This is a book with a terrific plot ... in a small town in Georgia young girls start to disappear and then are found brutally raped and murdered. No one knows who the killer is and the authorities seem to have no suspects.
Jospeh Vaughan is a young man growing up in the midst of these killings. His father has just died and the first world war has broken out in Europe. He is struggling to come to terms with death as he sees it all around him. The murders of the girls affect him deeply and he is encouraged by his school teacher to write about his experiences. He calls together a group of friends to become 'Guardians' who vow to look out for and protect all the little girls in the area.
The murders remain unsolved, although we know from the beginning of the novel that at some stage - many years after the first killings occurred - Joseph realises who is responsible for the killings. Interspersing the main story chapters are mini-chapters which gradually outline Joseph's eventual confrontation with the killer.
Ellory is a great storyteller. He sets the scene for this novel perfectly - you're there in Georgia at the outbreak of the first world war, you can see the schoolroom where Joseph learns his lessons, you feel the anguish of the people of the town as little girls are taken and killed and no one knows who is doing it. For the first 200 pages I could hardly bear to put the book down.
HOWEVER ... [I'm keeping details vague here so I don't spoil the story for anyone who hasn't read the book yet ...]
After the first half of the book, you start feeling it's never going to end. There's so much repetition that you begin to skim over lines. I didn't get the whole 'Guardians' thing ... it seemed to me like a contrived attempt to make the novel into a 'Stand by Me' kind of story. I don't think that the 'Guardians' group was ever sufficiently established to justify why Joseph kept returning to it in his head years later.
One of the plot twists - what happens in New York - seemed bizarre to me. Why would the killer have done that? It wasn't in keeping with the rest of the story at all and in my opinion was a real weak point.
Although I did enjoy this novel it's never good to find yourself thinking 'get on with it now ... I'm getting bored' and I found myself thinking that a few too many times. Ellory just tries to keep you hanging on and guessing and it irritated me.
I've given this book a rating of 3 stars, but I think 3.5 would be fairer. It's better than an average read, but in my view the story is just too contrived to make it worth a 4.
Despite its rather grim plotline - the story of a man who is haunted throughout his life by a vicious child-killer - this is a very good book which I enjoyed despite my initial suspicion.
The novel's narrator is a likable, multifaceted character, and the others characters are mainly very strong. I genuinely liked most of them, and yet simultaneously suspected all of them. It managed to keep me guessing as to the killer's identity right up until the last few pages - a rare feat for a book. RJ Ellory does a brilliant job of conjuring up an atmosphere of suspicion and fear, whilst setting it against the ordinary happenings of everyday life.
The writing is elegant and almost poetic in sections. However, at times I found it a little frustrating as it became bogged down in digressions or descriptions when I was desperate for it to get on with the plot. It also had a slowish start, although I did warm to it quite fast. As the story is narrated retrospectively it sometimes gave just a little too much hindsight, which did get annoying at times.
However, by the end of the book I was completely hooked and stayed up much later than I should have because I couldn't stop reading. It is gripping and compelling, and yet also manages to be thought provoking. This isn't a lightweight thriller - there is real depth to the characters and storytelling.
The subject matter (the murders of over 30 little girls) makes for uncomfortable reading at times, as you would expect, and the book is unflinching in describing the horror of these crimes. I found it deeply haunting, chilling and disquieting - the sort of book you lay awake thinking about.
Overall, a very powerful though somewhat upsetting book, which manages to combine a strong emotional element with a (mostly) page-turningly gripping plot.
A Quiet Belief in Angels starts as a small town series of murders of young girls at the start of the Second World War, and crosses the genres of period writing, coming-of-age and whodunnit. The premise of serial killing long before CSI could pitch up and solve it all with forensics has a claustrophobic quality which R.J. Ellory plays well, and, coupled with the evocative period writing, establishes a compelling and credible world. If the detail of narrative seems a little too precise for something being told in the first person at thirty years distance, the maturing protagonist turns into a professional writer of considerable skill, which gives a satisfactory in-book explanation.
The book's main problem is one of plot. There essentially isn't any. To be more precise, R.J. Ellory has decided that the series of murders will be solved retrospectively by the protagonist only when he reaches his fifties, after the deaths of both his lovers, his mother, and virtually every other character who was an adult during the first part of the book. Since the murders restart late in the story, it's obvious to the reader long before the protagonist picks it up that there is only one person in-book who is left who could have committed them. Of course, it could have been a complete stranger, which would have made for its own unsatisfactory end, but, as it turns out, it is the character we guessed at about the half-way point.
