Enter “The Criminalist”


My first column for the Barnes & Noble Review under the banner of “The Criminalist” – which allows me to indulge in some fantasy that the pesky forensic science master’s degree might get some airing out in the foreseeable future – takes a long look at what has become one of my all-time favorite crime novels, FALLING ANGEL by William Hjortsberg, first published in 1978. It’s also the first piece in what I hope will be an unofficial series on crime fiction published in the 70s, which I view as a decade of transition that hasn’t properly received its due in the critical canon. It will, I think, but the time hasn’t come. I’ve already built up a small shortlist of books from this decade I want to write about – at greater length or for the first time – but very much want to entertain suggestions, so please leave comments here or even better, with the piece directly.

As for FALLING ANGEL, I’d wanted to read this book for a long time, and not just because I enjoyed ANGEL HEART, the 1987 movie more or less based on the story, but because reviews and trusted friends had nothing but glowing things to say about it. And when I finally did read the book, it blew me away, and a second read only accentuated its damn-near-perfect plot construction and description of New York City, ca. 1959, full of beautiful but faded archictecture and underground evil beneath the glamorous facades. I had to stop myself a lot from quoting pages and pages  of Hjortsberg’s prose because it was such a pleasure to discover these sentences.

As for the future direction of “The Criminalist”, the opening salvo should provide a clue to its dual linked aims: “to talk about new books that I love and hope

others will love as well, and to shine a light on unjustly neglected

books and authors from the past. My focus will always be crime, but it

might not always be fiction, nor always for adults, nor books entirely

in prose.” And expect a few other surprises as the column develops over the next little while, too.

Finally, that gobsmackingly lovely illustration? It’s the genius work of Thea Brine.