Are there ever enough novels in the urban fantasy field? Novelist Thomas E. Sniegoski would like to think: no. In other books and by other writers, we've already been treated to witches, wizards, vampires, werewolves, and elves making a living in these contemporary times, rubbing elbows with us just plain folks. So I think it's kinda neat that we hear from the heavenly hosts.
Sniegoski introduces Remiel, a mighty warrior angel of the Seraphim, who long ago participated in the bloody celestial war waged between the armies of God and of Lucifer Morningstar. Sickened by the resulting carnage and destruction, Remiel turned his back on Heaven. Cut to unmentionable years later, to the present, where Remiel now walks around in human guise as Remy Chandler, a Boston private eye. He's been content the past few decades, having met and married the wonderful Madeline, who is privy to all his secrets. But Madeline is only human, and, as such, only has a finite span on earth. Madeline today is old and wasting away from cancer in her nursing home. Remy sorrowly counts down the days. Meanwhile, the shamus business keeps him occupied.
Some possible plot SPOILERS now.
His latest gig is mundane enough, spying on a hubbie suspected of that old thing. Until the case abruptly escalates into a murder-suicide. But when the two corpses keep on breathing, Remy begins to get that uneasy feeling. Soon, word spreads of people around the globe who should now be dead but who refuse to give up the ghost. Shortly after, Remy is visited by his old brethren, the Seraphim, who task him with tracking down Israfil, the Angel of Death. Israfil, it seems, had gone missing and, worse, had shed his responsibilites. Souls are not being taken. Souls who should've passed on are agonizingly locked in their mortal coils. Including Remy's wife, Madeline. Remy takes the case.
There are also five scrolls missing, scrolls which, if unfurled, grant the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse license to cut loose and usher in the end of days. Naturally, there are any number of supernatural creatures who desire this calamity. The Grigori, for instance, are a heavenly host originally charged with safeguarding humanity's development (a job they rather thorougly bollocksed). As punishment, the Grigori were exiled on Earth, their wings torn off. Might the Apocalypse, they wonder, be a quicker way to reconcile with the Almighty? Then there is the Black Choir, angels who played both sides of the Conflict and whom neither God nor the Morningstar wants. The Angel of Death himself has an ulterior motive. Demons and fallen angels, trusted friends and sworn enemies, Remy has to sift thru his list of suspects, and quickly. Because the Four Horsemen have just manifested on Earth. Not a banner day for humanity.
A KISS BEFORE THE APOCALYPSE is yet another dark and gritty urban fantasy. But, more to the point, it's another very good dark and gritty urban fantasy. It's fast-paced and action packed enough for the bloody minded, but with a core of melancholy and a humanity to lend it some gravitas and added nuance. Remy Chandler is an intriguing character, striving so hard to be human, to feel the depths of emotions which only a mortal can feel. To do this, he's ever struggling to deny his powerful heavenly aspect. But as the reader might've guessed, it'll be a losing battle as Remy must unleash his true self to save the world.
Even more interesting is his sweet, heartbreaking relationship with his dying wife, whom he has to pass off as his mother to her caregivers. Then, there's Remy's awesome Labrador, Marlowe. Remy's powers include being able to communicate with animals, and, trust me, Remy's touching conversations with his innocent dog will make you fall in love with Marlowe. Several flashback passages flesh out these three even more. I really like the bit telling of how Marlowe, as a puppy, first met Remy.
Remy does spend more time taking in beatdowns rather than dispensing them (again, he's very reluctant to let out his inner halo). Like any good fiction detective, he takes a good licking and keeps on pressing. That just might be the definiton of hard-boiled. What makes this book a really gratifying read, though, is that flavor of heartache and bittersweet angst. For the grief he feels, Remy reduces himself to a human level, but elevates himself in the reader's eyes. Early in the pages, we know that Remy's primary source of happiness is about to be wrenched away from him. It's not his angelic powers which makes me root for him; rather, it's how he deals with this impending loss. I hope Sniegoski comes out with a sequel soon.