Ever on the lookout for good thrillers, I checked out The Black Angel by John Connelly from the library (Just Books, yep I eventually switched libraries and I am extremely content with the change ).
The story starts off with a murdered prostitute. Because the police can’t care less about her fate, her cousin Louis (a reformed hitman), his boyfriend Angel, and his best friend Charlie Parker try to track down and punish the bad guys.
The reason for the murder soon becomes obvious – she and her friend have stolen a fragment of an ancient map. The pieces of this map, when put together reveal the location of the Black Angel – a fallen angel who wandered the Earth until he got into a confrontation with a monk and was embalmed in silver hidden within an ossuary in Sedlec in the Czech Republic. Apparently werewolves are not the only supernatural species with an aversion to silver! Now, the twin of the fallen angel is roaming the Earth searching for his twin so that he can free him up and together they can wreak havoc upon the humans.
Storyline sounding weird? Well, yes it is and it isn’t. The basic story is part of Christian mythology chronicled in the Book of Enoch, which talks about the fallen angels Ashmael and Immael who gloried in the death and destruction that they brought down on the earth in the form of wars, rape and murder. But then Immael was confronted by a Cistercian monk and in the ensuing battle fell into a vast vat of molten silver where he was trapped, cast as a silver statue, and hidden.
The murderer is a person named Brightwell – a huge monstrous man who appears to have supernatural powers that he uses to gruesome effect on his victims. Brightwell leads a secret group of people known as “Believers” who are all on the hunt for the elusive fragments of the missing map.
The two forces – the good guys led by Charlie Parker, and the bad guys led by Brightwell are now in a race to acquire the missing pieces of the map and figure out the location of the statue of the fallen angel. The clues eventually take them to the Sedlec ossuary where the final confrontation takes place.
This book is a strange combination of Stephen King, Dan Brown, and Michael Connelly i.e a crime thriller with a supernatural bent. This is the fifth book in Connelly’s Charlie Parker series and frequently references the previous books in the series. As this is the first book I have read, a lot of the back-story references and the character development of the main protagonists were lost to me. Hghly recommend that readers read this book only after reading the earlier books in the series.
As for the story itself, it was good, but required a lot of editing. The actual story does not get going until after the first 200 pages or so. The beginning of the book is such a drag that I was tempted to just put it aside. It didn’t make sense at all for me to struggle through a thriller…a good thriller needs to be so taut that you just can’t stop wondering what is going to happen next. This one fails big-time on that score.
However, once the story starts to get going in the middle of the book, and I got used to John Connelly’s rather verbose writing style, I started to settle in and enjoy the ride. I loved the fallen angel mythology and how it has been integrated with the plot. I also liked the fact that, despite the touch of the supernatural you are never quite sure whether the villain is supernatural or not.
I loved the spook factor, and all the information about ossuaries, and bone art. I had absolutely no idea about the concept of ossuaries until I read this book. Actually, I did a lot of wiki reading along with this book to figure out for myself how much of the mythology was real and how much was fictionalized. Really, the whole concept of ossuaries and ossuary art (the use of human bones to create art) is very spooky. John Connelly’s research is also very meticulous.
I eventually googled Sedlec and got this awesome image from wikipedia. The chandelier below is made of all the bones in the human body. Spooky, but beautiful right?
If you are interested, there you can find more imagery and information about the Sedlec ossuary at their official website.
Getting back to the book, the ending sucks big-time. It all ends in a shoot-out leaving behind tons of unanswered questions. But, I suppose that’s inevitable in a book of this kind.
Last Words: Good in parts. Strictly for Charlie Parker and John Connelly fans, and for folks with a strong stomach, and a fascination for the arcane and the esoteric.
P.S. I am including this book as reading towards the Orbis Terrarum reading challenge as the author John Connelly is from Ireland.