of The Angel
Reviewed by C.J. Darlington
The Angel by James Pence
"Part mystery, part thriller, and part issue novel, The Angel will have you pondering even as it leaves you breathless."
A serial killer is roaming the halls of Sentinel Health Systems. Is he a doctor faithfully making his rounds? Is he a grief counselor comforting a weeping family member? Or could he be an unassuming nurse prepping someone for surgery? The Angel, as he's dubbed himself, could be anyone. And he's dedicated his life to setting people free--with or without their permission.
Dr. Lori Westlake is a general practitioner at SHS whose euthanasia sympathies have already landed her in hot water. So when she's secretly invited to become a member of the Circle of Peace, a clandestine euthanasia society operating within SHS, she sees it as venue for her convictions. But Lori's sister, Dr. Katharine Bainbridge who also works at SHS, suspects something's amiss in the facility. She believes people are dying who shouldn't be dying, and she's determined to find out why.
Caught between her core beliefs and Kate's suspicions, Lori struggles with whether to join the Circle. To do so means breaking the law, and she's not sure she wants to risk her reputation. How far is she willing to go? Before she has the chance to find out, one of her own patients dies for no apparent reason, and Lori is accused of murder. Her only hope of finding the truth comes from an unlikely source: a retired police detective who's dying of Lou Gehrig's disease.
Anyone who's read James Pence's previous novel Blind Sight already knows he's a capable thriller writer. The Angel continues in the Pence tradition of character-driven suspense, but takes it to an even higher level. The scenes are short and punchy, which keeps things moving at a comfortable thriller pace, and there are enough clues for savvy readers to possibly guess the Angel's true identity (always a fun game), but not enough to be completely certain until the tense climax.
And even though the story is predominantly Lori's, Pence also gives numerous scenes to his detective character, Charles Hamisch. Through Charles's eyes, we catch a glimpse of just how devastating and unpredictable Lou Gehrig's disease can be as sufferers become trapped inside their own bodies, mental faculties fully intact. "That's what drove him [Charles] crazy. Each day was different. Some mornings he woke up feeling strong and on top of the world. Other days, just climbing out of bed required Herculean effort."
The Angel tactfully explores both sides of the euthanasia debate. Only toward the end of the story are we led gently to the Biblical perspective of the sanctity of all life, no matter the challenges. Lori's transformation from skeptic to believer might seem slightly abrupt, but it's still a nice moment of hope amidst her dire circumstances.
Part mystery, part thriller, and part issue novel, The Angel will have you pondering even as it leaves you breathless.
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.