Thursday, June 27, 2013

Angel by Nicole Marrow and Laura Hayden





Title: Angel
Author: Nicole Marrow & Laura Hayden
Publisher: Tom Doherty
Rating: worthy!

I breezed through the first third of this with no effort which I took as a very positive sign! The writing is really good, and my fear that this was going to enter into a sickly embrace with instadore or paranormal trope was swept away leaving no stain on my consciousness. I still didn’t know at that point what was going on with the female protagonist, Angela, but I was on board!

It could have been a novel about an angel, exactly as its title suggests, which would be a big, fat red ink mark in this book's ledger, but it's also:

  1. Not written in the first person present tense
  2. Not a sad YA romance novel
  3. Not a bearer of a prologue
  4. Not written badly
  5. Amusing
  6. and supplied with at least three interesting characters

These are all big fat black ink marks in the ledger, so I'm really quite comfortable - moreso than I feared I would be when I saw this on the library shelf. Believe it or not, I was attracted by the color to begin with - a rich shiny orange which made it stand out from other books; it looked good enough to eat or drink! The title was a bit of a repulsive force-field, but after I read the blurb I was definitely interested, and after I read the first couple of pages, I decided that the writing made it worth a read, so it was not the problem I’d initially visualized.

That's not to say the writing is perfect; there's a handful of screw-ups, such as one p296: "Before Dante could Angela's denial..." which only goes to show that even an expensive production with a professional editor can fail and not end up as good a hob as a conscientious self-publisher can do., but here's the secret: if you write badly and tell and interesting story, you can get a lot further with me than if you write perfect prose, yet tell a crappy story! Marrow and Hayden do neither - they tread very well between those extremes, writing very well for the most part and telling a really engrossing (if somewhat oddball!) story.

I don’t know squat about either Marrow or Hayden, so I can’t say what the deal is with the process that put this novel together. I'm guessing that maybe Marrow had this idea for a novel and Hayden came on board to lend an experienced hand with the writing. Or maybe they're friends and cooked it up together. Whatever the deal is, it works well. Marrow is married to the rapper Ice-T and has been for some time (his real last name is Marrow). According to wikipedia, her nickname 'Coco' derives from her younger sister's inability to say the name 'Nicole' when they were kids! So it's not derived from the song by The Sweet, which they released well before they became big glam-rock stars in England with a string of hits.!

But I digress! The story starts on an airplane where a passenger wakes up and realizes she doesn't know where she is or even who she is. She hardly has time to contemplate this when the plane, which was gliding in for a landing, flips over and breaks up, cartwheeling along the Hudson River in New York City. The only survivors are the woman and the infant she saves from drowning. A news reporter for an online news magazine happens to be on a nearby ferry boat interviewing its captain when the plane crashes and he gets first-hand footage. He also leaps into the water to help this woman and the baby when he sees her swimming and no one else seems to be focusing on her. Later he's instrumental in getting her relocated - when the hospital wants to hastily discharge her - to a psychiatric facility. Her problem is that her memory isn’t coming back.

Her name is determined, by process of elimination, to be Angela, which is very close to the 'Angel of the Hudson' name she'd been dubbed with for saving the baby. Angela seems to have an extraordinarily disturbing effect on men. They seem to vacillate from feeling rather antagonistic towards her, to wanting to jump right into bed with her, no questions asked. A rep from the airline almost seduces her in her hospital room, but he has a heart-attack before anything can happen. Her doctor decides to discharge her as soon as he can because she seems to be a lawsuit waiting to happen, When Dante, the news reporter discovers (from his brother Bryant, who works at the hospital, that she's to be discharged with her memory still not intact, he publishes an article which effectively shames the airline into footing the bill for some extended psychiatric evaluation, to see if her amnesia can't be resolved.

The facility she's sent to is shabby and so it’s value to her as a remedy is highly questionable; clearly the airline hasn’t exactly splurged, but at least it's somewhere to stay! She's roomed with Gretchen, a rather valkeryan woman with serious anger control issues, but Angela, when threatened, uses some Judo move on her, which drops Gretchen to her knees and the two of them become friends after that.

