Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Book 1 of Jessica Blackwood
Publisher: HarperAudio (September 23, 2014)
Length: 10 hrs and 53 mins
Narrators: Jennifer O’Donnell, Fred Berman
The end of the year is always a great time for catch-up and mood reading, and this month I got to pick up Angel Killer by Andrew Mayne, bringing me one step closer to completing his backlist. With Station Breaker, Orbital, and Public Enemy Zero already checked off the list, somehow the Jessica Blackwood series had still managed to elude me, though not surprisingly this year’s publication of Mastermind was a huge motivation for me to finally do something about that. The book which featured a team up between Jessica and Theo Cray of The Naturalist actually gave me a chance to see her in action, and what I saw definitely made me want to know more.
When we first meet FBI Agent Jessica Blackwood at the beginning of Angel Killer, she’s just been assigned to a new case which has the entirety of the organization baffled. A serial killer calling himself the Warlock has been staging a series of bizarre crimes designed to capture the attention of the media and have the public talking. First, it’s a brazen hack of the FBI’s website with a clue that leads to a cemetery in Michigan. There, Jessica and her fellow agents discover the corpse of a young woman who was murdered two years ago, except now she looks as if she’d died that very morning after appearing to have crawled out of her own grave.
The mysterious, seemingly impossible deaths don’t stop there, with the circumstances surrounding each subsequent victim becoming more and more implausible, defying the laws of nature. Predictably, some of the news outlets have started calling these acts a miracle, playing right into the Warlock’s hands. Having been born into a family of magicians and trained by her famous illusionist grandfather though, Jessica isn’t fooled, and neither is her boss Dr. Jeffrey Ailes. Fully aware of Jessica’s background, he believes it’ll take a magician to catch a magician, because that is all the Warlock is—a performer using the world as a stage to show off his sick antics. Helping Jessica realize her full potential, Ailes understands that she may be uniquely equipped to solve this case, as well as the FBI’s best chance at staying ahead of their quarry before he kills again.
Andrew Mayne has a background in magic, and while some of his professional knowledge has been featured in his other books, none of it compares to how prominently they are showcased in Angel Killer. This certainly lends the novel its distinctive flavor, setting it apart from a sea of other mystery crime thrillers about law enforcement hunting down serial killers. Rather than being your typical genre villain, the Warlock is like a twisted showman trying to get the whole world talking about act by finding ways to make each victim a public spectacle. A reanimated dead girl comes back to life only to die again by her own grave before spontaneously bursting into flames. A warplane that has been missing for decades suddenly reappears on a Florida beach with the fresh corpse of its pilot still strapped in the cockpit, almost as if they’d emerged from a portal through time. The body of a woman with wings appears in a flash of light in the middle of Times Squire, seemingly to have fallen out of the sky.
Because all the Warlock’s killings are so extreme, this does give the novel an almost fantastical, supernatural or surreal kind of vibe. At the same time, being over-the-top is also one of the author’s trademarks, so to me those traits kind of went hand in hand. As the special consultant on the Warlock case though, it is Jessica’s job to figure out how he pulls off the seemingly impossible, using her knowledge of magic and illusion to offer up perfectly logical and mundane explanations. This was the part I found most fascinating, because often in the process of explaining a Warlock illusion, Mayne would also reveal some tricks of the trade, so to speak, describing how some of the more popular magician acts can be achieved.
Save for only a few sections where the narrative would veer too much towards exposition, the pacing was breakneck, the plot innovative and extremely engaging. In so many ways it is an Andrew Mayne novel through and through, taking you on a wild adventure involving farfetched but highly entertaining scenarios that would suck you right in. I can’t wait to dive into the next book for more Jessica Blackwood.