Friday, September 21, 2012

The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

Tad Williams is one of the most versatile authors I’ve encountered. From his Tolkienesque epic fantasy trilogy Memory, Sorrow and Thorn to  the cyberpunk tetralogy Otherland, he rarely visits the same territory twice. One of my favourite books ever is Williams’ standalone fantasy The War of the Flowers. I’ve been gradually reading more and more urban fantasy, so I was very happy to hear that Tad Williams had cast his eye in that direction with The Dirty Streets of Heaven.

Urban fantasy these days tends to be the province of vampires and werewolves, although zombies and faeries are starting to claim the territory. Another supernatural creature gaining popularity are angels. That’s where Tad Williams cast his line with The Dirty Streets of Heaven. Bobby Dollar is an earthbound angel who probably has more in common with Phillip Marlowe than he does with Gabriel or Michael. He swears and he drinks, he takes the Lord’s name in vain. Bobby’s job is to guide souls from death, through their initial afterlife trial, and if they pass he sees them off to Heaven.

Things are going relatively smoothly for Bobby and his partner Sam, they seem to win more souls than they lose, and then they’re saddled with an eager young beaver from Records who they nickname Clarence (his real angel name is Haraheliel), not long after they attend the death of a philanthropist and while they’ve got a body the soul is missing.

If Bobby can’t find out what happened then the futures of both Heaven and Hell are at stake, that’s if Bobby can keep himself alive long enough to complete his investigation.

Tad Williams generally likes a lot of room in his books to set things up, possibly why he usually writes epics that are about the same size and weight as your average housebrick. Urban fantasy audiences don’t really go for this and they also tend to like their stories episodic, so that they at least get some sense of closure by the end of the book.  For a Tad Williams book The Dirty Streets of Heaven is really fast paced and still maintains excellent character development and back story mixed in with some high octane action.

Sometimes with popular fiction in a particular sub genre you can get some stereotyping, this wasn’t the case here. Even the peripheral characters were well drawn. I was particularly impressed with Bobby’s ‘love interest’ Casimira, the Countess of the Cold Hands.

One thing that was handled both with class and humour was the depiction of Heaven and the descriptions of the angels. It would have been very easy to inadvertently offend people with this, but it never happened, and I really liked the ideas behind it.

I couldn’t shake the image of Bobby I had in my head as actor Misha Collins. I know this is because Misha Collins plays earthbound angel Castiel in the TV series Supernatural, this is also further evidence of the growing popularity of angels in modern urban fantasy. The fact that the book reads largely like a bit of a whodunit also lends itself to a cinematic view in my head.

The Dirty Streets of Heaven was really well done and a breath of fresh air in the genre. I’m definitely a fan and the good news is that there are two further Bobby Dollar books planned for the future. If they’re anywhere near the quality of The Dirty Streets of Heaven then this fallen angel has a long and successful career ahead of him.


  1. Yes to all of the above. You've nailed it nicely.

  2. Thanks, I hope this gets a good audience, because it deserves one.