So, on the one hand the climax is no surprise, and, on the other, it takes us a very long time to get there, because, although the narration becomes steadily more distant as the years go on, there's still an awful lot of years to be covered before we're allowed to reach the conclusion. It all hots up at the very end, so this is definitely a book worth finishing, but we could definitely have got there more quickly, and by a less painful route.
If we were to lump all books into just two categories, this would definitely be in the 'I am glad I read it' group, not the 'what did I waste my time on' pile. Nonetheless, for all its strengths of premise and description, I would struggle to put A Quiet Belief in Angels onto a third, 'must read', list.
on 29 June 2013
I loved reading this book and found the language and descriptions often beautiful to read, parts of it read like poetry and I sometimes re-read lines and descriptions which impacted on me greatly. I found the storyline gripping -it follows the life of Joseph Vaughan as he moves from tragedy to tragedy and grows into a man. When he is a boy young girls start being murdered in a small town and the murders spread across towns and decades. The main character is likeable and I loved reading the story of his childhood, haunted by the murders, I enjoyed following his story as he became a man and tragedies beset him. I also found myself suspecting everyone up to the last minute and the ending did come as a surprise to me, which doesn't happen often so this was really welcome. HOWEVER, there were a few things which stopped this being a 5 star rating and I find myself in agreement with many other reviewers - the second half of the book when he moves away does seem a little rushed and I didn't feel that we really got to know these new characters as well as we got to know the characters from the first half of the book. I don't even feel like I know his best friend Paul well and Paul is the closest friend he makes and essentially saves his life when he gets his story out to the public. The jail time does seem a little glossed over too, and perhaps it could be argued that what happens in New York doesn't seem in keeping with the rest of the storyline - I would also love to have known a little about what went on in the murderer's mind. That being said, It was one of those books where I would set myself a limit of 30 minutes reading, and an hour later I would still be going. It was the first R J Ellory book I have read and I will definitely read more.
With well over 250 reviews of this novel already posted, I wonder if anyone will so much as read yet another one, but such is the impact it has had on me that I just have to add my own personal feelings about it.
For me, this is how tales should be told; written in such a way that the reader feels almost at one with the story thanks to relentlessly colourful imagery of people and places, beautiful and poetic prose, richness of metaphor, the deepest of character building and the accurate portrayals of love, friendship, trauma, guilt, redemption and loss. To summarise in a single word this is a whodunit, but it is immeasurably more than that. To expand on that slightly, the story describes what eventually becomes one man's mission in life to find out the truth behind a series of truly horrific murders in south-east America that spans thirty years either side of World War 2.
So yes, it's a serial killer piece of crime-fiction but so lucid in texture and high in emotion that it stands comparison to In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, to whom the novel is dedicated. The many victims - almost all little girls - are murdered in ways that manage to shock despite our relatively sanitised attitude to violence on screen and in writing. There is nothing gratuitous about it, merely brief, economical and all the more disturbing for it. Yet somehow, what is in any case a rivetting story to the last page almost takes second place to the style of the writing itself, and it is in this area where the author really stands tall among all peers.
I have always enjoyed the works of Irishman John Connolly, who like Ellory is a 'foreigner' who devotes his literary creations to the east side of the USA, because he has a great talent for prose and imagery too. But Ellory, quite simply, is better; he squeezes every emotion out of the reader be it tragic or uplifting, and such is the feast, the banquet, the lavish abundance of the imagination served up for our senses that we are able to indulge in that very rare combination of a wonderfully moving and well-constructed tale that has clearly been put to page with love, dedication and extraordinary detail.
on 28 February 2008
There were parts or sentences in this book that gripped me and made me smile, like when Bridget's eye's were described as "warm, a color like mahogany, painstakingly sanded until the grain came proud, until the surface was as smooth as butter" - the imagery was beautiful and original. Which you'd expect as the main character is a writer..
The plot was very haphazard and we were thrown from one county to the next where I found myself wondering why. It seemed the murderer was very confused. The pointless murder of Bridget, pointless jail sentence and things generally not adding up left me somewhat feeling the book should have had a start, middle, end structure. It was more back and forth with no point and I am still definitely picking holes in the plot! But I would say the first part of the story as a child was meaningful and nice to read, it was when everything unraveled that it became a big blur on the pages. It seems the book was packed out with drivvle that had no consequence to what was going to happen in the end. The focus's were on the wrong parts of the story, i.e. we got a detailed bus itinerary and traveling miles but the end "who dunnit" was a quick one page and an obvious one at that. After all the details there wasn't much mystery left and it was more a life biography than murder mystery.
Overall it didn't leave me with a bad taste in my mouth and i did enjoy it and did find myself staying up late to read, it wasn't a chore just was acceptable to overlook some of the pitfalls due to the imagery and nice long words used!
