Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg

(No Series)

A spellbinding novel of murder, mystery, and the occult, Falling Angel pits a tough New York private eye against the most fearsome adversary a detective ever faced. For Harry Angel, a routine missing-persons case soon turns into a fiendish nightmare of voodoo and black magic, of dizzying peril and violent death. Many people feel that Falling Angel is the greatest American supernatural horror novel of the 20th century.

With a new foreword by Ridley Scott, an introduction by the late James Crumley, and a new afterword by the author and a bonus short story, plus a letter from Stephen King, the first time that the letter has ever been published in its complete form.

The hardcover edition is limited to just 300 copies and is signed by William Hjortsberg. Bound in cloth with a dustjacket with the original Stanislaw Zagorski wraparound dustjacket printed against a black background with spot varnish.

“The tomb lies at the end of every path. Only the soul is immortal. Guard this treasure well. Your decaying husk is but a temporary vessel on an endless voyage.”

I've watched Angel Heart several times over the years, having no idea until last year it was spawned from a novel. Unobservant me never noticed until it was brought up in someone else's review. Being a fan of the twisted supernatural story-line meets hard boiled detective, I instantly purchased it. Did the book hold up to the movie?

Detective Harry Angel is hired by an unusual, wealthy client to hunt down a long-missing man who was admitted to a treatment facility years ago for war injuries and complete memory loss. It's never easy to follow a cold trail, but he does his best, landing in the twisted world of backwater voodoo, close-lipped musicians, carnival acts and....well, much worse.

I can't think of another novel quite like this one. Usually the supernatural does not blend with this genre, and if it does, it doesn't usually it do it as daringly. I knew the ending of the book already thanks to its film presence, but up until a certain point the script matched the page. I was starting to think there wasn't going to be any deviations at all, but they eventually came.

The book wins with getting further into the story and the details, longer interviews and other stops that were omitted from the film, and a sense of urgency. I like how the relationship between Harry and a lady love are better explored in written form, with more scenes and better fleshed out. Hjortsberg's writing style is smooth flowing with a particular talent for stylish dialogue.

On the other hand, the movie won on keeping the big secret longer. There were more obvious clues dropped in the book, and the producers probably felt better removing it before the big screen transfer so it didn't come across so obvious and easily guessed.

There's brutality and violence, there's psychological mind games and hidden surprises, there's tension and a big twist at the end to cap off a journey that was already deadly. Every reader should check this one out.

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