James Stark, AKA Sandman Slim, is making another effort to be more like a “regular” human being. He has left the arena in Hell behind and is working for the Sub Rosa, the clandestine magical community in Los Angeles. His girlfriend Chihiro works for a detective agency and is learning to play surf guitar. Stark has a salary, a 401(k) and even health benefits; but he is dissatisfied and only violence seems to provide satisfaction.
(This review contains a mild spoiler for readers who may not have read Killing Pretty, the previous Sandman Slim novel.)
The Perdition Score is the 8th Sandman Slim novel. Author Richard Kadrey has taken Stark through various mutations in these stories; in this one Stark goes back, for a time, to the place he truly feels most at home. Tom Abbot, the augur of the Sub Rosa, asks Stark to find the missing son of a Sub Rosa family. He is surprisingly sketchy on details. Stark is preparing to investigate when a dying angel brings him a vial of liquid called black milk. In small regular doses, black milk bestows strength, cellular regeneration and immortality; too much of it kills.
For the rebel angels fighting God in heaven, the black milk is a strategic advantage, and they will kill for it. It’s up to Stark to find and destroy the supply. The score in The Perdition Score relates specifically to this nasty miracle-drug. Stark’s quest takes him back to Hell. Along the way, he must learn to trust another angel (angels aren’t Stark’s favorite people) and come to grips with the changes in Hell that he has caused through his previous actions.
All of Kadrey’s great supporting cast members are here: Kasabian, Stark’s business partner; Allegra and Vidocq,a healer and an alchemist; Wild Bill Hickok; the evil financers of the Wormwood group, and even Manimal Mike puts in an appearance. We finally learn the story behind Vidocq’s immortality. The next sentence is a spoiler for the earlier books. If you’ve already read Killing Pretty or you don’t mind spoilers, highlight this invisible text: Candy, in her disguise as Chihiro, joins Stark on this quest. [end spoiler] As always The Perdition Score is filled with witty, acid-tinged observations about human nature and bizarre, nearly hallucinatory visions of Hell, whether it’s a trip through a very strange corn maze or a stroll in a poison garden that made my skin itch while I was reading it.
The nature of the “black milk” was appropriately disgusting and appalling and the way it is destroyed was a surprise that was completely believable. Stark manages to weaken the evil Wormwood group although it’s doubtful they’re down for good.
And then The Perdition Score ended on a shocking note, leaving me saying, “What? Really?” Kadrey noted on Twitter that he gets the most “hate mail” for this ending, and I understand why. The ending is foreshadowed and fair; it’s just not what we want to have happen! Is this a seismic shift in the series? I can’t tell, but I’m eagerly waiting for the next book, The Kill Society, scheduled to come out in June of 2017.