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A Quiet Belief in Angels


A Quiet Belief in Angels

Thrown into the deep end at the beginning, there are brief
flash-forwards to when adult Joseph kills a man in Brooklyn and
calmly tells of looking at life ooze away. However, the bulk of A
QUIET BELIEF IN ANGELS takes place in Georgia. This noir novel is
told from the perspective of 12-year-old Joseph Vaughan after his
father’s death in 1939. Joseph has an unhealthy obsession
with angels, which plays a major role in the story.

Fictitious Augusta Falls is still in the throes of the Great
Depression, an era of one-room schoolhouses and priggish
schoolmarms. When his teacher, Alexandra Webber, asks who taught
him to read, Joseph replies that his father “said you could
stay in a one-room shack...the whole of your life, but you could
see everywhere in the long as you could read.” She
gives him a John Steinbeck collection and advises the aspiring
writer “to write the truth as you see it, not as other people
wish it to be seen.” Author R.J. Ellory pens this novel as if
it were crafted by his protagonist: it has a 1940s Southern feel
with Steinbeck’s influence and superfluous imagery of a teen
who wants to impress adults with vocabulary and detail.

However, reading and writing aren’t the only things on the
young boy’s mind as murders begin piling up in his small
town. Joseph forms a group of youths called “The
Guardians” and personally promises his neighbor that he will
look after her. Tragically, though, arson ends up taking her life.
He makes it a personal mission to find who killed not only her, but
the other nine young girls who were brutally murdered. When the
presumed killer is found hanged, Joseph leaves Georgia feeling that
he is free to write as he had yearned to do for so long.

Fast forward to 1952 in a Brooklyn rooming house, where Joseph
finds love and has published his first work. Although he has had
much personal and professional success, Joseph discovers a white
feather, a harbinger of death. But it turns out that his pregnant
bride-to-be is the one who is brutally murdered. And to make
matters worse, he cannot account for the two-hour time frame when
she was killed. Joseph is incarcerated for life but freed after 13
years by the Supreme Court. He forfeits generous revenue from his
published works and seeks only to go back to Augusta Falls to find
the killer.

Realizing who is behind the murders (a tally that has now
reached 39), Joseph returns to Brooklyn and waits for the
perpetrator in a hotel room. “I am an exile, and no one knows
I’m here except the man I’m waiting for. And he will
never come. Never intended to come. Made a promise and then broke
it. Just like the promise I made to Elena. Broken words. Broken
oaths. Worthless vows. This is who I have become, and I have
created this for myself. No one else has done this but me. No one
else but me.” And when Joseph finally confronts the killer,
the stage is set for a climax like you wouldn’t believe.

All is not as it appears in this work. Ellory throws in enough
twists and turns to keep you guessing throughout. But the book is
more than just your average suspense novel; A QUIET BELIEF IN
ANGELS is literary fiction at its finest.

Reviewed by L. Dean Murphy ( on February 18, 2011

A Quiet Belief in Angels
by R.J. Ellory

  • Publication Date: September 8, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 396 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover
  • ISBN-10: 1590202503
  • ISBN-13: 9781590202500