A Quiet Belief In Angels by R. J. Ellory
Read by Mark Bramhall
Quick Thoughts: A mesmerizing tale of the tragic life of Joseph Vaughan as he attempts to live with the specter of death that looms over him from a series of murders of young girls in his town. Mark Bramhall gives a brilliant realistic performance that fits perfectly with the novel.
Serial Killers have been big literary devices as long as I have been reading. I have always had mixed feelings with serial killers. I listen to and watch many series that feature serial killers, including Tim Dorsey’s comic series featuring serial killer Serge Storms, and of course the hit TV series Dexter. Yet, I have always had a bit of an awkward feeling when dealing with the sort of cat and mouse, brilliant serial killer vs. dedicated cop novels. I’ve always wondered if sometimes we focus too much on the killer’s brilliant games and less on their depravities. I have always had a bit of trouble with book series where each edition the series protagonist is pitted against a new, even more dangerous serial killer. Not that there is anything wrong with them, it’s just hard to truly embrace these characters as they are pulled further and further into this murky depraved world, and I wasn’t sure how much time I wanted to spend in that world with them. I think for these reasons it took me a while to decide to check out the works of R. J. Ellory. Much of his work seemed centered on the evils man does to each other, but presented in a reality that makes such portrayals even harder to stomach. Ellory’s work isn’t some by the numbers procedural or pushing the edge of believability series, but a look at realistic people devastated by human evil. So, I decided to put aside any misgivings and give A Quiet Belief in Angels a try.
To call A Quiet Belief in Angels a tale about a serial killer is to place a skew in perspective that would drastically alter the novel. A Quiet Belief in Angels is the story of a life, the life of Joseph Vaughan, as he grows up with the shadowy figure of death forever looming over him. The story starts with young Joseph, a smart, precocious boy in pre-WWII Georgia, just after the death of his father. We follow Joseph through his formidable years, as he lives with his mother, and as his town is terrorized by a series of grizzly murders of young girls, girls who Joseph knew. As the killings continue, and as Hitler’s terror in Europe grows, the townspeople of Augusta Falls become more and more isolationist, turning against foreigners. One thing I really enjoyed about Ellory’s portrayal of Augusta Falls is that he didn’t go for the cheap stereotypical portrayal of a small southern town. The citizens were not all backwards, bigoted hillbilly caricatures you often see in fiction. Sure they would allow fear to alter their worldview, but that was typical of most people. Ellory also does a good job transitioning Joseph from childhood to adulthood, showing his life, as he tries unsuccessfully to separate himself from the death that has forever altered his life. Joseph, despite some successes, lives a life full of tragedy, and his tale becomes one not just of perseverance, but of survival. Joseph knows he never truly will live with the specter of the killer looming over him, and the finale of the book brilliantly details his struggles to finally figure out the mysteries that have tormented his life.
From the opening to the close of A Quiet Belief in Angels, I was pulled in and mesmerized by the tale. A lot of this has to do with the reading by narrator Mark Bramhall. Bramhall isn’t you silky smooth narrator, but pulls us into the world with his realistic, yet flawed voice that perfectly fit’s the realism of the novel. At no point do you feel you are being read to by some paid professional, but instead it is as if a real participant in the story is telling you the tale. A Quiet Belief in Angels is not an easy book to take at times, as should be expected in any novel dealing with such a grave subject matter, yet Brahmall’s performance makes the rough trip worth the ride. This was my first experience with an R. J. Ellory novel, and I definitely don’t plan on it being my last.
Note: A big thanks to Blackstone Audio for providing me a review copy of A Quiet Belief in Angels