J's Reviews > A Quiet Belief in Angels

A Quiet Belief in Angels by R.J. Ellory
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U 50x66
's review
Aug 29, 2010

really liked it
Read in August, 2010


Sad, sad story of Joseph Vaughn, who grows fr. young boy to middle-aged man over the course of the book. His life is punctuated, defined, by losses of those he loves most: his dad, his mother, his 1st wife (who'd been his school teacher), his 2nd love.

That's not counting the string of deaths of young playmate-age girls who are being sexually assaulted killed in, around his small Georgia town, w. no culprit ever found. Those deaths shape his childhood, as does the onset of his mother's lunacy, which leads to her being isntitutionalized when Vaughn is still a young teen.

Vaughn is a talented writer. But even that gift does not protect him from the pain and scars of all his losses. He even does a long prison stretch for being -- wrongly -- convicted of the murder of his fiancee, who had been cut into pieces by her murderer, just as some of the earlier child victims had died. (Vaughn is freed, belatedly, after the first trial is proven to have been based on circumstantial evidence as well as inadequate legal defense.)

By book's end, Vaughn does solve the serial murders that started in his child hood -- and had continued, in other nearby Southern locales, through the decades, he eventually learns.

The author uses symbolism - a floating white feather - to symbolize and foreshadow loss in Vaughn's life. The first feather appeared at the time of his father's death. Somehow Vaughn connects those feathers with the concept that when good people die, they turn into angels.

But angels are celestial creatures that don't seem to bring much comfort to the ever-grieving Vaughn. Another reason why the book's lasting scent is sorrow, sadness, solitude.

Throughout the story, author interjects little slices of the very final events. We see that Vaughn will eventually commit a homicide.

But the homicide he ultimately does commit gets written off, ironically, as self-defense, which I suppose is sort of true. But it's a deliberate act by Vaughn. I believe he would have done it whether his target attacked him or not. So in that sense, it was murder.

The "target" I won't identify here, except to say it's the murderer of all the young girls, and Vaughn's fiancee, too.

At times in my reading, I had thought this individual would turn out to be the serial murderer. But I'm also guessing that was Ellory's foreshadowing skill rather than my own powers of deduction. That is, the thought of this man as the perpetrator would occasionally cross my mind, and then I would forget or abandon that idea, as the author introduced other information.

I was shocked, later, when I looked up the author's website and learned he's British. How could he have understood and conveyed the American South so well without having ever lived here? It floors me. Maybe a non-resident could describe life in California or New York, but the deep South?!

Author chooses, in his brief book-flap bio, to point out that he was orphaned, and he served jail time for poaching. Both experiences must have provided him material for this book, I'm guessing.

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