Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Fallen Angel (The Satan Sleuth #1)

eBook Cover
Author: Michael Avallone
First Published: 1974
Pages: 156

It is always very gratifying when an eBook version of a paperback retains the cover of the original book. In this case Story Merchant Books have done a great job of allowing readers to retain the cover from 1974. I really appreciate it, and I wished this were the case with all pulp/cult eBooks. Sadly this is not currently the norm so we have to applaud publishers when they make the effort. I realise that, in the vast amount of cases, original work cannot be used because of copyright issues, or because the artist may be unknown or the price for using too restrictive - but bravo to Story Merchant for being able to allow us to have the artwork here.

Author of Fallen Angel, The Satan Sleuth #1, Michael Avallone is a name I remember fondly from the seventies and eighties as he penned a number of TV tie-in books that I loved, Planet of the Apes and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (he also penned a number of The Partridge Family tie-ins that might have crossed my path but we'll gloss over them if you don't mind!). Of course, Avallone is best known in pulp/action circles as the author of The Butcher book series and the Ed Noon detective stories as well as many others. Unfortunately Butcher books are not available to me in the UK on eBook, but Ed Noon is a series I may dip into at some point as it appears to have a good presence in store (again with original covers).

The Satan Sleuth occult adventure series ran to three published books and two unpublished have been referenced on other sites, but I know next to nothing about those. This opening book explains the origin of the Sleuth, international explorer and ex-playboy Philip St George (great name) and the events surrounding his first fight against the Devil and his evil disciples.

Well, actually, that is not quite the case. And that was the trouble for me with this book. Yes, the opening covers the truly hideous ritual murder of St George's wife, Dorothea, an up and coming Hollywood actress who is about to star in her first major motion picture with no less than Paul Newman. And yes, it seems the ritualised killing has something to do with devil worshipers. However, there were a few miss-steps that led to my disappointment in the book overall.

St George is very rich. He has a beautiful home in Lake Placid, populated with all the mod cons, full of some of the most expensive art and historical artifacts from all over the world. His wife is mutilated by house invaders, there are candles, pentagrams and crosses left in the home after the fact as if the killers have no fear of reprisals. The cops are baffled, it seems they have nothing to go on, and St George is left to grieve alone.

Days later he visits his friend and lawyer, Sydney Kite, and instructs him that he will be withdrawing form public life and be asking him to purchase some 'equipment' that he needs. Kite eventually receives a list of items which consist of such things as burglary tools, guns, rope, grenades, crucifix, roseary beads, bible etc. Yes! Here we go, you think. He's off to hunt down the worshipers and enact wicked revenge.

And then Avallone deals you a whammy. The worshipers are just stoned kids, admittedly pretty sick and twisted oddballs, but kids nevertheless. They dabble in all the Devil worshiping stuff, but really its about power and influence of the strong over the weak in the group. Gotta say I was gutted. I was expecting some occult leanings in the story, a bit of mystery and evil spirit stuff?

The other plot decision that confused me happens in the last third of the novel. After all the build up that St George is an expert traveler and explorer who has unearthed lost treasures and discovered unknown areas of the planet; and the fact that Kite has supplied him with a cornucopia of tools and devices that will enable him presumably to infiltrate lairs of evil - the stupid goddamn kids return to the scene of the crime, and the last third of the whole story takes place in St Georges own home! He is even there when they came back! Wow, ninja-like skills there Mr St George, you sure used your full set of skills to capture the baddies dude...

The book is well written, Avallone wasn't coasting here. I just felt so let down with how the plot had built up my expectation of what was to follow, and then it failed to deliver. I just didn't enjoy reading the last third because of that. I'm not sure I will read the next in the series. If someone can tell me the next one is better in terms of plot, I'll maybe give it a go?

Fallen Angel is £3.81 to buy currently, but it had been on my Kindle for a few years before I got around to finally reading it, so not sure if that is what I paid at the time. At the time I thought it was a good deal, but after reading I'm not so sure. Additionally there were quite a few typographical errors in my version and where they were grouped together it took two or three reads of a sentience to make sense.