The Dirty Streets of Heaven

Posted by : atcampbell | On : February 3, 2014

The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

The group met on February 3, 2014, to discuss The Dirty Streets of Heaven, by Tad Williams. Ten members attended. All had started the book, and 6 finished. Two members had read the second book in this “Bobby Dollar” trilogy, and three planned to do so. The third book (Sleeping Late on Judgment Day) is due out in 2014. Although Williams is an established and international best-selling author, with 18 novels and two story collections, only one person had read any of his books before. Williams’s first book, Tailchaser’s Song, has become a movie and (causing him to be known as “the cat guy” for a couple of years), it was followed by The “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” classic fantasy series, and his “Otherland” series spawned a computer game. The Bobby Dollar series is a sort of noir hardnosed-detective-fantasy combination, unlike anything he’s done before.

Bobby Dollar is an angel, assigned to Earth to work in human form. When a person dies, the soul is immediately brought before a court to decide its fate. Bobby acts as Heaven’s Advocate, assisted by the soul’s Guardian Angel. There are counterparts from the nether regions, and an impartial judge. (There is an amusing skit on YouTube where Tad Williams plays the bartender of the angel bar and Bobby Dollar explains how all this works to a young angel who has been assigned to work with him.) The plot thickens when the court shows up but the soul doesn’t. Neither side claims custody, but the soul has to be somewhere. It must be that a splinter group is forming. It’s apparent to many that forever in heavenly bliss might be boring and consignment to burn in hell forever might be harsh, so might there be a “third way?” Where is this action-packed plot taking us?

The group had mixed reactions to this book. A couple really enjoyed it, several thought it was OK but not great, and some found it boring and the character unappealing. For example, one person read two chapters, then began reading Charles Stross’s rewrite and combination of the Family Trade series (The Traders’ War, 2014) and didn’t return to this one. One reader found the ending confusing. Some liked the noir tone and others didn’t. Another thought that the protagonist liked to hear himself talk more than he should.

A lot of discussion centered on specific aspects of the book compared with other authors who had treated similar subjects (e.g. Liz Williams, author of Ghost Sister and the Inspector Chen series, or Keith Hartman’s The Gumshoe, The Witch, and the Virtual Corpse).

It would be good to have a group consensus, but that didn’t happen in this case. Sampling the skit and serious reviews on YouTube and other sources might be the best guide as to whether or not you’d choose this one.

After the meeting, we enjoyed dinner at the Waterloo Ice House.

— Tom Sciance