I found i didn't connect with the characters whether i was meant to or not, i didn't feel for any misfortunes of any family as they were crudely unfeeling and devoid of emotion or description. There was meant to be heartbreak and devastation everywhere we turned but i didn't feel anybody was too bothered! Just angry and untalkative! It's a strange book and i won't be reading it again but overall not a disaster.
on 6 August 2008
Well i just finished this book this evening, and i cant stop thinking about it! And had it not been for my beloved Richard & Judy i probably wouldnt of ever heard of R.J Ellory or this amazing book so big thanks to them!
Ok, so my usual books are chick-lit but i have more serious books on my shelf for when i feel like been serious! i've had this book a while and always chose my chick-lit over it. but then i decided i needed something heavier. so i picked this out from my shelf not really expecting much, even though i'd seen the good reviews. As soon as i started reading i instantly thought it was a mistake to have bought this book, the first chapter wasnt brilliant and i thought it would be one of those pretentious, awful books where you get the feeling the author doesnt care whether you understand it or not. But i stayed with it, and by the second chapter things improved greatly, and it just got better and better from there.
Throught the book i grew so fond of Joseph and felt great sympathy for him. He is such a great central character. And i even felt like i knew the town and the people in it such was the great descriptive writing from R.J Ellory. And i was so excited to get to the end and find out who the killer was, and even though i was sure i knew who it was, i got it wrong and had the shock of my life. such a great twist. Infact, there were many great, unexpected things that happened in this book. The book ended very neatly too, and although i would of liked the killer to have been tortured a bit more, in hindsight, it was ok because the answers to all the questions i had in my head throught the book were answered for me.
I think of the first chapter, and how i wanted to put the book down forever, and i wonder how many people actually did do that, well if you did then go back and pick it up and keep reading!! i promise it will be worth it. A truly great book, i also have "city of lies" by the author, i'm hoping that's just as good too!
on 31 December 2007
Well, I sat up until somewhere past 4.00 this morning, and I finished this book in one sitting. About halfway through I went and made some tea, and I sat quietly for a moment and wondered whether this was in fact the best book I'd ever read. It made me feel how I felt when I read 'To Kill A Mockingbird' for the first time. It made me feel like I'd learned the whereabouts of an old, old friend who I thought I'd lost. It made me feel a lot of things, and now I'm done I want to leave it a little while and then read it again. I don't want to read anything else in between, because at this point I think that anything else would be a disappointment and an anticlimax. I don't know how many emotions I've gone through while reading 'A Quiet Belief In Angels', but even though the book was heartbreaking in places it feels like experiencing all those emotions was necessary. This is just an extraordinarily beautiful and moving book, sometimes violent, sometimes a little disturbing, but overall a magnificent read. It comes with the very highest recommendation.
on 24 June 2008
This is a book that grabs your attention, for several reasons. The story is engrossing,a crime novel, that is much more than a whodunnit.
It is beautifully written, and wonderfully descriptive of the American way of life in small town Georgia.
The character, whilst having unbelievable events occur in his his life, is totally believable. His story inspired me, and his losses left me feeling morose.
Half way through, I knew I would be upset to have to finish the book, as I would be finished with something wonderful in my life.
I normally would not buy crime novels, but I am delighted I bought this one. A brilliant read, that makes the hair on your neck stand up.
on 22 August 2007
Okay, so where to begin? I stop here in writing my review because I don't really know what to say.
I've read all of Ellory's books before, and I am a huge fan, no doubt about it, but you know the feeling you get when you're reading a new book by a known author and you say to yourself 'Mmmm, read this before...maybe a little un-original...' or you get the feeling that the author knows what people want to read so he kind of re-writes the same thing?
Ellory kind of kicks me sideways with every book. They are all SO different, and yet so definitely by him. If you took the covers off would you know they were all by the same person? Probably, just because the standard of writing is so extraordinarily brilliant, but there is no comparison between the stories.
I'm not going to get into the plot of A Quiet Belief In Angels, but it's kind of like 'Stand By Me', 'To Kill A Mockingbird', 'In Cold Blood', John Steinbeck, The Shawshank Redemption...I could go on, and all of it wrapped up in the most unusual serial killer novel you will ever read and written as well as anything, yes anything, I have ever read before.
This book made me laugh and cry and kept me up all night (really!) as I got a copy yesterday and finished it in the early hours of this morning. Please get this book and read it, and if you love it as much as I do then get people you know to read it. This is the way books should be. This is the standard of writing that we should demand of other authors. Too long reading dross and formula thank you very much!! Enough is enough!! Bring it on R J Ellory...you have restored my faith in the fact that English authors are the best in the world, even though you write 'American' novels...
So how long before the next one? Too damned long, that's what I say!