A Quiet Belief In Angels by R J Ellroy
|A Quiet Belief In Angels by R J Ellroy|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A brilliant evokation of place offsets some self indulgent writing and over-use of literary devices in this story of the multiple murders of children in the mid-twentieth century. Bookbag thinks of this as an 'if there's nothing better' book.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: January 2008|
In 1939 Europe was going to war, but in the small rural community of Augusta Falls, Georgia, it's death closer to home which has everyone's attention. A young girl is brutally assaulted and murdered and it's to be the first in a series of deaths which will haunt the community over the next decade. One young boy is particularly affected by these murders. Joseph Vaughan is a school mate of many of the girls and he finds one of the bodies – a sight which was to haunt him for years to come. Desperate to help, to protect the young girls, he forms The Guardians with some of the other boys from school, but with a growing sense of futility they see more girls die.
I wanted to love this book. It seems to have everything that I enjoy. There's a murder mystery stretching over a number of years with a fairly restricted number of people who could be 'in the frame'. There's human interest. Joseph Vaughan is an interesting and likeable character, much brighter than most children of his age but blighted by the death of his father when he was young and his mother's increasing mental instability as she fails to cope with the situation in Augusta Falls. There are some strong male characters and some quite feisty females. They're all characters you can believe in and Ellory has an exceptional ability to evoke place – be it rural Augusta Falls or the hustle and bustle of New York.
I didn't love it though. In parts I was quite bored, which is almost unheard of for me when I'm reading a murder mystery, but there's rather a lot of description. Faces seemed to be a favourite and I found myself wondering how long it would be before the next appeared. The writing is stunning, but it's self-indulgent and repetitive in places. The device of the feathers – which appear as a portent of death - seemed contrived and overdone and I tired of the 'if only I had known what was to come' endings to chapters. It's a device which should be used very sparingly. All in all I was conscious of the writing rather than of the story. But some ruthless editing could have turned this into a very good book.
Only a very good book? Well, yes. The plot is good, but it's nothing exceptional. If you strip away all that happens to Joseph Vaughan (and I did occasionally groan as yet another tragedy dropped on his toes) there's a serial killer whose identity needs to be established. It was pretty obvious to me who it was from quite early on so the twist at the end was no surprise at all - and the flash forwards which appear at regular intervals in the book all but gave us the name.
It's not a bad book but there are better out there. It's not a patch on Jed Rubenfeld's The Interpretation of Murder or Stephen L Carter's New England White but if you're stuck for something to read then you could do worse.
A Quiet Belief In Angels by R J Ellroy is in the Richard and Judy Shortlist 2008.
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Oh, what a shame. Style over substance then?
Yes - which was a pity as the man can write. It felt as though the story was a background for the writing rather than the writing illuminating the plot.