Wednesday, December 02, 2009

"Angel Time" by Anne Rice

"Angel Time"
by Anne Rice
read by Paul Michael
produced by Random House Audio
Approx. 9 hours

Anne Rice is best known for her vampire chronicles, including the most popular "Interview with the Vampire," but any Anne Rice fan knows she's written more than just tales of vampires. She's written about witches and mummies, as well. Okay, all kidding aside, Anne Rice has written romance novels and even some stories about Jesus, so don't be surprised to hear this latest novel is about angels. Angels, hit men and Jews of the 13th century are the focus of this novel. To be a little more forthcoming about the subject matter a hit man is "hired" by an angel of God to defend the Jews of Norwich, England.

The story is told first person through the voice of Toby O'Dare, a hit man that is known as "Lucky the Fox" by his boss who Lucky calls "The Right Man." Lucky knows "The Right Man" just enough to know that he is favored and loved by him. "The Right Man" insists that Lucky knows that he is working for the "good guys." Lucky doesn't want to know who "the good guys" are. A fascinating aspect of Toby/Lucky is that he is a expert lutist.

The story is told first by Toby as he is to perform a "hit" on a Swiss Banker in the Mission Inn, in San Juan. The Mission Inn is Toby's sanctuary, where he goes to escape his hitman life. So actually performing a hit in the sanctuary rattles the soul of this soulless man. This first section of the book seems at first drawn out and, to be honest, boring at first, but once the story gets rolling this section starts to pay off and by the end of the book the listener is glad to have heard this section in full. After Toby pulls off the hit, a stranger walks into the room where the murder was committed and begins to tell Toby an almost unreal story. This person is an angel of God and was sent to recruit Toby for a redeeming mission.

Before the mission can begin the angel tells the second part of the book. In this section the listener learns all about Toby's life and what led him to become a hit man. From Toby's dark past where growing up the son of alcoholic parents, he is forced to care for and raise his younger brother and sister, while at the same time learning to play the lute and excel at all scholarly tasks. Toby's father, a crooked police officer is sent to prison and knifed within three days of being sent up. Toby's mom devolves into a drunken, mostly incoherent, person that most of the time Toby buys her liquor just to shut her up. When Toby comes home to find his brother and sister drowned in the bathtub and his mother bleeding from her wrists, he leaves everything behind, his scholarship to study music, his girlfriend, everything. He goes to New York where an Italian restaurateur is impressed with his musical abilities and hires him to entertain in the restaurant. Soon the Russian Mafia threatens to take the restaurant, the house of ill repute (also run by the Restaurant) and any other properties. Before anyone dies Toby kills off all the Russian mafia involved and soon is recruited by "The Right Man."

Once this story is told by the angel, Toby realizes he is who he says he is, and asks why God would need him. The angel only remarks that God forgives him.

The mission now can be performed. Traversing through "angel time" Toby and the angel are taken to 13th Century England. There Toby becomes what he has most desired in life, a Dominican Friar.
As the friar, Toby is to save the lives of the King's Jewry in Norwich England.

A Jewish mother's daughter has disappeared after the young girl attended the Christmas Pageants at the encouragement of her Christian friends. She then takes ill and disappears. The Christians, seeking a Saint, like Little Saint William of Norwich, accuse the Jews of poisoning the girl and demand the Jews all be killed and the girls clothing be produced so all can be healed by the touch of the garments. The actual story is that the girl died of a burst appendix and the truth would not be accepted by the Christians in search of another Saint killed by Jews.

In an amazing story set in 13th Century England, Anne Rice proves again she's more than just a vampire novelist. This intriguing and thrilling story with many twists and turns is sure to appeal to any fiction lover.

The reader of this audio book, Paul Michael does an excellent job of voice characterization, including the subtlest of accents in the characters to establish who is speaking at the moment. His low soft voice definitely kept my ear tuned-in to the story.

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posted by Gil T. @ 8:53 PM Comments: 0

Friday, February 15, 2008

Book Review: "Mistress of the Art of Death" by Ariana Franklin

I have just read another very interesting historical fiction. But I was fooled as I was reading it. Let me clarify that a little, Ariana Franklin writes of murders and death around the year 1171 in Henry II's England. But Franklin uses the prose and style of today's thriller writers mixed in artfully with the language of the time. The story never falters nor did it leave the me confused by archaic language. I guess what I'm trying to say that without the Historical Fiction label this was a great thriller/mystery.

I think the best way to describe the synopsis of the book is to take the tv series CSI and plop the characters down in 12th century England. Adelia Aguilar, a female doctor (unheard of to the Brits, in fact a woman even dabbling in healing would probably be punished as a witch) specializes on listening to the dead and determining cause of death, much like modern medical examiners. Adelia is sent by the King of Sicily to help King Henry II with her companions to root out who is killing the children. The locals are accusing the Jews, but 3 of the 4 murders occured while the Jews were locked in the castle. The Christians don't let this stop their wild stories of Jews taking flight and eating children.

Adelia's companions are Simon of Naples, a Jew and investigator, trusted and employed by various European monarchs to sort out their more intractable problems. Mansur, a Marsh Arab, helped and sheltered by Dr Aguilar who found him running away from the monks who had him castrated as a child in order to preserve his soprano singing voice– a not uncommon occurrence. He is Adelia’s devoted protector.

Not does this book involve the thrill of the chase of tracking down a child killer but the prejudices and superstions of the time are explored and even at times hinder the investigation. The murderer, it is determined, is a returned Crusader, this puts nearly every male in town in suspicion. Even the tax collector Sir Rowley Picot. Notice the "Sir." Sir Rowley was knighted upon taking Henry II's first born's sword to the Holy Land during the crusade. He has his own motivations for tracking down the murderer. These are discovered when he tells his tale of his "adventures" on the Crusades.

There are several humorous occasions in the book to break the dark story line. My favorite, for some reason unknown to me, is when Adelia asked if the coroner looked at the children and the response was (paraphrasing here)yes but he had no info on their death, the coroner has no need to know medical things.

All in all this book has great characterization and the strong female lead character of Adelia at times seems out of place for the century but makes the book that much stronger. If you are a fan of CSI, turn off your TV and pick up this book and get lost in a great thriller.

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posted by Gil T. @ 10:02 PM Comments: 0