Written by Mary Stanton
Published by: Berkley
Defending Angels is the start of a promising new mystery series. The premise promised on the back cover is intriguing enough: a lawyer who defends the dead from a celestial court, shortening their time in Purgatory or even getting them reassigned from Hell to Heaven. While this premise in practice has more to do with finding earthly justice for murderers and the innocent, a law practice filled with mysterious assistants, ghostly visitors, and strange, uncontrolled powers is creative enough to keep even a relatively jaded mystery fan like myself interested.
The characters are, as always, a mixed bag. For example, “Gabriel Striker” is a character? Seriously? The main character, Bree Winston-Beaufort is far less irritating than your average “self-sufficient female,” though her little sister is one of the most irritating, bratty sisters I’ve encountered recently. Bree’s ex is predictably cardboard “evil” clichÃ©, but the other characters, even the “flaky” upstairs landlady end up much more complex than they seem at first.
The downsides are minimal and will probably only annoy cranky book reviewers like myself, such as the many Savannah stereotypes that–while on the one hand show a real understanding of how a city works when it’s a mix of new money and Old South–at the same time it makes use of clichÃ©s that haven’t been true in 100 years or more. This includes a very self-conscious use of “The War Between the States,” a phrase that isn’t even used by the elderly anymore, unless they’re just being tongue-in-cheek. Also beware the unnecessary and absurd slam at “desperate” English PhDs seeking employment and the misuse of the word “y’all” by supposedly Southern characters. I’m also not sold on making Metatron evil yet (?!), but I’ll give her another book or two to make that work for me.
[ad#longpost]I’d also, just once, like the good guys to just bloody tell the heroine what’s going on. Exposition isn’t a sin if it makes sense, especially if avoiding it is just ridiculous and an obvious attempt to avoid explanation for the reader, and not the characters.
In short, the premise is refreshingly different, and it actually works. It is a bit slow to start, but the richness of the setting benefits from this extra world-building time. The mystery/murder resolution is creative, if a bit serendipitous, but in today’s bloated mystery market, this seems a godsend. Stanton’s creative, vaguely Kaballah-inspired cosmology will win some fans, but it’s her good-old good writing that will keep you coming back for further installments in the series. Fans of well-plotted mysteries and law procedurals like Law & Order will eat this one up.
Book two in the series, Angel’s Advocate, is already out in paperback, and book three, Avenging Angels, is due out in February 2010.