FALLING ANGEL by William Hjortsberg


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A weird alliance: the jaunty tone and connect-the-dots format of the hardboiled detective story (which Hjortsberg does to unfussy perfection)--wedded to the clichÉs of the occult, complete with black masses, the transmutation of souls, and a Twilight-Zone denouement. It's 1959, and narrator Harry Angel--lumpy and aging Manhattan private eye--is hired to find out what happened to 1940s big-band-crooner Johnny Favorite after he went catatonic during WW II action; is Johnny still in a hospital. . . or dead. . . or what? After finding no trace of Johnny in the asylum where he's supposed to be (a doctor there dies right after being quizzed by Harry), Harry starts tracking down Johnny's old cohorts: a society-deb-turned-astrologist, a seductive Harlem pharmacologist heavy into voodoo ceremonies in Central Park (Coca-Cola dripping over dead chickens), a legendary black piano man, a Chrysler Building tycoon, and some off-season Coney Island grotesques. Many of these folks soon wind up dead and mutilated, the victims of a motley Satanic group which Harry eventually comes face to face with in a subway-station black-mass orgy. The technicalities of the occult are as blurry here as they usually are in soul-exchange sagas, but with unflappable, earthy Harry as a narrator, Hjortsberg keeps the supernatural stuff from highflown silliness. ""Sounds like the floorshow at the Copa,"" says Harry when the Satanists describe Johnny Favorite's transmutation rite--and Harry's skepticism, right up to the last page, somehow intensifies the obliquely scary atmosphere. Hjortsberg is too good a writer to be messing around with the Prince of Darkness, but he has undeniably come up with an oddly disarming way of filtering B-movie subject matter through A+ prose--richly active with humor, precise milieu, and a smoky moodiness that lingers on.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1978
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich