A Killing of Angels by Kate Rhodes, the second in the series, follows psychologist Alice Quentin as she sets out to catch a serial killer who seems to be targeting one of London's major financial institutions (Available February 25, 2014).
Perhaps all crime fiction stories are cautionary tales. Beyond the simple “Hey, you, don’t get killed,” the genre teaches us that some professions are more dangerous than others. Take prostitution, for example. Chances are, if you’re a prostitute in a crime fiction novel, things won’t end well for you. This isn’t a judgment of the world’s oldest profession, merely an observation that if you’re in the game and there’s a killer on the loose, statistically you’re wearing a big target. Also, kidnapped children – happy endings aren’t often in your future.
But some jobs don’t come with the baggage of previous books, reminding us of all those times that horrible things happened to person X whose job is Y. Working in finance is one of these. Sure, it’s a cutthroat world on Wall Street – or London’s version, “The City” – but it’s usually not that kind of cutthroat, not in the just-got-your-jugular-sliced sort of way. But A Killing of Angels, Kate Rhodes’ second novel featuring London psychologist Alice Quentin, is the book you might want to give that person in your life who’s considering a banking career. That is, if you’d like them to re-consider that particular life path.
When we last saw Alice, in Crossbones Yard, she was knee-deep in dead prostitutes, the victims of a serial killer who took an interest in our dear protagonist personally. Still scarred from the case, both emotionally and physically, Alice tries to recover the best way she knows how: by throwing herself into work and running. The latter often helps her de-stress from the former, especially when patients turn violent. Turns out that, yes, you can still train for the London Marathon with bruised-maybe-broken ribs. All this is to say that she is keeping her distance from the police and the consulting work that got her into so much trouble the last time around. But we wouldn’t have a story if she wasn’t sucked back in, Godfather-style.
Someone is killing people associated with the prosperous Angel Bank in London – a private financial institution that deals with a lot more than the spare change you collected from behind that couch cushion. The killer leaves a calling card at each crime scene: a photo or drawing of an angel and a feather. And these crime scenes aren’t for the faint of heart, as Rhodes depicts each crime with vivid and gruesome detail. The victims’ faces are slashed to the point of being nearly unrecognizable. Even Alice, with everything she’s seen, has a hard time keeping down her lunch.
Rather than focus on the victims, Alice is convinced it’s the bank that she should monitor, as it seems to be an institution the killer wants to dismantle from within. If it really was a disgruntled customer – anyone from a once rich, now struggling Londoner to a foreigner with terrorist ties – the bank would be a prime target for a bomb. But that’s not this killer’s style, and Alice and the lumbering DI Don Burns are, despite the rising body count, trying to stay the proverbial step ahead of the killer.
Even if American readers don’t experience the particulars of the London financial scene on a daily basis, we can relate to economic depressions and the feelings of incredulity that go along with seeing the ultra-rich get richer as the not-rich-at-all get, well, even less so. And because not everything revolves around money, we can also relate to London’s unrelenting heat wave and its oppressive blanket of intolerably high temperatures. Here’s another statistic – it’s allowed, this a book about banking, money, and numbers – crime does spike in the summer months. Heat wave = crime wave. Summer of Sam, anyone? Still, we’re impressed at Alice’s near-daily decision to go running in what sounds like the pit of hell, even as we’re trying to make the Celsius-to-Fahrenheit conversions in our heads.
Blood and sweat aren’t the only things being shed here. Rhodes – who’s already done a stellar job molding Alice into the kind of character you want to root for, even when she makes decisions you don’t agree with or can’t seem to understand – fleshes out the usually brusque Burns here, a welcome emotional addition. The Scottish bear of a man from the Met shows his more vulnerable side, something that’s so often lacking in the overly masculine detectives of the genre, on either side of the pond.
I spotted [his phone] under a pile of forms and handed it to him.
“You’ve been losing plenty of stuff lately, haven’t you?”
“More than I can afford.”
My comment was intended as a joke about his weight loss, but it seemed to hit a raw nerve. Burns crashed back into his chair, and when he started to talk again, his voice sounded like air gushing from a puncture.
“I’ve been losing things for years. The cardiologist said ‘drop the weight and quit the fags or you’ll be dead at fifty’, and now it feels like I’m running round in someone else’s body. Then all the crap kicked in at work, and Julie left straight after. She couldn’t handle it.” He gulped down a huge breath. “She got the house, and the kids stay twice a week, if I’m lucky. I haven’t slept properly in weeks.”
I was too shocked to reply. It was the first time I’d heard Burns speak about himself. His head was bowed, and he seemed to be struggling to keep it together. No wonder he was determined to hang onto his job. Only his machismo made him straighten back up. He polished his glasses frantically, before putting them on again.
“Sorry,” he muttered. “Boys are told not to bleat about feelings where I come from.” He shuffled some papers into a folder, taking care to avoid eye contact.
“It’s better out than in, Don.”
“Rubbish.” He gave a narrow smile. “It’s best kept under lock and key.”
“And that attitude is why Scottish men die young.”
Scottish men and bankers, apparently. It must be the kiss of death to be a Scottish banker.
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Jordan Foster grew up in a mystery bookstore in Portland, Oregon. She has a MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia University, which she’s slowly paying off as the managing editor for BookTrib.com and by writing about crime fiction for Publishers Weekly. She’s back in Portland, where it’s nice and rainy and there are endless places to stash bodies. She tweets @jordanfoster13.
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