Dirty Streets of Heaven
Daw Books, September 2012
Reviewed by Staff Writer, Ashley Scarr
Bobby Dollar is an angelic lawyer whose job is to defend the recently departed and keep your sorry ass from going to Hell. He gets a message, he goes to the location, meets his client, trial takes place and you go up, down, or get stuck in purgatory for a few years for all crap you think doesn’t count. Imagine the completely mind-boggling realization that the client—who just died and the body is barely at the ambulance—doesn’t show up for his trial, which is as bad as it is in the court of the living. This outrageous event sends Bobby searching for answers and allies as he deals with suspicious higher ups in Heaven and a demonic force that wants to pluck off his limbs like it was wondering whether or not the devil really loved it.
The book is propelled by characters moving through Bobby’s life and the agendas of persons unknown. Bobby Dollar himself has a great narrative voice throughout the piece. He is a remarkably strong character who has faults that you don’t expect an Angel of the Lord to have. Let’s face it, when you meet an angel you don’t expect him to go and lust after a demoness (although, by the description, even I’d fall for the sexy Countess of Cold Hands). And it’s this rough, very human, personality that brings the book to life. It’s a harsh, downtown environment and Bobby fits right in, you expect to him walking in the streets and minding his own business (or trying to, until that damn spirit up and goes AWOL). And his character is accented and completed by the others within story in such a way that you really understand the narrator and that holds the story together.
The story starts off with a hook taking place in the middle of the action structured as a prologue. It’s not a new writing trick, but Williams uses to his advantage, drawing the reader in with the main character fighting for his life. The first chapter starts a few days before with the arrival of a new lawyer who transferred from—of all places—Heaven’s Hall of Records, immediately striking Bobby’s suspicions that he’s under watch by the higher ups (doesn’t even sound like the first time, either). His arrival coupled with the soul going missing the next day begins to build the tension and raise the stakes as a demonic prosecutor gets brutally murdered, and Bobby becomes the target of a hell beast because a Duke from Hell thinks Bobby has his property. The building tension keeps the reader glued to the book, rooting for Bobby and trying to figure everything out before he does. (Who doesn’t try that with a mystery plot?) And as some questions get answered, more get asked, and Williams combines this with Bobby’s personality very effectively. And when the question of ‘what is Bobby supposed to have’ is answered, a giant chase scene breaks outs, letting loose the built up tension, and things settle down. It settles down, but never gets back to where it was.
This tension release makes the second half of the book a letdown. Even though there is still that question/answer quality to it with the introduction of a sexual relationship between the Countess and Bobby, the tension this could have created isn’t used effectively. The tension settles and never gets back to what it was before the big chase scene, before Bobby literally sleeps with the enemy. It throws off the pacing and creates moments where you could put the book down if you wanted to, but if you’re like me once you get so far and it’s like, “Gah, I’m so close!” and you power through.
I’m pretty sure I could have excused the lack of tension if Bobby’s reaction to the big reveal was a stronger one. It was basically “Oh, it’s you, well okay then” and I just don’t feel like Bobby, would have this sort of non-reaction. You get this feeling throughout the story that he is a paranoid and suspicious person with natural trust issues, and having gone through all this shit and nearly getting killed three or four times he would have been more upset. It was very disappointing, and the scene could have been so much more powerful if Williams had used Bobby’s personality to its full potential.
Dirty Streets of Heaven is still a strong book overall. Despite my misgivings toward the ending, the characters were fantastic, charming; believable, and the story was well written, unique and captivating. There are still a few loose ends and I especially want to know what’s going to happen between Bobby and the Countess, and how Bobby is going to deal with Heaven after this ordeal. So I eagerly await its sequel: Happy Hour in Hell.
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Unique characters with intriguing personalities that drive that story forward. However some characters were not used to their full potential.
Really good first half that keeps you reading, but the pacing gets thrown off during the second half. The end reveal was disappointing.
Bible ideals of Heaven and Angels meets modern day bureaucracy where angelic lawyers and demonic prosecutors fight for the souls of the recently deceased. Old game, new twist.
It was a great idea with amazing characters, but the second half took away from the overall experience.