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Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams

A review by Nalini Haynes

Happy Hour in Hell is the second Bobby Dollar novel; I reviewed the first, Dirty Streets of Heaven. Just as if this review is act 2 of a trilogy, I’m going to assume you have read the first review (hint: read the first review). There will also be first novel spoilers.

Bobby fell in love with a demon from hell during Dirty Streets. Now he’s desperate to get her back. He’s also desperate to stay alive.

Smyler, a demon with no small resemblance to Gollum, is stalking Bobby.

Convinced that a fellow angel’s murder was a failed hit on himself, Bobby decides to go to Hell to rescue the girl and sort this out.

Happy Hour maintains the Colombo-style essence although with far less humour for the majority of the novel that is darker than Dirty Streets. There is less humour because Bobby is in hell, seeing and experiencing first-hand the horrors of the deeps. (Although it could just be me – dark humour only has ‘so’ much appeal for me. I was relieved when Bobby regained his sense of humour.) Happy Hour is written in first person while periodically breaking the fourth wall with Bobby Dollar, the narrator, talking to the audience: “you can thank me later”.

Happy Hour in Hell is a visceral journey through a re-imagined hell that borrows from Dante’s Inferno only to make light of Alighieri’s imaginings as mild in comparison. Not satisfied with just Dante, Williams references Greek mythology and even William Blake’s paintings although his poetic works – particularly as relate to pugilism – are far more commonly known in pop culture.

Most of the characters in Happy Hour in Hell are men. The wimminz suffer in Bobby D’s story: they’re either the damsel in distress like Caz, Bobby’s love, or they’re the monstrous feminine. I cringed when the almost-inevitable vagina dentata made their entrance. To be fair, none of the denizens of hell – male or female – are likeable although some are nuanced. Even Bobby was a much less likable character in this novel although, strangely, I still found him to be a sympathetic character.

While I love Bobby Dollar as a character – the insider who feels like an outsider – there are times when Bobby being an angel who seemingly dislikes Heaven even in the face of Hell wears a bit thin. I get the distrust of Heaven. I like the idea of Heaven being full of politics. It’s Bobby’s active dislike of Heaven that strikes a discord.

Origen’s radical – even heretical – theory of Hell not being a permanent punishment for sin is introduced and elaborated upon. Coupled with the war between the Highest and the Adversary, Origen’s theory being put into practice could make Williams’s Bobby Dollar narrative arc unique. I look forward to the next installment.

Way to go for a second act: the stakes rose significantly, the pace was intense yet juxtaposed with scenes counterpointing the tension, giving readers a break from the horrors of hell. The story arc is building, combining a mystery with the Heaven/Hell equivalent of international politics and a romance reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. I highly recommend Happy Hour in Hell.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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