The Agony Column

Fantasy Writer Tad Williams

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Tad Williams’ newest books are hard-boiled detective stories with a fantasy twist; the detective is angel Bobby Dollar.

By Rick Kleffel

Attitude is everything in the Bobby Dollar books by Tad Williams. The Angel Doloriel, aka Bobby Dollar, tells the story in some of the most enjoyable, hilarious, smartest prose you can find in this particular veil of tears. Following hot on the heels of ‘The Dirty Streets of Heaven,’ ‘Happy Hour in Hell’ follows the narrative model of the first book. We start in the middle, in this case as Bobby crosses a bridge into hell, then whip back to the beginning and take the story straight up, no chasers.

Williams is in top form here, and not just with his prose, though for many readers that will be all that’s required. And just to be clear, it’s not just first-class snark that wraps its fingers around your tiny brain, though the snark is there and often truly brilliant. Williams manage to write prose that is not just funny, but insightful, pithy, sad, nostalgic; whatever he sets his sights on, he hits the bull’s eye.

Plot matters a great deal in a mystery, and here we have Bobby on a self-imposed infiltration of the enemy’s lair. So; ‘Happy Hour in Hell’ is in part a mystery novel, but there’s a good deal of the spy vibe to be found as well. Bobby’s got himelf a demon’s body, and he’s been tasked with delivering a message (that’s the mystery part of the novel), while he’s on his own version of the Orpheus myth, rescuing his demon girlfriend, Caz, from the clutches of a demon lord.

Williams plays hardball with his characters, putting them in real danger with real consequences. It’s a refreshing change of pace, and keeps the tension high, even when some aspects seem like foregone conclusion. He also knows how to twist a character and nudge a plot, as well as turn his readers’ journey to grok just what the deal is with heaven hell and the in-between into a plot point itself. It’s a lot of fun joining Bobby Dollar as he figures out just what is going on.

Of course, the main feature here is Williams take on hell. This is not an easy target to hit, but Williams is clearly up to the task. He manages to create a hell that is chock-a-block with horrific and enjoyable imaginative monsters and monstrous settings that straddle the line between fear and awe with great grace. There is one portion o the novel in particular that takes an amazingly well-done turn for the surreal. No matter what he’s doing or where he ends up, Bobby Dollar tells us a rocking, ripping yarn.

For all the great foreground, don’t think that Williams leaves his characters in the background. There are some nicely nuanced developments to be found here, along with the goofy comedic characters who will manage to evoke authentic laughter. Bobby takes a few steps forward towards getting the bigger picture, and the development of some of the heavenly characters are really quite intriguing. More surprisingly, in Hell, Williams creates some touching characters and situations. There’s a lot to be said for a writer who craft an empathetic, horrific, monstrous demon.

‘Happy Hour in Hell’ pretty much requires that one read ‘The Dirty Streets of Heaven.’ I like it a bit more, as it has more monsters, but both books are lots of fun. And let it be noted that while Bobby’ chases through hell seem a bit more involved that strictly necessary, Williams has gone against the fantasy standard and brought readers a sequel that is actually shorter than the first book. To a degree, I suppose, this is a shame. Williams is clearly such a talented writer, who can craft amazing prose, that we’d be happy to see more. We’d also be wise to trust the writer. Tad Williams is on a roll. He’s having a blast writing these books, and as readers it’s impossible not to join him. 

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