Angel Killer (2014) by Andrew Mayne

A dead body is found having apparently clawed itself out of its own grave. The horror of the situation is that while young girl died two years previously, every medical test on the body shows that she has been dead mere days. The Warlock has made his first move in a grand game but he has not reckoned on the FBI bringing in Jessica Blackwood.

Jessica had a career as a gifted magician until a fateful accident caused her to leave that career and start one in law enforcement. She is convinced that everything about the dead body in the cemetery is staged like a magic trick but how was it done? And what was the point of it? As the mysterious deaths continue – a pilot from the war returns, also freshly dead, and an angel leaps from the Empire State Building only to crash to earth a mile away in Times Square – the Warlock seems to escalating the scale of his crimes. But what could he possibly hope to achieve with this?

I came across this one in an article by Gigi Pandian, a mystery writer who I’ve enjoyed – blimey, and who I haven’t read in three years. Need to rectify that quickly – and it’s always interesting to see writers who admire locked room mysteries (proper ones) identifying which titles impress them.

It was an interesting list – The Devil And The Dark Water by Stuart Turton (not read, scared by the page count), The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, Hag’s Nook (odd choice for Carr, but a decent book) and this one. Oh, and points for explaining in the Hercule Poirot’s Christmas bit that a closed-circle mystery is not a locked room! For that alone, I decided to look at one of Gigi’s recommendations that I hadn’t read, and, as I said above, the page count swayed it for me. And I can’t deny this book is interesting…

That ellipsis (or three dots, in case you weren’t aware of the word) is a bit damning, isn’t it? Oh dear…

Let’s start with the good. Jessica is a great lead character. Her back story is drip fed throughout the story as she comes to terms with her role in the investigation and in life in general. The story moves pretty quickly – there are some sections that threaten to drag as various explanations are bounced around but they don’t overstay their welcome for too long – and the Warlock’s plan is genuinely intriguing.

The problem is, I’ve finished the book and it’s still intriguing.

A magic trick isn’t exactly like a mystery novel. If an impossible crime novel was like a magic trick, it would end at the dead body inside the locked room and the villain whispering “Ta-da!” quietly to themselves so as not to give the game away. This isn’t exactly like that – we get explanations for most of what happened, although only the main trick with the angel is given a fully detailed description. Most of this is done by being told it, by the way – this is a thriller, not a play along mystery – and everything hinges around something that is discovered around the middle of the tale, the rest being just details that don’t really matter. No, the problem is that once the Warlock is dealt with, we never find out what he was up to. When he finally says something, it’s along the lines of “you still don’t understand why I did this”. No, no I don’t.

Looking at Amazon, I see this is part of a sequence of three books featuring Jessica, who then returns to join forces with another character for at least two books. In at least two of these, the Warlock returns, and I’m guessing that he’s doing a Hannibal Lecter bit in the other two as well. For some reason, book three isn’t available on Kindle, but if someone has read it and can tell me if it actually gives some answers, I’d appreciate it.

The other thing that gives me pause to recommend this one is the character of Damian, Jessica’s psychotic ex-boyfriend. It undermines her character several times as every time she hits a brick wall, Damian provides a miraculous lead that sets her in the right direction. Her reliance on him, and the fact that she is willing to overlook the fact that he may have murdered someone who bothered her in the past just makes her character weaker.

All in all, though, this was a very readable and gripping book, but the ending (which is obviously an important bit) is something of a let-down, making the book seem like chapter one of a linked series of Warlock stories. If it is, then that’s a shame, as I like my books more standalone than that – see how Jeffrey Deaver does it with the Clockmaker in the Lincoln Rhyme books. If it isn’t, then the ending’s just disappointingly inconclusive. Either way, it didn’t work for me.

Weirdly though, I’m still intrigued to read more of the series one day – I did like the lead character and it was a real page-turner. Also the third title in the series – the one not available in the UK – was Edgar-nominated. I’m genuinely torn whether to come back to the series or not – now maybe that was the trick after all…

Sorry, Gigi. While I think about that, I guess I’ll just have to read one of yours instead. Now if only there was a book that you wrote with a female magician in the lead role. Hang on…

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