I liked Sandman Slim most of the time. It’s got an interesting premise of a not-fully dead human resident of Hell getting back to Earth, and trying to get revenge on the people who got him sent there. There’s also some interesting side-characters like Vidocq, Candy, and Dr. Kinski (in a very different version than the Coop stories). The various denizens of Hell who show up occasionally are pretty interesting, as is the gradually revealed backstory behind Stark’s trip to Hell in the first place.
What gets disappointing is that there’s a lot of little problems that on their own aren’t too serious, but together add up. There’s plenty of action and mystery, although Stark constantly stealing fancy cars every other page gets a little old after a while. Kasabian is funny in a pathetic kind of way, but the talking severed head as snarky sidekick, unwilling or not, has been done before. It also feels like Allegra could have used more development; she could have a lot more interesting the second half of the book had she been given something to actually do besides fade into the background as Vidocq’s new apprentice. The Sandman Slim label gets addressed but is not explained quite enough, not even for Stark.
Then there’s the reveal about how the ultimate baddie (the guy Stark needs to kill most for sending him to Hell while still alive) has gotten involved with Kissi, demon-like things that even Hell doesn’t like. While it sets up a long-term conflict (a strategy common to serial tv shows that works about 50% of the time), there’s so little personality and reason to Mason that it’s hard to understand what makes him bad and therefore not like him. It’s especially problematic when characters that might be good (?) like the angel Aelita, or even Stark himself who seems to have something of a combination chip-on-the-shoulder-superiority-complex-selfish-streak aren’t very likeable.
There’s also some jumps in logic in the story that bothered me. For example, Stark is in Hell for 11 years, but is totally shocked by how the world has changed. He doesn’t know what a Blackberry is, and they are now common. Assuming the setting is about the same as the time of publication (2010), this lack of tech knowledge seems unusual. I may not have gotten a cell phone until my mid-20s (2008), but I certainly knew what they were around the year 2000.
Finally, there’s Stark’s potential problem of considering giving up his best advantages. He nearly loses the Key to the 13 Doors on more than 1 occasion (and it’s buried in his chest), and near the end he barters away his Veritas coin which has saved his tail several times throughout the story. He also disregards Vidocq’s advice and request at very important moments, and then never seems to be sorry about the problems he causes his allies. I realize he’s been through Hell, but given his mission of vengeance against those who betrayed him and even a few who may have not been directly involved, this seems a little self-serving. Even an anti-hero needs something about him to root for.
It’s still an entertaining read, and I might eventually look up the sequels, but there’s so much missed opportunity for amazingness that gets overlooked that it’s just disappointing.