A Killing of Angels by Kate Rhodes

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Reviewed by Jane Carter

Kate Rhodes’ first novel, Crossbones Yard, showed her to be a crime writer to watch; and this, her second novel, certainly lives up to the high expectations set by that fine debut.

The opening scene is perfectly executed.

A man is waiting for his train home on the London Underground. The platform is crowded, and he is pleased that he is at the front of the crowd, that he will be one of the first to board the next train. He can’t react when he feels a hand near his pocket, but he is pleased that he had the wisdom to keep his wallet in his inside pocket, leaving nothing for the pickpocket to find. Then though, he is pushed, hard, from behind and he falls onto the line, in the path of an oncoming train.

It might have been assumed to be suicide, or an appalling accident, but the man survives, horribly mutilated, for long enough to say that he was pushed. And then a postcard, reproducing a painting of and angel, and several white feathers are found in his pocket …..

The investigation falls to Don Burns. Twelve months on from events at Crossbones Yard his personal life has suffered, and he has been transferred, to work for a boss who doesn’t want him and with an ambitious and resentful assistant who had wanted Don’s job. It wasn’t a good situation, but it was horrible believable.

Don asked forensic psychologist Alice Quentin, to consult on the case. She didn’t really want to get involved, but she felt that she owed Don a favour, and she could see that he needed someone in his corner.

There were more murders and the link was clear: the victims were all closely linked with the Angel Bank, the most successful, more notorious bank in the City of London.

Alice could build a profile; she could use a friend who worked with the Angel bank, and her new boyfriend, who had connections there, to find things out. She found out a great deal, but the killer seemed uncatchable.

The story follows Alice as she works with the police, meeting and evaluating key figures; as she carries out her other professional duties, especially the case of a troubled young man who may have become a little too attached to her; and as life goes on, supporting her bipolar brother, managing her difficult mother, being encouraged to be a little more sociable by her wonderful friend Lola, and running through the streets of London, to prepare for a marathon and to leave the stresses of daily life behind.

She’s a wonderful, three-dimensional character, and I was pleased to observe a little progression, in her character and in her situation. There was a setback though, and I do hope that her creator won’t let her get trapped in a loop, or become one of these superwomen, who always knows – especially when the rest of the world thinks otherwise – and who has to go that extra mile, and put herself in danger, to sort out every last thing herself. I can’t say that’s a problem yet, but two books in I’ve seen a couple of things repeat that I hope won’t be the start of a continuing pattern.

What I did appreciate is that, after setting things up in her first book, the author made Alice’s personal life the backdrop, rather than the main story. The balance was right, and that is something that goes wrong far too often in crime fiction series.

The characterisation – of the city and of its people – was wonderful. And the story was compelling. There was a startling twist near the end, then a wonderful red herring, and the end itself – and the identity of the killer – was a complete surprise. But it made perfect sense

The plot worked beautifully, with my only real issue being the author’s occasional use of crime fiction cliché. Some crime writers need them, but crime writers who write as well and understand psychology as well as Kate Rhodes does don’t! That was a very small issue, and it didn’t spoil the story at all.

It was a story that left me eagerly anticipating the next one ……

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Jane Carter lives on the Cornish coast with a lot of books and one small, brown dog. She blogs at Beyond Eden Rock.

Kate Rhodes, A Killing of Angels. (Mullholland Books: London, 2014). 978-1444738803, 352 pp., paperback.

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