Book Reviews

December 10, 1999:


by Charles Meyer

Boaz Publishing, 314 pp., $24.95

Deathangel, the fourth mystery by Austinite Charles Meyer, does not suffer from lack of ambition. Politics and prisons, murder and history, love and loss are all part of the foundation for this complex thriller and serial-murder mystery. With settings that range from New York to Austria and a timeline that stretches back to the 1940s, there is a great dynamic at work and much opportunity for intrigue. Meyer draws the reader in immediately and, with a few notable exceptions, holds the reader's attention with a web of plots and counter-plots.

Near a state prison outside New York City, an Episcopal parish priest bears witness to a stranger's late-night confession in a language he doesn't understand. Though he doesn't know the meaning of the words, he later encounters some of the same phrases in a magazine article about a 10-year-old serial murder case in which a small, hand-carved, wooden "death angel" was left with the bodies of each victim. The priest is killed by an intruder in his house, but not before he confides in Matt Beck, a fellow priest whose wife was one of the murder victims.

This sets the stage for Beck and his significant other (author of the Deathangel article, conveniently enough) to start an exhaustive and bloody investigation of the main characters in the trial and conviction of Tod Engel (literal German translation: Death Angel) for the murders. Tod is mentally incompetent. But is he really the murderer or just a patsy for the police chief, bishop, county executive, and prison director, who all launched their careers as a result of the Deathangel case?

Deathangel has enough plot to fuel several mysteries. And it has an abundance of interesting characters, although they're cartoonishly drawn and lacking in nuance. What Deathangel lacks is a sense of scale and reality. Even allowing the customary mystery writers license that permits (requires, actually) the hero to be shot, drugged, beaten, and drowned before he throttles the bad guys, Beck and colleagues display resilience that is, in the most literal sense, incredible.

Deathangel offers much to recommend it. There are nicely constructed surprises along the way and some terrific passages about the origins of the wooden "death angels." But be prepared to groan over the super-heroics and all-too-pat coincidences that are too convenient for words.

Charles Meyer will be at Borders North (10225 Research) on Thursday, December 9, at 7pm to read from and sign Deathangel.

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