Sunday, 30 March 2008

A Quiet Belief in Angels by RJ Ellory

Orion Books €10.65

THERE'S a killer on the loose, targeting little girls for particularly gruesome ends.

Our hero, young Joseph Vaughan, is growing up in Georgia and has the misfortune to find one of the girls, or most of her.

The sensitive boy, adoring his schoolmarm and writing stories to enter in competitions, sets up a bunch of friends who call themselves the Guardians to watch out for the murderer.

As World War II turns American feeling against Germany, the neighbours suspect the prosperous German neighbour who is the lover of young Joseph's mother.

So far so standard. But then - as the reader begins to wonder if Joseph himself might be hiding more than he reveals in his narrative - things turn even darker.

RJ Ellory, despite his subject matter, is English, and when he's not writing works in addiction rehabilitation and youth literacy.

Perhaps this is what gives his narrator the sense of oddness and dysfunction that make him so riveting.

In his teens, Joseph becomes the lover of his former teacher. His mother has lost her mind and is now in the mental hospital suffering the rigours of 1950s medical experimentation.

He leaves for New York and the life of a reclusive writer, and amid paranoia and obsession, starts to track down the killer.

This novel's strange, hesitant style has catapulted it into the kind of sales achieved by a book taken up by book clubs, where every copy sold sells 20 more.

It will be interesting to see how it does in the US - will Americans take to it in the same way that people on this side of the Atlantic have done.

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