stymying the plans of the sinister Wormwood Corporation and the rogue angel horde warring against heaven—moves at a steady pace throughout most of the book. Kadrey utilizes the first-person perspective and eschews chapters, so The Perdition Score reads as if Stark is telling us the story over shots of Aqua Regia at the Bamboo House of Dolls. As things get weirder and the mysteries start to unravel, the pace picks up but never turns into a headlong rush. It is a deliberate book—one that is moving from Point A to Point B without many stops or detours.

The Perdition Score is another solid entry in the Sandman Slim collection. Richard Kadrey hit his stride with these characters years ago, but he’s never gotten lazy. Kadrey’s genius is that he hugs close formula and trope alike, just long enough to make it awkward and uncomfortable…and then he keeps squeezing. By the time he’s done, The Perdition Score is neither formulaic nor trope-laden. Its three familiar chords played in a new, noisy and ultimately satisfying way. This is noir and urban fantasy hot-rodded, style and substance. It is satisfying stand-alone novel and a revelatory and intriguing continuation of a larger tale spanning multiple books. Whether you’re new to Sandman Slim or a regular, The Perdition Score goes down smooth—and burns just enough to make you remember it.


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