One of the best things about Bill Pronzini is his fairness to both “sides” of the genre. He can praise John Dickson Carr and Raymond Chandler in the same sentence, and his praise will be articulate and intelligent. Pronzini’s enthusiasm for the hardboiled/noir subgenre got me interested in reading more works in such a vein. Recently, I read the book Books to Die For, a book which I have criticised heavily for a variety of reasons. However, certain individual contributions are brilliant. Pronzini’s was one of them. He chose to talk about an author I’d never heard of before, Elliott Chaze, and his novel Black Wings Has My Angel.
Black Wings Has My Angel is the story of Tim Sunblade— and that isn’t his real name. It’s a fake name chosen by the narrator because it sounds cheerful and positive… and goodness knows, he needs whatever cheerfulness he can get. Tim inhabits a very dark universe, one without much hope or joy… and then, in walks Virginia, a stunning blonde with violet eyes.
This is a book that sucked me in more the more I read it. I was interested from the first page, but slowly I became even more interested in these characters and their fates. I was particularly surprised with just how good the writing is. Some very dark things occur in this novel, and Tim is a complex character. He can be ruthless, but he isn’t amoral like master thief Parker: some of his actions continue to haunt him long after he’s committed them, and the psychological portrait we get of Tim is a complex and fascinating one.
I was also very interested by all the social commentary. This is particularly evident in the section of the novel that takes place in New Orleans. Tim and Virginia find themselves in very different company, and Tim takes us through the gang and sardonically comments on how they feel the need to do silly things to remind them that they’re special, unique individuals. Heavenly hash plays a particularly interesting role in all of this, and there are several moments of imagery that fascinated me.
Black Wings Has My Angel is not a mystery, but a story that revolves around a crime and its consequences, and it’s very dark. My attempts to describe the plot have probably revealed that it is a very unusual book for me to review. Either way, due to its dark nature, it might not be a book for everyone. However, I found myself enjoying it tremendously - and I'm the kind of reader who doesn't always enjoy noir. If you’re already a fan of the noir subgenre, I think you will enjoy this book very much. It’s a well-told story with engaging characters and moral situations, and it sucks you in more and more the further you get into it. This is really an extraordinary book, and I’d like to give my thanks to Bill Pronzini for recommending it. Otherwise, this experience could have easily passed me by, with me none the wiser.