Tony Gleeson's Reviews > Falling Angel

Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg
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Oct 05, 11

Read in September, 2011

Hjortsberg is a difficult author to find on the shelves. IMO he's well worth searching out.
After probably twenty years or so, I decided to pick this up and read it again. It stood the test of time quite well-- possibly since I have in the interim read a lot of other authors, his literary allusions might stand out better to my mind now. The tale begins as a first-person narrative by a private detective, told in the now-familiar manner of Chandler and Ross MacDonald. The action takes place over ten days in 1959. A mysterious and very patrician figure hires him to find a once-famous swing-band singer who disappeared during the second World War. And then things get dark, murky, frightful, and diabolically weird.
Hjortsberg describes the city of Manhattan circa 1959 in great detail-- as he reveals in his own afterword, based entirely on his own youthful memories, and even going to great pains to research exactly what the weather was like in that period of time. His characters are fully created and colorful (in an odd mix of bright and sludgy tones). By the end of the book he's gone beyond noir. It's hardly a feel-good work but at least for me, it's indelibly etched into my brain.
Unfortunately this book's fame has rested largely on the 1987 film that was based upon it, "Angel Heart." Do NOT let your memories of that dreadful piece of nonsense influence your decision whether to read the original material.

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Derek I once lent this book to a girlfriend, who later told me it was "sick and disturbing" and then vowed never to read anything else that I asked her to read.

Ah, memories.


Tony Gleeson Definitely not for everybody. There are a number of writers who deal in the disturbing-- James Ellroy is another that comes to mind-- that one needs to get past the disturbing part to appreciate the craft, I guess.


Derek I'm currently reading THE BASTARD HAND by Heath Lowrance, which is another interesting mix of noir, thriller, and the supernatural. I guess they call that "Psycho Noir" nowadays. Well worth a glance, if you're into that kind of thing.


Tony Gleeson A new one on me, thanks-- I'll keep it in mind!


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