Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams

September 26, 2013

Bobby Dollar has a problem or four of epic proportions. Problem one: his best friend Sam has given him an angel’s feather that also happens to be evidence of an unholy pact between Bobby’s employers and those who dwell in the infernal depths. Problem two: Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell, wants to get his claws on the feather at all costs, but particularly at all cost to Bobby. Problem three: Bobby has fallen in love with Casimira, Countess of Cold Hands, who just happens to be Eligor’s girlfriend. Problem four: Eligor, aware of Problem three, has whisked Casimira off to the Bottomless Pit itself, telling Bobby he will never see her again unless he hands over the feather.

But Bobby, long-time veteran of the endless war between above and below, is not the type of guy who finds Hell intimidating. All he has to do is toss on a demon’s body, sneak through the infernal gates, solve the mystery of the angel’s feather, and rescue the girl. Saving the day should just be a matter of an eon or two of anguish, mutilation and horror. 

If only it were that easy. 

Are you sitting comfortably? Good. I have a question. Just how far would you be prepared to go for the person you love? Could you rob a bank? Donate an organ? Jump out of plane? How about travel to the very depths of Hell?

Bobby Dollar is not having a good day. He’s managed to seriously annoy the powers that be in both Heaven and Hell. All Bobby wants is a quiet life. He wants to be with his demonic main squeeze, Cas, and to hell (excuse the pun) with the consequences.

Unfortunately Cas is stuck in the Abyss and the demon she’s with wants to see Bobby’s head on a spike, preferably for all eternity. Ever the optimist, even when the odds are stacked stupendously against him, Bobby throws caution to the wind. Though he’s not a particularly powerful angel and everyone who wants to stop him is bigger and in most cases badder.

I really warmed to Bobby, he has a wonderfully dry sense of humour and a pragmatic approach to achieving his goals. I don’t think I could ever fault anyone who’s a fan of jazz and blues. Using intelligence, his quick wit and a large helping of pure, dumb luck he makes his way from Earth to Hell. Completely focused on the task at hand, nothing is going to stop him from getting his lady-love back.

In an entirely unsurprising turn of events, when Bobby travels to Hell the story gets properly dark. Shockingly, Hell isn’t a very nice place, even if you’re just a visitor. Mr Dollar’s situation very quickly goes from bad to worse. To say he suffers during his travels may be the understatement of the year. A word of warning, those of a nervous disposition may find certain moments a trifle shocking. Like I said before, Hell is most definitely brutal.

The descriptions of  Hell and its environs are particularly evocative. Like Dante’s Inferno, this literary version of the underworld is split into many layers each one worse than the one before. Bobby travels through wastelands, villages, towns and cities, everyone a twisted variation of the Earth we all know.

The denizens of the Abyss are flamboyantly evil bunch. It feels like with each new character Williams introduces he is trying, and succeeding, to out-do the last. Hell’s nobility are especially nasty. Chief amongst them is the Grand Duke Eligor, but it was the enigmatically monikered Lady Zinc who was most surprising.

It’s the little touches that really made the novel for me. Williams is obviously having bucket loads of fun writing this series and it shows.

… he was some kind of bionic-murder monkey

I can’t get enough of slightly offbeat imagery like that. I hope one day, if I’m really lucky, to have my very own bionic-murder monkey.

Happy Hour in Hell is a direct sequel to The Dirty Streets of Heaven. I have to make a small confession here, I’ve not actually read it. I’m pleased to report however, that in this instance at least, my concerns regarding jumping into a series without any prior knowledge were entirely groundless. Happy Hour in Hell is a great blend of horror, noir mystery and a rather touching love story. Based on how the novel ends, I suspect that there will be sequel soon. I’ve learnt my lesson I’ll certainly not make the same mistake next time, I’ll be waiting.

Happy Hour in Hell is published by Hodder and is available from 26th September.

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