A year after a girl of two was abducted and horribly murdered, another, a three-year-old boy this time, is snatched from under his father’s nose in the San Francisco subway. A few days later, a girl of six is kidnapped while at her friend’s birthday party.
There are frequent switches of point of view, but apart from the children themselves and their fathers, the main focus is on two men, one a crime writer and the other a detective inspector with the SFPD. The reporter, Tom Reed, has been under a cloud ever since the time when, a year earlier, while investigating the first kidnapping and murder, he pointed a finger at a known paedophile, only to find he was wrong and that his story had led to the man’s committing suicide.
The detective, Walt Sydowski, an “arrogant Pollack”, is another who failed first time round and is haunted by the memory of that dead baby and the thought that her murderer is still out there. Now, a year later, it looks like he will be getting another shot at the case – if the kidnapper is the same man.
But is he?
This time there are no bodies, nothing … but then there is a third kidnapping: a boy of nine. Every parent in San Francisco starts panicking.
The story is well written, with many rounded characters, and, though perhaps overlong and a little slow at times, definitely one that grabs you and keeps you reading till the very last page.
HOWEVER … Now for a little amateur psychology.
I said “many rounded characters”, but failed to mention that those rounded characters are all male. I also said that there are many changes of point of view – again all male.
It is not that there are no women in the story. There are – wives and mothers, secretaries and – I was going to say girlfriends, but there are no girlfriends. And the other women are all in the background, part of the furniture, of no importance. Scenery, if you will. But not – and I want to emphasis this – not decoration.
I know nothing about the author of this book. Except that he is a man. And not a woman using a male pen-name. This book could only have been written by a man.
But what kind of man?
In my experience (!) men can be broadly classified into three types according to their attitude to women.
First, the ordinary straight male who enjoys the company of women, including, and perhaps especially, that of his wife, but notices the women first when he walks into a room, flirts, and probably has the occasional affair.
Then there are the gays, who also enjoy the company of women, are relaxed with women in a way that they never can be among straight men.
The third group, and it comprises a surprisingly large proportion of men, are the ones who prefer the company of men. I am not talking about gays now, I am talking about real men, macho men, who are only happy and relaxed among other real men, on the football field, at the gym, in the changing room, in the pub or club, fishing, playing golf, whatever. Men for whom women are little more than furniture, necessary but certainly not exciting and really, if the truth be told, of no particular interest. (They are. of course, the ones who make use of brothels.)
It was Byron who wrote “Love is of man’s life a thing apart; ’tis woman’s whole existence.” And that is how it would have seemed to him, for Byron was of course one of the third group and had absolutely no idea about women.
But what has all this to do with If Angels Fall?
Both Tom Reed and Walt Sydowski are men among men doing a man’s job. That job is their life. Their families rarely see them. And if a woman becomes part of that man-among-men life, as one does in both cases – a junior journalist and a younger detective – they are addressed by their surnames and generally treated as honorary men. If she shows signs of wanting more than that, as Tom Reed’s assistant does, he seems blissfully unaware of it, and when he does catch on, he shows no interest whatsoever. Likewise, it is the fathers of the kidnapped children we are told all about and are expected to identify with; not the mothers. There is a retired policeman who appears in just one scene; in that one scene we learn all about his life, his sufferings, his dreams, his pleasures. In contrast, by the end of the book we know little or nothing about any of the female characters although they have been there in the background – part of the scenery – throughout.
But enough of that. Time for another book.