“The Dirty Streets of Heaven” by Tad Williams

Grace Troxel 9 September, 2012 Book Reviews 10 comments

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

“The Dirty Streets of Heaven” by Tad WilliamsThe Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams
Series: Bobby Dollar #1
Published by DAW in 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 406
Format: ARC
Source: the publisher
Buy the BookGoodreads

 

I received a review copy of Tad Williams’ “The Dirty Streets of Heaven” while I was at Book Expo America.  I’m reading it as part of the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII event.

“The Dirty Streets of Heaven” is the first book  in a new urban fantasy series that combines elements of gritty noir with the supernatural.  Bobby Dollar is an angel known as an Advocate, which is the heavenly version of a lawyer.  When people die, an angel and a demon present arguments before a judge as to whether that soul should go to Heaven or to Hell.  Bobby argues for souls in the general region of San Judas, California.  However, one day souls begin disappearing before the process can take place, and when Bobby Dollar begins to investigate, he finds himself caught up in a plot that’s way over his head.

Bobby Dollar’s character makes this novel work.  He’s funny, he’s sarcastic, he’s sometimes an ass, and above all, he seems entirely human.  He likes to drink, he hangs out at the pub with his friends, and he sometimes sleeps with somebody and regrets it in the morning.  It’s not what you’d expect from an angel, but Tad Williams pulls it off incredibly well and uses it to reinforce the atmosphere that the book creates.

The minor characters are equally as vibrant.  There’s Casimira, the Countess of Cold Hands, a goth demon chick that Bobby Dollar finds irresistible, despite (or perhaps even because of) the fact that they’re working for different sides in a struggle that’s remarkably similar to the Cold War.  There’s Clarence, the rookie, who is a new Advocate who’s been sent down from the records department despite having no formal training.  Then there’s Sam, Bobby’s old war buddy turned drinking buddy, and Monica, Bobby’s ex, and the unresolved feelings between the two of them.  I appreciated the way that Tad Williams was able to give his characters believable and realistic social circles, and the characters remind you of somebody that you’d know and that you’d like to hang out with.

Despite Tad William’s excellent writing and vibrant characters, the story still lacks a certain spark of originality.  The characterization and the details are wonderful, but the whole angels and demons arguing over souls thing sounds a bit like a made for TV movie.  Mind you, I still enjoyed it, but I did wish that there would have been a bit more of a twist or a departure from tradition.

If the idea of Law & Order with angels and demons sounds interesting to you, then you’ll probably enjoy this one.


10 Responses to ““The Dirty Streets of Heaven” by Tad Williams”

  1. Carl V.

    I’m glad you enjoyed it despite its flaws. It is hard to think of much being ‘original’ anymore in this kind of urban fantasy genre but I still have to believe there are some talented, creative folks out there that can take it different places. At the same time I fully admit that I don’t generally need a novel to break new ground as long as the story is good.

    • Grace

      Mhm. It makes me kind of curious about Tad Williams’ other novels, because he generally writes more traditional epic fantasy and this is something new for him.

    • Grace

      It’s not the kind of thing I’d buy on my own, but when I got the review copy, I decided to give it a shot. I’m glad that I did; the characters remind me of my own group of friends, and the bar they hang out at reminds me of Cheers.

  2. TBM

    Law and Order with Angels. I never thought about it, but that is interesting. Too bad that it didn’t have that little extra sparkle to make it better.

    • Grace

      It’s a neat concept, it’s just that I’ve been bored and seen made for tv movies with a similar plot. The story is good, I just wanted a bit of something more, especially when the characters here were so fantastic.

  3. silver price

    I am familiar with Tad Williams by reputation, but had not read him; I picked up the book for its description more than the author, and I have to say I understand why Williams has a following. The world-building in this urban fantasy novel is seamless. Its depth does change the experience of reading a bit. Much of the urban fantasy I read zips along like a Summer blockbuster, a light and enjoyable experience without a ton of depth. This, by contrast, is a pretty meaty book. I took the time to fully experience it, and I was glad I did. Williams may have departed from his usual genre, but he clearly brings with him the tools of a master. Right down to the infomercial playing on t.v. during one intimate scene, he creates a world of such depth and consistency that it feels completely three-dimensional, entirely real. No small feat, given that our major players include angels, demons and a cursed werepig.In the finer tradition of urban fantasy, which owes quite a debt to film noir, Williams’ characters are morally nuanced. As hinted by the title, “the dirty streets of heaven”, good and evil are not so clearly delineated. Told from the tight perspective of its titular hero, it doesn’t try to detail every angel or demon, but it gives enough insight to those who are closest to the hero to make it obvious that you can’t judge by the trappings or even necessarily by the actions.Inside this morally-nuanced, three-dimensional world is an engaging mystery that offers good closure. I sometimes flinch away from books that broadcast themselves as “Volume One” – I don’t have the memory I once did, and epic fiction can lose me as I wait between books. I appreciate that Williams managed to leave me feeling satisfied by this story, while at the same time leaving enough open-ended in Dollar’s world that I’ll want to immerse again with book two.I thought it was wonderful. I recommend.

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