Have you read this book?
It’s a general rule of thumb that TV spin-offs stink. K-9 And Company, Crusade, Highlander: The Raven…Need I go on? But then every now and again, along comes an exception to prove the rule. Millennium, for instance, or Xena: Warrior Princess. The spin-off from Joss Whedon’s massively successful Buffy the Vampire Slayer, called simply Angel, is one of these rare beasts. And, like the other two shows mentioned, it has become just as popular, if not – arguably – more popular than its parent series. Much darker and more horror-orientated than Buffy… Angel is like a cross between Forever Knight and The Equalizer, and yet still manages to retain that crucial tongue-in-cheek humour essential for a production of this ilk. It’s also a rule of thumb that tie-in novels are disappointing rip-offs designed to part the fans with their hard-earned money and provide very little in return. I’m pleased to report that on this count Pocket Books’ Angel sequence is also bucking the trend.
When Angel agrees to ‘baby-sit’ the young daughter of Hollywood movie mogul Jack Willitts, he has no idea she’s going to be such hard work. Karinna likes nothing better than getting dressed up and hitting the night-clubs until all hours; lucky for Angel he’s not really a day person himself…But it turns out Karinna is the least of his concerns. An evil magician called Mordractus has traveled all the way from Ireland to meet the vampire detective. Well, not really to meet him, more like kill him and take Angel’s immortality for himself so that he can complete a very special summoning. A summoning that would surely spell the end of the world (don’t they always?).
Elsewhere, policewoman Kate Lockley has her own problems. A gang of vicious bank robbers are digging tunnels underneath the city and stealing tons of cash. They’ve already killed several innocent bystanders, so now Kate finds herself partnered up with a useless FBI Special Agent called Newberry in an effort to locate the perpetrators. And locate them, they do. It’s just a pity the bad guys happen to outnumber and outgun them.
Pretty soon Angel is forced to fight on three fronts: defending Karinna from a gang of attackers, battling Mordractus and his demon hordes, and tackling the bank robbers in order to rescue Kate, who is by now in the middle of a hostage situation (no prizes for guessing who the hostages are). It’s going to take all his strength and more to survive, and he doesn’t know the half of it yet…
Angel: Close to the Ground (the title refers to what happens when an angel flies too close to the ground – in other words when our hero becomes too personally involved in a case), is an exciting, entertaining romp that does exactly what it’s meant to do. Comic book writer and author Mariotte has obviously studied the characters well because he has them down pat, especially the self-obsessed Cordelia (“Becoming a trophy wife is more of a lifestyle choice, with the added bonus that you don’t really need a career.”) and the chronically underused Doyle – the novel being set in the first half of Angel’s first season (I’m afraid I’m one of the few people who actually quite liked this guy, and was sad to see him get fired…literally). He’s also managed to capture the essence of the show’s main protagonist, from his profound observations about the humans he’s trying to help (‘Angel had no kids, and he never could. But if he had, he thought he’d rather be poor and spend time with them than be so rich he had to pay others to do it for him.’) right down to his subtle quips (“I know what you mean. I’m kind of an old-fashioned guy myself.”).
And Mariotte also tries his best to carry over the show’s trademark fight sequences into his fiction, although he never quite seems to pull this off. However, because it doesn’t have to stick to a TV budget, this means the book can move from location to location across LA and give us much more extravagant monsters – like the cyclopean giant Balor: The God of Death, or the skeletal shape-shifter under Mordractus’s command. There’s also the opportunity for social comment, with Mariotte drawing comparisons between Hollywood and the night-time underworld Angel belongs to (just who are the real monsters?), and the chance to witness Angel’s first ever do-gooder routine after getting back his soul, which he makes a complete pig’s ear of.
If you’re expecting groundbreaking horror that’ll blow your mind, think again. But if you simply want a ‘straightforward’ adventure story with a few surprises here and there, you’ll be laughing all the way to the cemetery.