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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Quiet Belief in Angels. R.J.Ellory. Orion Books. (2007)


There is a credible crime story hiding beneath an avalanche of words in this book, I was drained by the time I reached then end, tired from reading the flood of words and trying to fish out what really interested me. The crime story is simple and thoughtful, starting in 1939 children are being brutally murdered in the town of Atlanta Falls in Georgia and in the surrounding area. The killings continue and the impact of these killings, they way they undermine to community is well described. In particular they way they intersect with the life of Joseph Vaughan, who is twelve when the first killing takes place, is the spine of the book. Significant events in Joseph's life are intertwined with the killings and their consequences, leading finally to a nicely unexpected revelation.
The problem is that wrapped around that central framework is a cascade of words that describe the emotional life of Joseph Vaughn in mind numbing detail and colour. The reader is sprayed with a technicolour vision of his life, his family, his attempts to escape the past and the way it traps him. Some of this writing is very good, in particular the scene with Joseph Vaughn and his partner are interrupted by a sheriff while having sex on the flat bed on a truck parked on a public road is superbly realised, menace and embarrassment are cunningly mixed. For the greater part the literary work is just excess, it does not advance the story nor does it effectively strike off on its own to be read with pleasure for itself. Joseph Vaughan is simply not a compelling enough character to sustain the book by himself and the necessary crime story is not given enough room to breathe to offset him.

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