There's one more thing. Angela hears voices which seem quite clearly to be the thoughts of people around her, but she doesn’t get all thoughts all the time. It seems to be a bit like Prince Po in Graceling: - she only seems to get thoughts which are directed specifically at her, although Angela is a bit of a Mary Sue about figuring this out. What transpires is that she finally realizes that it's men she can hear, not women at all, and on one of her daily constitutionals around the grounds, she "overhears" two night-shift orderlies plotting on raping her new roommate (Gretchen is by this point unceremoniously gone, for some reason). In order to defeat the evil orderlies, Angela switches meds on her roommate so she's the one who is out for the count; Angela then switches places with her. I think Marrow and Hayden need to learn a bit more about how medical facilities dispense medications and the power of what inappropriate dosages can do, but they've already established this place as sloppy at best, so I'm willing to let this one slide!

The two men come into her room at midnight and she's suddenly overcome by a desire to have sex with them, but then her previous plan breaks through her delirium, and she beats up on them instead. The next morning she "hears" one of them plotting revenge against, her so she checks herself out of the institution and calls Dante, using the number on the business card he left in her clothing when she was at the hospital. They meet at a diner (although on p170, Marrow mistakenly refers to it as a dinner!) in a bad part of New York City. I've been waiting for these two to get together, so let's see what happens now! I'm in a mood for blitzing this novel and getting it read today. That will also facilitate my starting on something new, which has become more imperative since it has relevance to a news item that's been on the airwaves over the last couple of days.

In the diner, they eat surprisingly tasty food, and Angela shares everything with Dante, including passing him a picture which she has drawn of the man who keeps on appearing in her nightmares - the man who killed her. Dante thinks she may be crazy - but she doesn't know this since he's the first man she cannot "hear". Despite his fear that he's as crazy as she is, he decides to help her. He starts by trying to get together a list of women from the local area who were murdered, and he narrows it down to a list of six he intends to investigate. Angela picks out a specific one: Chloe Mason and without seeing the photograph, identifies the perp, her husband Lars. Curiously, the drawing she did is never mentioned nor is it compared with the photograph. This appears to be an oversight on the part of the authors.

One evening very shortly thereafter, when Dante and Angela are in his cube discussing how to proceed, Dante's miserable boss Victor comes out. Angela hides and Dante talks with him briefly, but just when he thinks Victor is going to leave him in peace, Angela comes out of her hiding place and strikes up a conversation with him. It's during this and the events surrounding it that Dante discovers, as does Angela, that she can change her physical form, so she's not only reacting behaviorally towards fulfilling men's fantasies, she's now reacting physically and actually changing her appearance to match what they desire.

The reason she has done this in this case is that she caught Victor's thoughts - he only came to Dante's cube to plant some evidence which would destroy Dante's career and simultaneously free Victor from suspicion. Victor has been embezzling money from the news organization and was planning on disappearing to Brasil. Angela's transformation and mind-reading bring down Victor and get Dante a promotion: he now runs the news department and he hires Angela to work with him. When he and she are going through the resumes for the people he's considering hiring, Angela remarks that they're all women! Dante does indeed staff up his extraordinarily genderist news department with all female staff.

Three of these, Selma, Althea, and Ivy, are brought into Dante and Angela's confidence about what they're up to. The four of them go after Lars Mason under the pretense of giving him a freebie web spot advertising his sale of his magnificent mansion in the guise of an interview with this successful financier. He claims he's selling the house because it holds too many memories of his wife. Needless to say they bring him down, and that's how this story ends. But while there's no prologue, there is an epilogue which has Dante and Angela jetting off to LA to pursue what Angela was doing out there for two days before she flew back to NYC, became possessed by Chloe, and got into that crash. Clearly this novel was intended as the start of a series, and I have to say that I'd be up for reading a sequel, especially since we still don't know what Angela is or what happened when Chloe died and her "spirit" seemed to fly up and possess Angela's body right as her plane flew over the very place where Chloe was murdered.

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