Angels Unaware: a review
Anyone who has enjoyed the company of the talented Mr (Mike) Ripley will know that he is a devilishly funny chap. I discovered this myself surrounded by skulls and pathology equipment at St Bart’s back in January, and since then I resolved to find out if he’s as funny in his writing.
I recently finished reading Angels Unaware, the fifteenth outing of private eye Fitzroy Maclean Angel, who seems more at home in a pub quiz (especially if it has a round on ancient history) than in navigating the 21st century legal restrictions of being a private detective. Angel is no Mike Hammer– he’s not prone to throwing punches unless he has to (and even then, he’s usually hurling bike helmets or bottles of wine rather than engaging in hand-to-hand combat), and he’s surprisingly PC, defending a civil partnership from his rather old fashioned colleague. But Angel moans about the strictures of Health and Safety and about working as part of a female-dominated, modern detective agency. He also doesn’t seem capable of operating any technology without breaking it, including a mobile phone.
From the very beginning of the story, Angel is a man trying to escape: when old friend and city man Terrance Patterson comes to Angel asking him to find a missing scriptwriter in Manchester, Angel is all too happy to leave his new domestic restraints in Cambridge (his fashion-designer wife, their newborn and his ‘helpful’ mother who has uncomfortably installed herself in their home). However, Angel’s jaunt up north, and his pairing with the wonderfully audacious P.I. Ossie Osterlein, end up being more serious than the obligatory line dancing, fry up and borrowed Huddersfield socks would suggest. As the bodies pile up, Angel never loses his sense of humour:
All I had to do was find my client and ask him what the hell was going on, then I could go home with a clear conscience. I’d found a body, met a porn star, visited a red-light district, helped the police with their enquires, been shot at and forced to line-dance. Good God, I’d even had to go up north. Surely I deserved a few weeks’ holiday or at least compassionate leave.
I found Angel a strange mixture of types. Perhaps only by marrying him to a fashion designer could Ripley continually put the part pub-loving man-of-the-people part elitist Londoner and historian in his place. Yet his wife Amy May is herself a conundrum: a successful professional woman, whose designs are known by and appeal to a huge swathe of the population (including female cops?). I’m not sure if May could exist, (could you imagine Stella McCartney married to a PI?) and if she did, what she and Angel would see in each other besides the ability to trade pithy insults over the phone.
Although Angel might use his wife’s fame to make witnesses or police more amenable, Ossie’s ideas go further:
‘Well, I’ll ask [my client] if you call your friendly Greater Manchester police lady and chase up how the autopsy went.’
‘Why on earth would she tell me?’
‘She might, she seemed quite taken with you.’
‘She’s more a fan of Amy’s clothes than of me.’
‘Get the wife to send her some free samples then.’
‘Give me some legal advice, Ossie: would that be bribery or corruption?’
‘I think it depends on who complains,’ he said, seeming to give the matter some serious thought. ‘Anyway, you should always keep in touch with friendly coppers.’
Ripley is undoubtedly good at one-liners, and he does paint a lovingly quirky picture of London, Northerners and pub culture. I did enjoy this novel, not least of all for it’s hyperbolic northerner Ossie Osterlein.