The Dirty Streets of Heaven, the first entry in an urban fantasy trilogy by Tad Williams, is told from the perspective of an angel (yes, a literal angel) who goes by the name of Bobby Dollar. Working in the fictional city of San Judas, Bobby Dollar’s job is to defend the souls of the recently deceased as they enter the afterlife, where they are sentenced to an eternity in either Heaven or Hell—that is, until a seemingly regular soul goes mysteriously missing, and neither the angels of Heaven nor the demons of Hell have any clue where he has gone.
Urban fantasy with a twist
In the world of The Dirty Streets of Heaven, Heaven and Hell are both very real, as are the angels and demons that inhabit them. Even the angels, however, have no idea whether God really exists, and no religion is ever presented as being “true.” The religious aspects of The Dirty Streets of Heaven remain mostly shrouded in mystery, and though the book occasionally asks questions about the nature of Heaven, Hell, and God, it never dwells on them for long. Perhaps these questions will be dealt with further in the sequels, or perhaps they will never be dealt with at all. The religious backdrop in The Dirty Streets of Heaven isn’t there to provoke the exploration of deep religious questions; it’s there to provide a unique foundation for a supernatural thriller. Williams has created an urban fantasy with a twist, and he clearly has a lot of fun with the creativity that it lends him—if you simply accept the world of The Dirty Streets of Heaven and go along for the ride, you’ll have a lot of fun, too.
A seamless blend of humor and action
The Dirty Streets of Heaven is a book full of surprises in terms of both plot and character, but the thing that surprised me most of all while reading was the humor—and how consistently funny it actually was. I wouldn’t call this a comedic book by any stretch of the imagination—it is, in fact, depressingly dark at times—but Bobby’s first-person narrative brims with a dry, detached wit, and he kept me laughing even through the book’s dreariest sections. Not having expected this humorous aspect, I was a bit jarred when I first began the book and struggled to adjust to the casual snark of Bobby’s narration, but once it clicked with me it became one of my favorite parts of the book. This isn’t to say that The Dirty Streets of Heaven is all about the humor, however; this is a book that is filled with a lot of action, a lot of intensity, and a lot of serious moments, all of which are magnificently well-written. Williams’s true accomplishment is his seamless blend of the humor and the action. At no point does either become so prominent as to weigh down the story; they play off each other in perfect synchronicity and perfect balance, keeping the story fresh and engaging from beginning to end.
If there’s any other aspect of The Dirty Streets of Heaven that Williams really deserves to be commended for, it’s his masterful pacing. It may take a few chapters for the story to hook you, but once it does, it never lets go. The Dirty Streets of Heaven is relatively short when set against Williams’s massive fantasy novels, but it’s still more than long enough to risk large sections where the story could’ve slowed to a crawl—only it doesn’t. Williams’s enormous action sequences are frequent enough to keep the story from dragging, and his clever use of humor all throughout the book spices things up enough to keep the story moving during its smaller moments.
Why should you read this book?
While far from perfect, The Dirty Streets of Heaven is a really fantastic book. Set against a fascinating religious backdrop, brimming with all sorts of exciting ideas, and maintaining a seamless blend of action and humor throughout its entire length, everything here is worth reading. The Dirty Streets of Heaven is the first book I’ve read from Williams and I enjoyed it immensely—I can’t wait to get my hands on the next entry in the series.