The Dirty Streets of Heaven,
by Tad Williams
(Boddy Dollar Series Book 1)
441 pages, paperback
Published July 2013
(Original Publ: September 2012)
Source: Goodreads First-Reads
A shelf in my library holds the first two novels of Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn epic fantasy series, but rather than start those I ended up getting another one of his books instead, in this case the first volume of an ‘urban fantasy’ series whose second book is about to be released. I knew nothing about this, and generally don’t enjoy urban fantasy as much as other parts of the genre.
Upon starting to read it I discovered I didn’t want to put it down, perhaps because I am more unfamiliar with books like it, so it seemed truly fresh. The novel is a fantasy featuring angels and demons in present-day history, but the heart of it is noir crime fiction, complete with witty, snarky, and at times jaded first-person narration, double crosses, and sultry femme fatales. Rather than each of these elements being grounded firmly in an urban crime ‘reality’ it is built around a fantastic realm constructed by Williams.
This realm is one of the afterlife, and the battle/competition between heaven and hell. But not in any particular religious sense. The afterlife here is really nothing more than a second existence with different physics and even less freedom. The deceased, or reborn as it were, are judged and placed on team heaven or hell in an afterlife that is full of rules and assumptions, but more uncertainties than their previous Earth-bound life. Moreover, souls aren’t much changed, not all the good are squeaky clean, and perhaps the damned have a bit of love still within them.
The uncertainties of this post existence for the characters makes this Williams-constructed universe intriguing, and makes one eager to see what more is revealed about the truth behind it in future volumes. For this one, many of the mysteries will remain unanswered beyond the immediate plot driving the protagonist/narrator.
I appreciated the narrator and his humor, though at times like many noirs, it can go a bit over the top. The characters were interesting and the action entertaining. The one negative reaction I had to the novel was the unnecessary repetitiveness of some of the narrator’s observations. He reminds the reader numerous times about certain character traits or thoughts as if to drive home a rationalization for particular actions or inactions. With each new time the reader is reminded it starts feeling more an excuse of forcing plot points to occur.
Many will be disappointed in this novel if they approach it expecting a fantasy – even if unfamiliar with Williams’ high-fantasy and going into this as pure urban fantasy. If you enjoy crime novels and don’t mind the concept of them existing in a made up world that bridges the Earthly and spiritual realms then I suspect you would like it, for its tone and soul are noir all the way.