Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on A Killing of Angels.
Although I haven’t read Rhodes’ first novel, her remarkable talent for creating tension drew me into A Killing of Angels as London NHS psychologist Alice Quentin tries to gain her grip on a life in disarray after the events that unfolded in Crossbones Yard. Exploring the inner workings of a lonely woman's heart and the incandescence of death, Alice’s story is most tragic, as she describes her constant puzzlement at a series of brutal killings.
Set in North London, A Killing of Angels unfolds in the heart of the city’s financial center. The action plays out against a fractured Department of Health, financially hemorrhaging under massive government cutbacks. Like the divided city of London, fat-cat bankers on massive bonuses fight for prominence in a town plagued by the poor and the less fortunate. Alice takes center stage, continuing to do battle with her brother Will, who suffers from bipolar disorder, and her lonely and difficult mother who lives on her own. Like many professional, single women, Alice is doing the best she can under demanding and precarious circumstances.
Enter Alice’ s old colleague, a slimmed-down DCI Don Burns, demoted after the events in Crossbones Yard and now down to his last chance to redeem himself. Don’s story of how a “bloke” by the name of Leo Gresham, a big investment guru for a bank called the Angel Group, was pushed under a train in Kings Cross station brings Alice into the case and accelerates what soon becomes a series of grisly crimes. Although it’s impossible to tell who actually pushed Gresham, left at the scene was a single postcard—a close-up of an angel’s face with a bloodstain smeared across her forehead—and a series of white feathers. Ironically, Gresham’s expensive Rolex survived the attack without a scratch, still keeping perfect time.
From the moment the first murder is committed, Alice is swept back and forth like a pendulum, her efforts to help with the case contributing to the general sense of distrust between Burns and his officious colleague DC Taylor. For the first time, we see how the territorial turf wars and the resentment by old-time beat police of the 'mumbo jumbo' of psychological tools can impact effective crime fighting. Alice finds her affections swinging from one person to another—to brother then onto the charming Andrew Piernan. In this case, truth is in the eye of the beholder as the angst and the reality of the hard circumstances become as sharp as Alice’s jagged psychological profile of a killer who clearly doesn’t fear any kind of retribution.
Alice and Burns are probably the best beaten-down duo in recent crime fiction, the tension between the two smoldering while their rigid professionalism and determination adds a hard edge and a hint of stubbornness to their relationship. From the outset, both detective and psychologist are positive there’s a serial killer on the loose with the same M.O. When another man is found on Gutter Lane with a picture of an angel placed beside his head, Alice grows certain that the perpetrator is someone who is obsessed with the “moral status” of those who work at the bank.
Packing her story with detail and grittiness and infusing it with a well-evoked sense of place, Rhodes draws events to a shocking climax as Alice descends into the salubrious mansions of Curzon Street and into the heart of Mayfair, where she (rather predictably) places herself in harm’s way. Obsessed as with all the staff, both past and present, the killer has planned his attacks coolly, working meticulously to cover his tracks. The summer heat wave boils across a glittering London in a haze of sunlight and reflected glass, adding to the real feel of danger and tension as victim upon victim comes to suffocate under a serial killer's deeply disturbed and twisted logic.
Across a landscape peppered with bankers who help no one but themselves, to a high-class prostitute who serves an exclusive clientele and refuses to believe she’s in danger, to the “top guys” who think nothing of destroying a reputation, Alice and Burns descend into the darkest reaches of Angel Bank’s giant empire to devastating and frightening results. Mixing the personal, political and viscous, Rhodes’s story rocks all the way to the end in a shattering climax of mistaken identity where Alice is forced to do battle for her life.