Sleeping Late on Judgement Day by Tad Williams

A review by Nalini Haynes

ISBN: 9781444738667
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (Hachette)
Format: paperback, 439 pages

Bobby Dollar, angel with an attitude, is still trying to get his demon-girlfriend Caz (aka the Countess of Cold Hands) released from Hell. Literally. Bobby’s best hope and worst nemeses are Eligor, one of the Four Horsemen and a Prince of Hell and an angel who made a deal with Eligor. Bobby thinks he’s identified the angel but the next step — locating the evidence — is proving to be somewhat difficult.

The first novel in this trilogy, Dirty Streets of Heaven, is an angel story with a difference: Bobby Dollar seems to be a bit of a renegade, a not-quite-fallen angel with an attitude expressed in a noir-detective voice. The Third Way, an alternative to Heaven and Hell, was set up by an angel working in concert with a demon. This seemed a little odd considering the avowed non-denominational state that is heaven. However, I loved the voice, the exploration of the world and the points of difference with other novels in this genre.

Happy Hour in Hell tells how Bobby, like Orpheus, went to the underworld to rescue his beloved. Like Orpheus, Bobby wasn’t as successful as he’d hoped. An underground movement in Hell contrasts with the disenfranchisement of an increasing proportion of angels. Bobby’s goals are paramount (he’s a bit of a selfish ass who thinks he’s a romantic) so he doesn’t delve much into these issues, relegating them to the sidelines.

Sleeping Late on Judgement Day rounds off the trilogy, resolving Bobby’s short-term interests while getting a lot of people — humans, demons and angels — killed. Bobby finds out more about the Third Way.

Originally, Heaven wasn’t supposed to be affiliated with any particular religion. However, it seemed that Heaven became more Christian in Sleeping Late on Judgment Day. I felt particularly disturbed by the assumption that the Persian goddess of fertility and moisture had to, by definition, be one of Hell’s creatures. Unless she required human sacrifice or such (not mentioned), this seemed an arbitrary line drawn in a monotheistic corporate culture. Corporate culture because Heaven shifted towards being just another workplace with unhappy drones and mindless happy spirits devoid of choice overseen by manipulative, power-hungry middle management with an eye to the view from their office window.

Bobby’s noir-voice was diminished, either in its noir-ness or its impact. He’s a less likeable character and more unreliable as a witness in Sleeping Late. I get that an ‘unreliable witness’ is a feature of literature but it didn’t seem to be used as a feature, Bobby was just inconsistent. For example, Bobby talked about putting a young woman on a plane to get her out of the way but he added he didn’t have the money — it’d have to be a bus. Then he got a couple of thousand dollars that he used to send her to Europe on a plane, spent a shitload on stuff, gave his hog-friend a bonus… that money seemed like the ultimate bank-bag of holding, going so very far. Can I haz some of those bucks please?

I objected to Foxy-Fox being consistently described as a repugnant albino in Dirty Streets. In Sleeping Late, Williams describes Foxy-Fox first-off as maybe an albino, he’s not sure, but he’s definitely pale. When Foxy re-appears, there’s no doubt, he’s an albino once again. And he’s strange, with no loyalty to Bobby or the ‘good’ guys.

There’s another albino mentioned as backstory for Sam. This albino calls herself a ‘freak’ and not in a way that endears her to others, because endearing herself to others and being inspirational is, of course, the way people with disabilities are supposed to behave [snark]. She concealed her albinism by dying her hair and painting her face (I can totally identify). She didn’t seem to have a vision impairment: Bobby comments that her albinism was mild so the reader can assume that Bobby, being the narcissistic ass he is, was oblivious to her vision impairment. She developed a drinking problem, she had a tumultuous relationship with Sam (possibly abuse- or alcohol-related) and then she died in inauspicious circumstances. So, this minor character with albinism introduced as backstory for Sam was not a character to provide a positive balance to the negative overtones of Foxy-Fox.

Fortunately this character was almost a throw-away, covered in a few paragraphs if that; she’s the ‘my GF was raped/murdered/ran away so I’m [insert trait]’ trope. In Sam’s case, he’s broken but getting on with life. Or afterlife. Whatever you call that thing where a human has been turned into an angel who acts as a lawyer for the recently departed in the court case that decides where they’ll spend eternity. And he’s stealing souls for the Third Way.

The weird thing is that Sam is known to be working for the Third Way, he’s wanted by Heaven and yet he’s hanging out in all his old haunts with his angelic co-workers who aren’t taking him in — although previous failed attempts to take him in went on people’s/ANGEL’S work records. In a negative way.

After the climax, the wrap-up was a bit long. I get that Sleeping Late was supposed to conclude a trilogy and leave a door ajar for future stories but the dénouement was too long. Plus it’d be easy to say ‘Ta da, strings tied up’ for the 3rd book and ‘Oops, SWORD OF DAMOCLES’ for the next book in the series.

I loved Dirty Streets of Heaven. Happy Hour in Hell was still good. Sleeping Late on Judgement Day was still good but it’s the lesser of the three books.

Rating: full starfull starfull star half starEmpty star 3 1/2 out of 5 stars