Top critical review
In the Earth of the near future, global warming is destroying the world and the Archangel Gabriel is murdered.
Reviewed in the United States on July 26, 2014
Bayliss is both a nickel-grabbing shamus and an angel. Mollie is a hot red-head out on the town with her brother in Melbourn. Because of the death of Gabriel, someone has to be promoted to fill the hole left by Gabrielle's absence and Mollie is the lucky mortal picked by Bayliss for the job.
But who killed Gabriel? And why are mortals getting plenary indulgences? And why is the plenum suddenly forming topological abnormalities that none of the angelic host has ever witnessed?
Unfortunately, for me, the set-up is better than the delivery. The author, Ian Tregillis, forms the conceit of presenting Bayliss as a down on his luck private detective hailing from the 1930s. Bayliss's dialogue is nothing but Hard Boiled Detective slang from the 1930's - "roundheels" and "loogans" and "doll" and "frail" - and the radio in the diner that passes as his hang-out - his personally designed bit of heaven (called in this book a "magisterium") - is perpetually playing a game involving Joe Dimaggio. This can lead to some fun bits such as:
//"Better get some nails, doll. Your math isn't bad but that last step is loose. Someone's going to trip on it."//
Tregillis, Ian (2013-12-03). Something More Than Night (Kindle Locations 5267-5268). Tom Doherty Associates. Kindle Edition.
Do it mentally in the voice of Humphrey Bogart and you've got gold.
Unfortunately, it gets old after a while. By 75% of the way into the book I was entirely annoyed and fed up with Bayliss and his constant Hard Boiled Detective cliches.
Fortunately, by 80% of the way into the book, the reason for this idiom is given a plausible reason within the structure of the book, and the book redeemed itself to the extent of my willingness to give it a marginal "It's Okay."
Beyond the laying on of the hard-boiled detective cliches to the extent of over-loading my "willing suspension of disbelief" meter, I had problems with the characters. I congenitally wanted to like Bayliss, despite the fact that our hero Mollie clearly didn't like him and Bayliss was constantly sending her off on missions of her own such that the two didn't interact with each other. (Again, that works out within the logic of the story, but it makes for an unsympathetic character.) As for Mollie, I guess it is enough that she is a lesbian and so understands the meaning of oppression, because as a character she was narcissistic and unsympathetic. I mean, sure Bayliss killed her, but she did wake up as an immortal angel, and, yet, her big complaint is that he left a mark on the perfect floor of her dream apartment floor?
The metaphysical/theological elements are window-dressing. It's terrific that Tregillis could rip-off Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite for the names of the 9 choirs of angels, but why? Why are there these nine discrete kinds of angels, when all they want to do is scatter to the ends of the pleroma. God is not a figure in the story at all, but Metatron, the voice of God, is, and apparently has big plans.
Also, a student of St. Thomas Aquinas and Catholic theology, I found Tregillis' appropriation of Catholic theology problematic. I think it was great that he correctly described the doctrine of plenary indulgences, i.e., confession, perfect detachment from sin, some charitable work and prayers for the Pope. On the other hand, in the same scene, we see the hardening of a different kind of doctrine:
//"Uh-huh. And by being openly gay I was committing a mortal sin, of course. I had full knowledge of what I was doing. In Santorelli's eyes, and my parents', I was making a deliberate lifestyle choice with mortal consequences."
Tregillis, Ian (2013-12-03). Something More Than Night (Kindle Locations 4058-4060). Tom Doherty Associates. Kindle Edition.
Well, no. "Being openly gay" isn't a mortal sin in Catholicism, albeit acts not in conformity with Catholic teachings can be sins, but perhaps not mortal sins, insofar as the act is not the result of deliberation, is not the result of free choice, is not known to be sinful, etc. So, we get another bit of gratuitous stereotyping from the anti-Catholic kultursmog.
This wasn't the worst thing about the book, but it was, like I said, gratuitous, almost as if the formula required a bit of lesbian bonding over how it would be the most awful thing for Catholic lesbians to be Catholic and not lesbian and how parents are who are worried about their children's eternal destiny are totally hateful because obviously they are theologically wrong.
The angelic world that Tregillis describes is a secular angelic world. There is no heaven. People die and stay dead. Angels are aliens who have contempt for the human monkeys. Metatron may care about humans but not for a million years, it seems. Angels, too, are oppressed; they have been bound by Metatron to stay together so that their ability to work the stuff of the Pleroma can create the MOC - the "Mantle of Ontological Consistency" - the least common denominator of angelic ideas that actually forms the metaphysical substructure of the visible universe.
Long story short, this is not a book with any deep insights that will leave you wondering about metaphysics or theology.
Global warming and human caused space catastrophe elements are also referenced throughout the book, but like choirs of angels, that is just more window dressing to distract the reader, rather than items that are essential - or helpful - to the plot or story.
I think the plot line worked. I was surprised by the reveal at the end, although I had lost interest by the time of the reveal in the characters, particularly Bayliss for being a cliche. Perhaps the answer is simply that the set-up took too long.
It is not a bad book. The treatment of angels and ontology are different. There are few chuckles from the Hard Boiled Detective cliches. But the parts of this book are better than the whole.