from Alex North The Angel Maker is one of those suspenseful, gripping stories that walk a fine line between horror, mystery, a detective story and something dark and enigmatic that lives in the shadows between those genres.
Deeply complex and carefully crafted, this novel is an exciting question mark to the very end, and it puts North’s storytelling skills into full focus.
Katie Shaw grew up in a beautiful home surrounded by a loving family, but that changed when a deranged stranger attacked her brother Chris. As a result of the attack, Chris became a troubled young man and eventually became estranged from his family, while Katie was racked with guilt and developed a constant sense of worry and insecurity. Now, 17 years later, Katie has a young daughter, struggles to keep her relationship going and Chris is missing, meaning he needs her again.
Meanwhile, Detective Laurence Page and his partner, Detective Caroline Pettifer, investigate the gruesome murder of Alan Hobbes, a prominent professor who was murdered in his home hours after he fired his entire staff and shortly after he gave instructions to his lawyers and most his affairs in order. The case is strange, but a few pieces of evidence suggest that Chris Shaw is somehow involved in the crime. As Page and Pettifer discover new clues and Katie tries to find her brother, the stories of Hobbes, Chris, Katie and Jack Lock, a notorious serial killer who was also a religious zealot who claimed he could see the future, all become profound – and complicated — intertwined.
The Angel Maker is ruthless and creepy. The story moves at a fast pace, meaning the revelations keep coming and the tension mounts with almost every chapter. There are also a lot of elements to the game and the story jumps between past and present, but North made sure everything was clear and easy to navigate, meaning readers are basically forced – in a good way – to keep reading. The mounting fear and the ever-growing stack of questions make it difficult to distance yourself.
Philosophy, religious zeal and murder make for a very dark trio that forms the core of this novel. The story of Jack Lock, which readers get as Katie investigates in her search for her brother, is fascinating and gory, and will greatly appeal to true crime fans who also read crime fiction. “You have committed blasphemy, and it will be corrected,” reads a threatening letter Hobbes received more than three decades before his assassination, and those words encompass the violence that underscores the entire novel.
In his classic novel The name of the roseauthor Umberto Eco has a line that states in part that “not infrequently books speak of books,” and this is true in The Angel Maker. While most of the story deals with real world things like murder, a man on the run, and Katie’s concerns about her daughter’s safety after seeing a strange figure attempt to break into their home, is the story of Jack Lock, the brutal process of making angels (I won’t reveal that here), and a cryptic book Lock wrote proving he knew the future all come together to give the story a supernatural glow that goes well with the discussion of determinism that can be found in the book . Hobbes was also clearly murdered, but the way he prepared for it and the drugs in his system at the time of death make it clear that he knew it was going to happen. This further complicates matters, tying his murder to Lock’s beliefs and to the determinism he talked about in his classes.
The Angel Maker is a bizarre hybrid that comes together beautifully and somehow finds a balance that works for it, despite the plethora of elements that make it up. This is a story that delves deep into the unbreakable bond between two siblings who love each other but are convinced the other wants nothing to do with them, but it is also a horror story wrapped in crime that takes the ghost of a disturbing serial killer to life. who was convinced that everything was predetermined by God and that therefore every human action was both inevitable and flawless. In less skilled hands, a story that juggles so many elements and such a rich cast of characters could easily have turned into a disorganized mess. But in North’s capable hands, it’s going to be a very cohesive, engaging ride into some of the darkest corners of extreme religiosity and human nature. North has already made a name for himself as an international best-selling author thanks to the mix of darkness and violence he brings to the page – and The Angel Makerhis best yet, is a wonderful addition to his already impressive body of work.
Gabino Iglesias is an author, book reviewer and professor living in Austin, Texas. Find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.