Tad Williams – Bobby Dollar

Tad Williams is better known for his science fiction and fantasy but for a short period he delved into contemporary fantasy with three books around Bobby Dollar and his girlfriend Cassandra. I’ve only read the first one, The Dirty Streets of Heaven, but it was so intriguing that I hope to read the other two, Happy Hour in Hell and Sleeping Late on Judgement Day.

Bobby Dollar, the main character, is an angel trying to be angelic but there’s a part of him that can’t quite get there, a harshness that enables him to survive when he’s operating in the dark. That edge is also what attracts him to Cassandra, who he believes needs saving.

Tad Williams 2

I want to see how much trouble he will get into with his shrewd “get the job done attitude” and his much opposite need to believe Cassandra’s troubles. To be fair, they may be as they have been stated in the book. I just have my doubts. In this world, people, even angels, are never so easily defined as “good” versus “evil” so for him to believe that Cassandra needs saving makes perfect sense.  He wanders back and forth over a thin boundary between heaven and hell. At one moment, he’s firmly in heaven’s camp, trying to defend people even when they don’t deserve it, and giving them a chance. The next moment, he’s drinking straight from a bottle or bombing around town in his loud car.

The muscle car he drives, a 1971 Matador, blasts through the traditionally quiet and contained image of angels and leaves me wondering why he is an angel and what are the rules for angels? His mysterious past had horrific moments that still keep him awake, even though his past was erased. Is this where the duality comes from? Who is this angel who isn’t very angelic?

The oh-so-human attitude that drips from him when explaining the rules to his trainee, Clarence hints at a wider discontent with heaven and headquarters imperfections. Angels should be more likely to have a good relationship with headquarters so what kind of heaven is this?

Despite all these questions, Bobby Dollar is authentic with his brash, almost stereotypical New Yorker or Bostonian attitude. Who couldn’t enjoy an angel like that?

HIs hidden past, his love of living just a shade dangerously and his realistic discontent intrigue and tantalize me – what’s really going on here and who has the truth? Bobby Dollar has enough secrets from himself and everyone else to get himself into trouble at any turn.

Contemporary or Urban?

Contemporary or urban fantasy – I never realized there are two different types until I tried to explain why I like urban fantasy and I realized that my book, Burnt, didn’t contain all the traditional elements of an urban fantasy.

Contemporary fantasy (check out Wikipedia, Shadows in Mind and Hacker Space) is the umbrella term for fantasy fiction that takes place anywhere in our modern world. Urban fantasy is a sub-category of contemporary fantasy, from what I have read. Fantastical creatures such as gods, vampires and werewolves exist alongside humans but are hidden from or unknown to humans. The story is structured around a variety of scenarios.

Urban fantasy fiction always takes place strictly in an urban environment. It’s usually structured as a police type procedural – think detective or police – and there’s often a romantic sub-plot. It is not paranormal romance. If you take out the romantic sub-plot, the story will still stand as a complete novel (Jeannie Holmes). It is often written in the first person.


  • has a romantic element that is not integral to the story,
  • takes place in an urban environment, Sydney Australia and in Rapa Nui, Chile, south Pacific Ocean,
  • is structured around a thousand year old warrior in an ancient war, and;
  • is written in the third person.

All of which left me wondering what kind of story I have.

Genre titles don’t matter until marketing is involved. An urban fantasy tends to have a hero or heroine standing in a fighting stance on the front cover, holding a deadly looking weapon, ready to take on all comers.

Contemporary fantasy books, such as Neil Gaiman’s Amercian Gods, tend to have variable covers, usually with symbolism mixed with a less prominent picture of the main character, if the main character is there at all.

Since genres aren’t important for writing and my book hasn’t even sold, let alone actually have a marketing team behind, I’m going to call it contemporary fantasy.

But my blog will talk about the books I enjoy in contemporary and urban fantasy, because you don’t become a writer without picking up a love of reading and that’s what I want to share with you.


Caveat: all of the above descriptions are generalizations and there are always exceptions