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Avenging Angel: Love and Death in Old Brooklyn

by Charles S. Isaacs

Rating: ***

When 12-year-old Cassandra Monroe is sexually assaulted by the Ku Klux Klan, it changes her life forever. After training as an assassin, she sets out on a mission of revenge. Following a stormy early relationship, she teams up with private eye Mike Borelli to protect endangered women through their own brand of vigilante justice.

Avenging Angel is a complex and unusual book that straddles a number of genres and themes. In general, it works, although the first half of the novel is by far the stronger and I really enjoyed it. Cassie’s single-mindedness and development is intriguing and the character of Solomon Grissom was very well-realised as was the early 1970s setting. However, Cassie never quite loses the detached qualities of earlier and some of her later behaviour seems out of place. Yet one of the strengths of the novel is the slightly grey moral area that she inhabits with her actions and the nagging possibility that she is, or could become, as unstable and depraved as the men she pursues.

Of the two main characters, Mike has the more depth and his sections were faster paced. This may have resulted because his chapters are relayed in first person, whereas Cassie’s are written in third person. Overall, though, I really liked the switch between perspectives; Mike’s objective view gave immediacy and credibility to the narrative. Large parts of the dialogue were brilliantly convincing, especially between Mike and his Italian mob connections. Notwithstanding, dialogue involving Cassie and Amy was a touch awkward.

There a number of separate vigilante stories within Avenging Angel, the yellow-tulip murders and the paedophile priest being the most engaging. Once Cassie and Mike meet, about a fifth of the way through, their unlikely love story and the issues they face form the backbone of the book. Their relationship provides some thought-provoking moments and a number of twists.

It cannot be underestimated the breadth and scope of Avenging Angel; there could easily be four separate books here and Mr Isaacs switches confidently between the different environments involved in realising all the separate plotlines. Nonetheless, I did wonder if some elements could have been removed, such as the Jeremy and Amy story, or some maybe kept for a further instalment.

Overall, Avenging Angel, is an ambitious and unconventional book. Well worth a look.

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