Pat Murphy continues the experiment begun with the delightful THERE AND BACK AGAIN, this time adopting her psuedonym's (Max Merriwell) psuedonym (Mary Maxwell) to provide a fresh take on the myth of the feral child, a premise as old as Romulus and Remus, familiar to afficionados of literature and adventure fiction alike. Whether she herself feels this experiment has been successful is for her to say. However, she certainly SEEMS to be having fun.
The book's obvious model is Burroughs' TARZAN OF THE APES, although one can sense echoes of books like Kipling's THE JUNGLE BOOK, Hudson's GREEN MANSIONS, and even Jane Auel's CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR . It tells the story of young Sarah MacKenzie, who, surviving an attack on her family that leaves her parents dead, is adopted by a wolf pack which makes its home in the California woods. Growing to young adulthood, Sarah becomes a legend to both her pack and the denizens of California, acting as saviour for many endangered travelers. Along the way, Sarah is befriended by the journalist/artist Max Phillips, who helps her seek her roots. But, even as she does so, she is threatened by one of the men who killed her parents, who has since become a pillar of the community in a nearby Gold Rush town.
Wild Angel is a celebration of story itself--Murphy, who, by quoting Twain in the epigram to the first chapter ("Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attmepting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot."), makes her intentions quite clear, acknowledges as much in her afterword. Writing the book seems to have reconnected her to the love of fiction which sparked her love of writing fiction in the first place, opening her mind to the possibilities of fiction. As with so many writers, it's hard to know for sure exactly "who" is writing these books, the "real" writer, or the psuedonyms, which seem to have freed her to take her fiction in new directions. Witness her own remarks, which echo those of writers like Stephen King, Donald Westlake and Ed McBain in discussing their own pen names:
"As a writer known for my feminist leanings, the doubly layered psuedonym added an interesting aspect to the writing of this novel. Throughout the writing of Wild Angel, I was aware that i was a woman, writing as a man, who was writing as a woman. Twisted and confusing, I know, but necessary in a strange way. Max has the confidence to believe that anything he writes is wonderful, Mary shares that confidence--but modifies the subject matter to match a woman's experience."
She goes on to state that :
"I have created psuedonyms who have become characters who have been writing books that I enjoy--but wouldn't have been written without them. It has been a strange and wonderful experience."
Indeed, Murphy has grown increasingly playful as her experiment progresses, even providing afterwords from both Mary and Max. Further evidence of this playfullness is evident is her use of Gitana, the Gandalf stand-in from THERE AND BACK AGAIN, in WILD ANGEL, and in the appearances of Pinkerton operative "Patrick Murphy" and a young Mark Twain late in the story.
WILD ANGEL is, like its predecessor, a simple pleasure, a book that weds the humor and magic of a folk tale with a very modern feel for the psychological dynamics between men and women, exploring the fine line between civilization and savagery. It has been crafted and executed with skill, intelligence and wit, radiating Murphy's evident love of genre fiction, a love which, as evidenced by the success of this narrative, has been requited.