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Falling Angel
William Hjortsberg

Falling Angel
William Hjortsberg
No Exit Press
London 1996

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Another welcome re-issue from No Exit Press, a publisher which continues to re-release classic crime fiction you may have missed first time around, as well as publishing some of the most interesting and original new voices from the next generation of crime writers.

Originally published in the late ’70s, Falling Angel is at first glance a Chandleresque detective novel. But Hjortsberg takes the down-at-heel, hard-drinking private eye yarn and gives it a fiendish Faustian spin. The result is an original and breathtaking rollercoaster ride straight to the heart of Hades.

Ominously, the story opens on Friday 13th, with New York private eye Harry Angel being hired by the mysterious and malevolent Louis Cyphere to find a crooner named Johnny Favourite who Cyphere claims has reneged on a business deal. Missing persons cases are not Angel’s idea of fun but work being what it is he agrees to take up the almost cold trail of the once famous singer. But what should be a bread and butter case takes on nightmarish proportions when all of Angel’s leads wind up dead in a series of unexplained ritual murders. As Angel is haunted by strange, foreboding dreams, his search for Favourite draws him deep into the secret world of the occult where voodoo and black magic are more than mere superstition. As the shadows that Angel chases begin to close in around him, Hjortsberg turns the knife to inflict the full horror of the detective’s situation.

This may sound familiar if you’ve seen Angel Heart, Alan Parker’s 1987 film adaptation with Mickey Rourke as Angel, Robert de Niro as Cyphere and Lisa Bonet as the bewitching, and memorably named, Epiphany Proudfoot. But though Parker’s film captures much of the menacing atmosphere, Hjortsberg’s novel is so cunningly weaved that, even having seen the film, the twist in the tale remains masterfully shocking. A book to read with the doors locked and every light in the house burning.

Reviewed by Jon Mitchell


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