“Falling Angel” by William Hjortsberg

Posted April 12th, 2010 by Devin and filed in Review

“Falling Angel” was first published in 1978.  I received it in a World Fantasy gift bag at the San Jose conference last fall.  It has a forward and afterward by Ridley Scott and Stephen King.  I thought that I’d never heard of it before.  I was almost right.  More on that later.

“Falling Angel” is a straight forward gumshoe detective piece set in 1959 Manhattan.  The mystery involves finding a man who went missing after being wounded during WWII.  The further the detective, Harry Angel, digs into the evidence the more he realizes that the missing man was involved in some dark stuff, specifically black magic and devil worship.  Dead chickens and jazz musicians ensue.

The story is easy to follow; I don’t read a lot of “who-dun-its” to say that Harry’s path of picking out exactly the right clues, not taking any wrong turns in the investigations, turning up right where and when he needs to be, is standard or not.  That aside, I was willing to forgive the ease of Mr. Angel’s work to see familiar Manhattan neighborhoods through the eyes of 1959.  The first-person narrative is also well done and a fun read; the only dialogue that jumped out at me as being cringe-worthy was that of a jazz musician who seemed to have had his dialogue formed from rejected verses for “Minnie the Moocher”.

Overall a very satifying book.  I have trouble wrapping my mind around why the man that hired Harry Angel did so when he evidently knew the outcome from a mile away (or years in the past).  Maybe I missed something.  But I did enjoy it and I recommend it to fans of old school New York City and detective novels.


I said I thought I’d never heard of this book before.  An afterward in the book states that it was optioned as a movie decades ago, but never got off the ground.  Someone decided to continue on with the project seperate of the book, though, changed locations, times and names, and ended up with the Mickey Rourke and Lisa Bonet vehicle “Angel Heart”.  If you’ve seen that movie, then you will see the end of this book coming from a mile away.

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