Audiobook Review: The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

25 10 2012

The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams (Bobby Dollar, Bk. 1)

Read by George Newbern

Penguin Audio/DAW

Length: 15 Hrs 40 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: The Dirty Streets of Heaven is a gritty Angelic Noir urban Fantasy filled with breakneck action, strange monsters and a wide array of intriguing characters, none of which are really human. Williams builds a brilliant world expanding traditional Judeo Christian mythology in fascinating ways. While at times I had trouble warming up to the main character, the world he inhabits is one I enjoyed very much.

Grade: B+

It seems that angels are all the rage of late. I’m not complaining. I happen to find Christian mythology fascinating, particularly the mythological aspects they never taught you in Sunday School. Over the past few years, some of my favorite books have taken place in Hell, including Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series, and John Connolly’s The Infernals. Yet, there is something problematic with books seeped in much of the Christian mythos, at least for me. You see, as someone who grew up in the church, yet who has fallen away from it in my adult years, there is still a part of me that believes a lot of this stuff. Now, I am not talking about the great generalities. Not the ideas of whether or not there is a god. I personally believe that there is something beyond our understanding in this universe, and that any human attempts to define it are simply futile. Yet, what worries me are all the trappings, many of which poke at me from the deepest parts of my soul. Bobby Dollar, the main character in The Dirty Streets of Heaven, is an angelic advocate. Basically, he’s the court appointed defense lawyer who is trying the keep you out of hell. There are many factors that an angel, or the demonic equivalent can use to justify you ending up either in glory, damnation or somewhere in between, and it rarely came down to a simple question of whether you are a good person. Now, I believe I am a good person, but I know that I have done some pretty shitty things in my life. Are the good things I’ve done enough to counterbalance the shit I rolled myself in or am I destined to have my advocate plead me down to 1000 years in purgatory, undergoing something unpleasant? My years in Sunday School and filling the pews at my church have opened my eyes to a broad array of sins that I know I have committed, even if they seem like petty offenses. So, yes, while I love books about angels and demons and the dispensation of souls, they often cause my rational side to battle my upbringing, with one general thought breaking through, in the words of one of my favorite bands… “I don’t want to go to Hell. Nobody in their right mind wants to.”

Bobby Dollar is just an angel, living in San Judas doing his job as a heavenly Advocate, and hanging with his angelic buddies at the local bar. Then one day, he gets called to a case to advocate for a Millionaire Philanthropist who just killed himself, yet when he gets there, the soul is missing, causing an uproar above and below. As Bobby begins to look into the strange situation, a demonic prosecutor is brutally murdered, and a strange beast tries to issue the same fate to Bobby. Now the angel must get the bottom of the situation before he ends up dead or worse. The Dirty Streets of Heaven is a gritty Angelic Noir urban Fantasy filled with breakneck action, strange monsters and a wide array of intriguing characters, none of which are really human. Williams builds a brilliant world expanding traditional Judeo Christian mythology in fascinating ways. William manages to describe celestial places and beings in a manner which is both vivid and ethereal, creating some striking beautiful images. His characters are full of such detail, bringing them alive in unique and sometimes grotesque ways. Williams gives every character, no matter how minor, descriptive depths. As Bobby Dollar enters a room, the setting becomes less important than the strange denizens that fill it, giving each setting an almost shifting incorporeal feel. It effectively creates a mood in the writing that fits the story splendidly. The plot itself is complicated but fascinating, and while it often gets sidetracked, the underlining mystery is still the driving force of the narrative. I found so much of what Williams does here fascinating, yet, I don’t think I connected with the main character as much as I have with other Urban Fantasy protagonists. While I thought Bobby Dollar was well done, I never really warmed up to him. I never felt I got a consistent grasp on his motivations or rationales for his decisions. There is very much a “by the seat of his pants” process to Bobby Dollar, and I wanted to be his cheerleader, but never really was. Outside of that lone bit of criticism, I really liked The Dirty Streets of Heaven. Williams creates a world that I want to hear stories about and I am excited to see what else he has in store for Bobby Dollar.

The Dirty Streets of Heaven has a real conversational style to it that comes across well in audio. Narrator George Newbern does a wonderful job capturing the tone of the text and bringing the character of Bobby Dollar alive. There are moments throughout this audiobook where it just felt like Bobby Dollar was telling you the story, and this is exactly what you want in a first person point of view. Williams uses a lot of descriptive detail in his characterizations, and this often includes the voice. Newbern definitely has some challenges to match the details that Williams puts into it, and for the most part nails it. Newbern’s characterizations of the characters who are not given vocal descriptions are solid, yet subtle. There were a few moments where I had trouble during dialogue determining which character was speaking, yet outside of these few moments I thought the production was excellent. This is my first experience with Newbern as an audiobook narrator, and I definitely will be keeping my eyes out for more of his work in the future.

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4 responses

25 10 2012
Dave Thompson

Very cool. I’m all about the spiritual noir myself, so the themes and setting of this book strike me as something I’d dig.

26 10 2012
DevourerofBooks (@DevourerofBooks)

It is so interesting to me that angels are the new supernatural THING.

2 11 2012
The Dirty Streets of Heaven: Reviews | Tad Williams

[…] The Guilded Earlobe — Audiobook Review 25 Oct 2012 […]

10 01 2013
The AudioBookaneers 2012 Year in Review, Part 2: Books We Missed | The AudioBookaneers

[…] so often guided my own selections as well as leaving me intrigued for Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams, The Twelve by Justin Cronin, Lamentations by Ken Scholes, Seed by Rob Ziegler, Empire State by […]

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