Greatest Hits: The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

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The Dirty Streets of HeavenTad Williams is a well known Fantasy & Science Fiction writer (see The Dragonbone Chair & City of Golden Shadow), but this novel is set in a modern, real world setting (a fictional city in Northern California). Our narrator and main character is Bobby Dollar, a wise-cracking angel who lives on Earth and is an advocate for souls of the recently departed. In Williams’ world, when a person dies there is a trial and an angel and a demon each advocate for the soul to go to Heaven or Hell based on that person’s actions during life. The judge is one of the much higher levels of angels, and all of this naturally occurs outside of our perceived reality. It’s a pretty straight forward system – until one day when a soul goes missing before it can be assigned to Heaven, Hell or Purgatory for all eternity.

Bobby is not like any other angel I’ve ever read about – he drinks, curses and indulges his carnal desires when on Earth, and while he’s good at his job, his behavior means that he’s not exactly held in high esteem by his superiors up in Heaven. Then there’s the opposition: in addition to the demon advocates, Bobby is soon also mixed up with the likes of a higher level demoness known as the Countess of Cold Hands. She and her hellish companions make life – or is it afterlife? – very difficult for Bobby, who just wants to find out where the missing souls (yes, there have been more since that first one) have disappeared to. To make matters worse, a very powerful demon lord believes that Bobby has stolen something from him and has sent an ancient and practically unstoppable monster after him.

This novel is filled with action as Bobby races to find out what’s happened to the missing souls, evades the ancient monstrosity that’s hunting him, falls in lust with the Countess, and tries to avoid getting his friends – fellow angels on Earth – hurt. He’s also periodically “called upstairs” to be questioned by angels much higher than him on the celestial ladder. Even though Bobby is assured by everyone in Heaven that “God loves you,” he gets the distinct feeling that his superiors aren’t telling him everything they know.

Williams’ world building is first rate and he really made me feel like I was right there with Bobby, both in the Bay area and up in Heaven. Tad has also created some wonderfully relatable and highly entertaining characters for Bobby Dollar to interact with and play off of, with tons of memorable dialogue. I’d recommend this book for those who like paranormal detectives, especially the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher, as well as anyone who liked Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series, starting with On a Pale Horse.

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