Book Review – The Dirty Streets of Heaven, Bobby Dollar #1 by Tad Williams

Back in ’98 or ’99 I was introduced to Tad Williams during deployment to Germany for infantry training. The Dragonbone Chair (and subsequently its two sequels) quickly committed me as a huge Tad Williams fan. I’ve read all of his fantasy novels and I collect his short story anthologies too. Even his Sci-Fi works are on my to-read list, which is saying something as I am quite the fantasy snob. There’s a reason G.R.R.M. calls Tad one of his influences. His writing combines a deep creative genius with the prose and language to tell fantastic tales. As soon as I heard Williams was writing a new urban fantasy series, I got really excited and a little bit nervous too.

The Dirty Streets of Heaven is a novel in the urban fantasy sub-genre. Most of the time when I first hear about a new UF novel I am thrown off. I like Jim Butcher – the quintessential godfather of UF – but something about the genre just doesn’t appeal to me as much as traditional fantasies do. I’ll admit, when I first heard Tad was writing a UF novel, I cringed a little. Not much though as I know he can write anything and write it damn well. Instead of doing my typical likening it to Twilight (yes without ever even having read Twilight or its comparison in question)I caught and reminded myself , “Hey! This is Tad Williams!” I’m glad I did.

The setting is in the fictional city of San Judas in southern California. The Dirty Streets of Heaven transpires in modern day with angels and demons communicating and recording events via smartphones and the like. The story is rather fast paced (also a bit shorter than much of Tad’s previous work) and this was one of those books I simply couldn’t put down. It follows a winding plot that is patterned a lot like a mystery novel. I suppose this is fitting as the protagonist is a lawyer. He runs about the story gathering evidence to both understand the strange events that are transpiring and to save his own immortal soul. I had correctly guessed a fair share of the outcome as I read, but I never knew if my assumptions were actually right until the end.

We follow one point of view which is told in the first person throughout The Dirty Streets of Heaven. Bobby Dollar is an angel in a human’s body. He is a good guy, but has a bit of a distrustful attitude toward other angels, especially those who are stationed up in heaven. He is a lawyer that fights for human souls after their bodies die. He defends to keep them from being successfully prosecuted against by one of hell’s own attorneys. Success and they get to move on to purgatory or heaven. Failure and they go to that other place. Sadly, the poor soul is completely at the whim of their defense, the prosecution, and ultimately the judge who is fallible, yet their decision is eternal law. This may sound awfully Judeo-Christian. And well, it sort of is, but the characters in the book make sure the reader knows not any one of the religions were actually correct. Heaven and Hell are set up a lot like in Dante’s Inferno and Paradiso, but there is no God’s law that states, “Thou shalt be a [INSERT YOUR FAVORITE RELIGION HERE] or burn in eternal hell-fire.” Quite the opposite is actually how Williams tells the story. In his words, anyone (even an atheist) who is a good person can move on to heaven. Being an agnostic atheist myself, I’m okay with that.

Tad William’s writing style is simply perfect and I challenge anyone to debate this in the comments section (No, seriously, I’d love to hear your own opinions). He makes sure that every sentence of his that gets published is well thought and better told. Tad uses the perfect amount of description to paint a scene but doesn’t bore his readers with endless details. His creativity lies in those details and they all come together like lavender and oil. I should mention that there are some graphic sexual scenes in this book. I’m a little embarrassed to say, but I really enjoyed them.

I proudly give The Dirty Streets of Heaven 5 out of 5 stars. I’m not surprised in the least and I can’t wait for the conclusion of this two book series, Happy Hour in Hell.

You can buy it here: