Pinnacle, 2000, 477 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-7860-1061-4
(Necessary Disclaimer: I met Rick Mofina at the local mall, where he was holding a signing session for his three books. Half an hour later, I had discovered that Mofina was a local author and left with three autographed books. Adjust the following review accounting for my favorable bias in favor of Canadian/Ontarian/Local authors. Oh, and visit www.rickmofina.com, willya?)
It can be difficult, in this age of jaded readers, for a new writer to distinguish himself from every other storyteller on the market. Dozen of crime thrillers are published every month; how can they stand out?
Sometime, just doing the job well can be enough. Rick Mofina’s first novel, If Angels Fall, is in some way a novel we’ve seen many times before, with a deranged antagonist, kids in peril, a burnt-out hero whose involvement eventually becomes very personal and an ace policeman who’s seen far too many of these cases… but in its own fashion, If Angels Fall is a fine thriller with just enough distinctiveness to make it a worthwhile read.
It certainly grabs you by the throat right at the beginning, as we’re witness to the sudden kidnapping of a young girl from her unsuspecting father. Crime is one thing; crime against children is another. You don’t need to be a parent to be involved. Manipulative or not, this draws us straight in the novel as we try to figure out what is happening, and as we empathize with the grieving parents. We also identify with the kids, as Mofina draws us into their mind-set in a fashion that is not predictably patronizing.
In short order, we’re introduced to the two protagonists of If Angels Fall: One is Walter Sydowski, a veteran policeman whose cynical behavior has been made impregnable by years of police work. The other is the far more interesting Tom Reed, a journalist who has to live, every day, with a fatal mistake. This division of hero-duties is one of the things to like about If Angels Fall, as the protagonist doesn’t have to be an omnipotent superhero to be at all places at all time. Sydowski handles the police viewpoint; Reed the media aspect. The two rarely mesh well together.
As a matter of fact, the journalistic angle brought up by Reed is the one of the main selling points of the novel: While crime thrillers all too often consider the media as annoying gadflies (or even worse; bunglers with ghastly consequences), this insider’s look at journalism is original enough to be compelling. As both the media and the police investigation converge on the main suspect, this makes things more interesting than usual. As a journalist, Mofina’s familiarity with the newsroom shows and illuminates an original section of the novel.
What’s less original is that eventually, Reed’s involvement in the case becomes very personal. This loved-ones-as-victims crime-thriller shtick is something that’s been driving me nuts for a while now, but I can still get over it, and it’s not as if Reed’s conflict with the murderer isn’t completely organic to the story. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the crucial elements of the plot and doesn’t feel overly tacked-on: Reed has tremendous personal issues to solve, and the involvement of his family only makes a bad situation even worse.
Considered as a whole, If Angels Fall works quite well. The writing is fluid and limpid. The plot converges to a tense resolution. The characters are depicted with an adequate amount of vividness. There’s a lot to like here for genre readers. While Mofina’s first novel doesn’t redefine the genre, it doesn’t need to: what it needed to do is to prove that Mofina can handle a genre novel with aplomb, and that is obvious by the time the story ends. On to his next book, then.