Murder and mayhem are served up alongside metaphysical musings in Rice’s latest (Angel Time, 2009, etc.).
Toby O’Dare is a magnificent mess. PTSD survivor of a hellish childhood (his mother slaughtered his brother), he’s grown up wary, prickly, solitary. This makes him perfectly suited for his vocation/mission—service to the angel Malchiah as a kind of divine vigilante dispensing justice with James Bond cunning. It’s a gig he debuted in Angel Time, the first installment of Songs of the Seraphim, a series that, in company with the author’s prescient vampire chronicles and a catalogue of dozens of other titles, qualifies her as one of America’s most dependably surprising storytellers. Proving herself a brilliant thematic schizophrenic, she here combines her Catholicism, underscored by her previous first-rate fictional takes on the Gospels, and her passion for the dark. A time traveler, O’Dare touches down in Renaissance Italy, assigned by his angelic mentor the task of guarding Vitale, a desperate Jewish physician whose house is possessed by a dybbuk (ghost). Anti-Semitism and fear of demonic possession cause neighbors to feel that Vitale is gradually poisoning a patient, Niccolò. In truth, it’s Niccolò’s brother Lodovico who’s doing the poisoning, by means of death-by-caviar. Hip to the trick, O’Dare ponders motive, and hits upon the lovely Leticia. Turns out she’s Lodovico’s impossible object of desire, impossible because his father, Antonio, had promised the girl to Niccolò. Hence sibling hatred. As the plot turns increasingly operatic, Antonio gets in on the Vitale-bashing, convinced that the physician’s prayers to strange gods are the cause of Niccolò’s dwindling health. O’Dare, the one who unravels this dastardly complexity, rights it, and then proceeds throughout the course of this lean, speedy thriller to rid the world of further horror. The plot’s intense; equally so are Rice’s meditations, while never breaking the seamlessness of the story line, on the nature of love and evil.
A bullet of a book—and an absolute bull’s eye.