Andrew's Reviews > The Angel Collector

The Angel Collector by Bali Rai
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Oct 10, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: ya-and-childrens
Recommended for: teen readers who want a filmic and dark crime thriller
Read in October, 2011

I had to read The Angel Collector for a class on library services to children and young people, and it's left me torn and with a lot to ponder when it comes to collection development for young adult readers.

In a nutshell, The Angel Collector is a murder mystery thriller for 'the yoofs of today' - imagine James Paterson or Silence of the Lambs repackaged for E4. Our troubled hero is Jit, a teen whose friend Sophie goes missing after attending a music (and apparently New Age) festival. Jit's obvious reaction to this is to assemble a crack team of teenagers and travel the country investigating cults and serial killers because of course. The adults in the story are generally okay with this or are otherwise missing.

If my synopsis seems a little harsh in tone, allow me to rein it in a little with some praise. Rai has a good grasp of contemporary teen voices and isn't afraid to do something like, say, glibly refer to someone snorting paracetamol with a credit card like it was cocaine. The subject matter here is unpleasant and draws the characters into very dark circles, so it's refreshing (if a little queasy) to see that the kid gloves are off.
Jit also deals with anger management issues and frequently lashes out, and it's good to see teens given a narrator who isn't squeaky clean or without unfocused teen rage.
Finally, I was impressed by Rai's rendering of his native Leicester (and it was nice to see the East Midlands!) - dialect and lighthearted regional jibes pop up and add a flourish of colour and humour to an otherwise dark story.

But for each of Rai's strengths there is a weakness. He occasionally falters in his recreation of the teen voice, dating the book terribly with clunky references to iTunes and MP3s when dealing with a generation who I doubt would describe digital formats with such detail (having experienced nothing else) - "I listened to a song" becomes something similar to "I opened iTunes and downloaded an MP3." Worse still, the explicit language, gore and drug references are laden on with a heavy hand and eventually become gratuitous, and while some light peppering of this kind of thing would have suggested a mature and realistic depiction of teens, the glut of severed heads and "fuck"s is cumbersome.
We're also treated to a good deal of flat characters, such as Jenna, a stoner who spends a lot of time getting stoned (just as I thought we might explore Jenna's addictive personality she was promptly dumped and replaced by plucky young Anna, who seems to serve no other purpose than to show us that the ladies like Jit). Women in general don't do so well in The Angel Collector - if mothers aren't absent they're abusive, and if they don't like Jit it's probably because they're man-hating pretend lesbians. Speaking of which, there's also a great deal of transphobia, and it's believable given the age of our characters, but this is never properly addressed despite the he/she jokes about one character coming thick and fast.

It's a shame that the book suffers so much from its flaws, because I will admit that it was a true page-turner (and this is coming from someone typically uninterested in the genre). I generally liked Jit and I enjoyed that Rai experimented with the narrative by including emails and instant messenger conversations. But unfortunately so much of the relationship between Jit and Sophie seemed incidental and flimsy (the object of Jit's affection and his motivation for playing detective is, for all intents and purposes, a few text messages and some emoticons), and the grand climax was unsatisfying: predictable, abrupt, and leaving a rather bad aftertaste.
It's not all bad though. I'll be checking out some more Bali Rai stuff as it looks as though his strength lies in characterising young Britain, and I'm intrigued by the racial issues his other books seem to deal with. Heaven knows why he's wasting characters like Jit on derivative thrillers: teenagers have enough problems and conflicts without having to add a hokey serial killer into the mix.
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