Happy Hour in Hell is the second novel in Tad Williams’ Bobby Dollar series. While readers might enjoy and appreciate the book more if they read The Dirty Streets of Heaven first, its sequel is one of those books that can be understood and enjoyed on its own merit, too. Happy Hour in Hell is darker than its predecessor, the world expands, Bobby Dollar is a more complex character (while never losing his humorous or cynical edge), and there’s strong emotional appeal. The book as a whole benefits from this immensely.
Happy Hour in Hell starts on a rather dark, lonely note with Bobby Dollar crossing the bridge to enter Hell. This sets the tone for the whole novel, which explores the afterlife and death in a nod to Dante’s Inferno. Things are wacky, weird, and definitely doomed. Readers will be introduced to plenty of new characters and creatures, each of which has a bite and an edge.
The truth is that Happy Hour in Hell really feels like Tad has let his imagination go in visualizing Hell and all of its nuances. However, where The Dirty Streets of Heaven read more like a romp-and-roll adventure novel, Happy Hour in Hell really calls more to Williams’ fantasy roots. There’s a journey, an almost impossible goal the protagonist is working toward, and plenty of twists, turns, and battles between the start and the finish.
Like the enemy citadel in a good fantasy novel, Hell has its own form of dictatorship (which perversely mirrors some of Earth’s own elements), and Dollar has pissed off one of the Grand Dukes, which ups the tension and the danger-element. Add the Hell location to the mix, and you’ll realize pretty soon that Williams’ vivid imagination mixed with such a dark scene is addictive, but probably different than you’d expect if you’ve read The Dirty Streets of Heaven. Hell is a real place, the people and demons that inhabit it are just as evil as you’d expect, and twice as real as you anticipate with Williams’ skill.
In the midst of all the adventure, a serial killer mystery, the problem of how Bobby is going to get out of the mess he’s in, are more subtle questions that Williams is asking the reader. Being a book with somewhat religious themes (Heaven, Hell, angels, demons, etc.), profound themes come with the territory, though these notes won’t hit the reader on the head. In fact, they are pretty easy to overlook if you aren’t looking for them.
There’s enough surface action and adventure going on to keep anyone entertained. If, however, you are like me and you enjoy looking for the deeper themes in your books, you’ll find that Happy Hour in Hell plays a lot with eternal punishments and rewards in a pretty intimate, emotional way. On a more obvious level, Williams forces readers to wonder just how far you’d go for love, and that love is a real emotional draw that will pull readers into the novel, force them to sympathize with Bobby Dollar’s plight, and relate to him on a human level. This all works together nicely to make sure you enjoy the plot for what it is, but Happy Hour in Hell probes a bit more without readers really realizing it is happening.
One thing that really makes Happy Hour in Hell as wonderful as it is how much fun Williams obviously had writing it. There are little nuances, quirky similes and descriptions sprinkled throughout this novel that really highlights that fact. Despite the darkness and the inventive twist that is Hell and its denizens, Williams is having a ton of fun and the prose, dialogue, and Bobby Dollar shines because of it.
Happy Hour in Hell is wonderful, dark, imaginative, and inventive. If you haven’t read it yet, read it. Williams has outdone himself, and he obviously had a hell of a time doing it (notice what I did there?). BOBBY DOLLAR is addictive, fun, deep, and gets better with each page that you’ll inevitably turn.
Bobby Dollar — (2012-2014) Publisher: Bobby Dollar has a secret. Actually he’s got a ton of them. The most important one is that his real name’s Doloriel and he’s an angel. Not an important angel, maybe, but a rough-and-tumble guy who’s always done his part in the long cold war between Heaven and Hell. But now he’s stepped into the middle of something that’s got both sides very nervous — an unprecedented number of missing souls. And if that wasn’t enough, someone has summoned a truly unpleasant Babylonian demon that’s doing its best to track him down and rip him to pieces. Also, his opposite number on the case is arguably the world’s sexiest she-devil, and Bobby has feelings for her that Heaven definitely does not allow.