Anyone who's read this blog for awhile should know I have difficulty with thrillers. I would like to find one that works for me, though. My fingers have been crossed for awhile regarding Justin Cronin's Passage, due out early this summer. I read Mary and O'Neil, Cronin's interconnected short story collection, several years back and was much taken by Cronin's writing. Maybe, I've been thinking, good writing's all it takes to win me over. Maybe Iowa's all the edge I need to make a thriller work.
The NYT review I'd read said Iowa grad Danielle Trussoni's Angelology was "more Eco than Brown," so when I spotted it on the library shelf I was quick to check it out. The cover is very cool and I am easily swayed by covers, I admit. But I spotted enough homage to Dan Brown in the first few chapters, right down to the use of the word "alluring," to make me question several times whether I should proceed. What the heck, I ultimately decided, I've come so far. . .
For those who've missed the buzz (Angelology's already optioned for a movie and there's a sequel underway so you won't miss it for long), the book's about the Nephilim, the fallen angel/human hybrids mentioned in Genesis. Thanks to some last minute subterfuge, a Nephilim made it onto Noah's ark, fathered offspring, and the Nephilim have been managing things at a safe but financially lucrative remove ever since. They're tall, fair, sexy gorgeous, but evil. They're the ones behind the science/religion split, the silent partners behind the Nazis. Their penthouse suites are filled with stolen original art and leatherbound volumes detailing the legacy and exploits of their ancestors. They really would have nothing to complain about besides issues of class (of which they're quite attuned) in their multi-centuries-long lives were it not for an illness that's causing their wings to wither and their lungs to collapse. Perhaps the disease was caused by "exposure to various lower breeds of human life," but most of their attention is turned toward a cure, which involves acquiring Orpheus's lyre, the celestial music from which is expected to restore their health--if it doesn't destroy the world or trigger something equally as dire in the process.
The angelologists are humans who've studied the Nephilim throughout the centuries and sought to contain their evil, if not destroy them outright. The Nephilim spy on them, terrorize and torture them, on occassion murder great numbers of them, but don't wipe them out altogether because, as an angelologist explains, they don't have "the intellectual prowess, or the vast store of academic and historical resources, that we do. Essentially, they need us to do their thinking for them."
For centuries the angelologists have been intent on retrieving Orpheus's lyre from a cavern in Bulgaria, and during World War II, they're finally successful. The lyre is smuggled out of France and into America, where Abigail Rockefeller--a finanical backer-- stashes it away where no one can find it. Then she dies.
This is all backstory, filled in during the middle of the book, via lectures for the most part (just like DaVinci Code!) and the most interesting part to me by far. Trussoni opens Angelology in 1999, with a young nun in Milton, New York, receiving a letter from a V.A. Verlaine who wishes to come to the convent to research a possible correspondence between Abigail Rockefeller and the former abbess. Evangeline's initial reaction is to deny the researcher access, but to find evidence of the correspondence in the library archives on her own. Verlaine shows up unannounced and sneaks in to the library (he's stolen blueprints of the convent in his possession) instead of waiting for permission. The two are instantly attracted to each other, despite the fact that Evangeline is obviously wearing nun's clothing* and Verlaine, who's never done well on first dates or job interviews, is outlandishly attired in white corduroy jacket, Snoopy socks, wingtip shoes and a Hermes tie.
And it is all this cleverness with wingtips and Hermes ties and the Milton, New York, location and the Gibborish (the Gibborim are the winged monkey thugs of the Nepilim caste system) charms still to come that undermines efforts to take Trussoni's created world seriously. What's with the angelologists sporting the names of archangels --Gabriella, Raphael, Michael -- and driving already distinctive cars with personalized license plates --Angel1, for example? Wouldn't it be to their benefit if they weren't so easy for the Nephilim to hone in on during the inevitable chase scenes?
Exceedingly annoying was Trussoni's overuse of the letter V in names. Evangeline and V.A. Verlaine are, of course, our main characters, and since we're never told what the V.A. stands for, I was left free to wonder what Trussoni 's big reveal over the name will be in Angelopolis, the sequel. Vincent, since he's an art historian? Vidal, since he's a self-professed borderline metrosexual? Valentine, because he's Evangeline's love interest? Or Virgil, since he'll probably have to go through hell in the sequel? And does the A stands for Angelo, to match Evangeline's middle name of Angelina? Beats me, but I wouldn't be surprised. In the meantime, the reader encounters Percival, Vladimir, Victor, various members of the family Valko and the celestial element Valkine. Is this just a tic on Trussoni's part or a nonsubtle way of underscoring that angels are now the new vampires and the Stephenie Meyers' and the Sookie Stackhouses' of the world should take note they're being muscled aside?
The letter G is overused as well: "Gibborim held Gabriella at Grigori's side, one gruesome creature to each of her arms." G-g-g-groovy.
Fan fictiony elements abound and I won't be surprised if Angelology attracts its own stable of writers at fanfiction.net once the movie's out. I've a tendency these days to regard any particularly lovely 23-year-old character with an unusual name and extraordinary qualities or skills as a Mary Sue--and Evangeline scores high on the Mary Sue litmus test by the end of the book. Who'd a thunk she had it in her, huh? Um, anyone paying attention. Cough, cough.
But pay no attention to me. I don't appreciate a lot of books that inspire a lot of sales and readerly devotion. I try, but I just can't do it.
I still have my fingers crossed for the Justin Cronin, though.
*Just as Genesis opens with two juxtaposed creation stories, Angelology opens with two back-to-back versions of Evangeline getting dressed: in paragraph one, she goes to the restroom and dresses without looking in the mirror; in paragraph two, she looks at her body in the mirror prior to dressing. I can't tell that one version's any more relevant to the story than the other, frankly.