Friday, November 06, 2009

Book Review: Angel of Death by J. Robert King

I'm not sure what it is as of late, but I have become a magnet for the strange, and by that I mean those novels that contain something so twisted and freakish that you start to wonder if maybe the author is a little too close to these characters and that you should be worried. But then you remind yourself that the author doesn't have your address, just the publisher, and that means you can move before anyone finds out where you live and comes knocking. Maybe that's just my paranoia talking. Angel of Death is one of those strange novels: twisted and detailed in ways that make you uncomfortable, stylistically gripping, and otherwise a romping good read. And dare I say that J. Robert King has put together something that makes all those movies and books about angels look like child's play? Yes, I dare say. Angel of Death is hard to describe. The story opens with a serial killer and a metaphysical figure who directs the gruesome killings and accidental deaths of the day--an angel of death, if you will. But when he meets Donna Leland, lead investigator/detective on the serial killer's case, this angel of death finds himself thrust into the real world, rejected by the angelic home he once was a part of. What follows is a dark, terrifying fall into madness and an uncomfortable reminder of how fragile the human condition really is, especially for one who might never have been human before. Angel of Death is the second book from Angry Robot Books that I have read and loved, though for entirely different reasons. What is most striking, for me, is how King puts you into the mayhem, into the minds of serial killers, the detectives who hunt them, and the innocents who suffer as a consequence. From the start you are thrust right into the mind of death itself, a disconcerting experience for sure, but a memorable one. The result is that King has managed write a thoroughly enjoyable story despite being in a genre that I normally would not find all that appealing (detective mysteries). His twisting of convention, if such a thing is fair to say, has resurfaced all those old, long-forgotten childish joys resurface. I want more of these dark murder mysteries. King's novel is somewhat like reading a novelization of one of the Saw movies, but with a splash of the fantastic (or seemingly fantastic). A lot of what makes this novel so much more than just another story about fallen angels is that King fiddles with reality in such a profound way that by the end you're not entirely sure what is real and what is imagined. Philip K. Dick did this well, but King is somewhat more subtle about it, despite the characters having very little in the way of subtlety attached to them. The only problem with Angel of Death is that it takes some time to get into the gritty, page-turning stuff. The first part of the novel is entertaining, but it is the last two-thirds that changes everything. That first third had me curious, and when I ventured into the unknown territory of part two, I couldn't put the book down--someone probably saw me walking and reading on campus over the last few days. Those who are fans of dark murder mysteries, Andy Remic, the Saw movies (the early ones, not the last three or four), and other twisted tales will certainly enjoy Angel of Death. If you're not one for serial murders and the macabre, even in a powerful form as presented in King's novel, then you should find something else. Angel of Death is a book for those who want that dark edge. You can learn more about Angel of Death at Angry Robot Books. J. Robert King can be found at his website and Angel of Death is available online through Angry Robot Books or Amazon.

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