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.
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 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!
on 25 June 2008
Not a traditional thriller, this book is in a category of its own. The sense of place and social commentary create a background of small town living that makes the horror to come even worse.
Did I want to know who the murderer was? It certainly did not seem the most important part of this novel. Although I was glad that there was a resolution for the main character. His journey is a very bumpy one and he and the killer seem to almost be as one.
I particularly liked the whole innocent idea that as a small boy he could keep his community safe with the help of his friends. His own personal need to safeguard his next door neighbour makes the inevitable events even more shocking.
The delicacy of the writing and the way that you can see into the thoughts and feelings of the characters as they are slowly revealed makes this a very compulsive read. I highly recommend this.
on 8 January 2008
There's a scene in this book where one character is reminiscing about the death of his father, and he talks about how long it took for the old man to die. He makes some comment about how the old man has taken the long way round to enjoy the scenery on the way to the graveyard. That's not word-for-word, by the way, but it does say something very relevant about this book. In my opinion, the enjoyment of a book is not only the end, but how the author gets you there. There's a twist at the end of this book, but that's not the point! It's a good twist, as good as any I could think of, but how we got there is so, so, so much more important than anything else. With this book (which I just finished about two hours ago) I felt like the author had taken me back seventy years to Georgia, told me what it was like to grow up in poverty, what it was like to fall in love, to lose people who were important to you, to leave your home for a strange city, to be accused of a crime, to do so many things that I have never done, and I hope never will! And that makes so much sense to me as a literature teacher. Isn't it the job of an author to give you a journey that you would never otherwise take? It's not a heavy book at all. It's passionate, dark, funny, beautiful, moving, heartfelt, expertly constructed, even magical in its use of language sometimes. There's one review I read somewhere where the reviewer said that 'Ellory's use of language is dizzying and delightful'. It is! And it's not a girl's book, and nor is it a guy's book. It's just a book for Christ's sake. But it's a great book. Really, really great. If you like really good stories told really well then read it. I kind of feel as passionate in my support of this book as I'm sure the author felt when he wrote it. Bloody marvellous when all is said and done, and isn't that all that a book really needs to be?
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.
I am perfectly well aware from seeing other reviews, how popular this book is. Which just goes to show how individual a reaction to a book can be, because I just didn't and couldn't relate to this one in any way. The only reason I continued reading was because the book and I were stuck together - not through choice.
If you don't want to know what I found really, really irritating about it, look away now so you don't catch the awareness of it.
Each character addresses each other by name, repeatedly. Many times even on the same page. The main character Joseph Calvin Vaughan is addressed as such, using his full name, repeatedly, by his irritating mother and his irritating teacher. One page has it 6 times and on the same page he addresses someone as Reilly 7 times. I could have sobbed.
And the prose: "she stood motionless, motionless but for the circuitous convolutions of her mind". By about page 202 I was resigned to getting through to the end, after which I joyfully consigned it to the shelves of a hostel in a far flung corner of South America where I am sure a delighted traveller will count himself fortunate to find it.
While minds were circuitously convoluting I was wondering WHY the murders of over 30 young girls, and lingering details of the deaths of 10 of them, would be so interesting. I didn't care about a single one of the characters and was left unmoved by the deaths of any of them.
on 19 July 2009
Having read a simple act of violence ,which I quite enjoyed, I was looking forward to reading a quite belief in angels.The story spans some 70 years beginning in Georgia and ending in New york.I found it a difficult read. The story did not flow and there was never any rhythm or pace to the story.The book picked up a little towards the end however it was too late by then. The ending was fairly poor which resulted in a sense of disappontment. The author tried to cover to much in too few pages.For instance the main character's incarceration for murder and his subsequent appeal was covered in some 20 odd pages with no explanation as to why what happened happened.
This was a dissapointing read with the only satisfaction being to battle on with the book when the going got difficult!
on 12 February 2012
Slop. Dull, pointless, unoriginal; very difficult to believe in any of the characters or events; ludicrous splatter murders, stock types everywhere, ridiculous narrator and not enough sex to win the author the Bad Sex In Fiction Award. No wonder Richard and Judy went for it.