By Paula R. Stiles
Sniegoski, Thomas E. A Kiss Before the Apocalypse. New York: Roc Fantasy, 2008. $14.00 USD; $15.50 CDN. ISBN: 978-0-451-46205-3.
A Kiss Before the Apocalypse is the first in the Remy Chandler series. I picked up this book for the reason (probably obvious to anyone who reads my Supernatural reviews on this site) that it had angels. Well, that, and it was on sale. But many books are on sale and I don’t pick them up. Another reason was that it promised hard-boiled detective noir, which I also love (Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett being two of my favourite authors, ever). What I didn’t expect was paranormal romance, of which there’s a fair bit in here, and I’m still not sure how I feel about that.
The hero of the story is Remy Chandler, a private detective who runs into some ugly trouble when the routine surveillance of a cheating husband and his secretary goes horribly wrong. Said husband shoots his lover and then himself, but the really horrible part is that they don’t die. Instead, they are trapped between life and death. The person responsible for reaping their souls isn’t doing his job.
Fortunately for the story, Remy was originally an angel, Remiel, who deserted from Heaven after Lucifer’s rebellion. Since Remiel didn’t support Lucifer and didn’t leave until after the battle was over, he’s not, strictly speaking, fallen. In noir terms, he’s more like an ex-cop who quit after a nasty case that went wrong than an ex-con. Remy is therefore in a unique position to investigate. He quickly discovers that his old friend, Israfil the Angel of Death, has gone AWOL and become a human, too. But there’s more than just death being delayed in the offing. Someone, it seems, is trying to engineer the Apocalypse and it’s Remy’s job to find Israfil and stop the end of the world. Naturally, he has some personal complications – his beloved human wife, Madeline, is dying in a nursing home of cancer.
I wanted to like this book. I did. It has some fun characters and nice elements and it’s certainly competently-written. The author has also written a series called The Fallen, which was made into a TV Movie that starred Paul Wesley of The Vampire Diaries, so he’s hardly new to the writing game. That series may be why fallen angel Francis is such a blast. Every time he comes on stage, he makes me smile – just like good smut. He’s such a snarky bastard. And the Black Choir are as creepy as hell. They’re really inspired. Basically, they were angels who refused to pick a side during the Lucifer War and now have been condemned to a twisted, blackened eternity. The love story between Remy and Madeline is touching. I’ve always thought that the trope of the immortal man who sticks it out for her lifetime with a mortal woman is cool just because it turns on its head the too-oft-cited idea that men only like women when they’re young and hot, especially when the men are no longer so young and hot, themselves. Yes, it’s been done before (Highlander: The Series did an especially moving version of it in season two with “Studies in Light”), but it can never be done too many times, in my humble opinion. It’s also hard not to appreciate a guy who has a telepathic friendship with his dog (called “Marlowe”, of course).
My main problem with these elements is that Madeline and Marlowe both belong in a different book. We all know she’s not going to make it and Marlowe gets cutesy, sometimes. Though I will admit that with Marlowe, I’m an extremely hard sell for anthropomorphic animal characters. Having spent 99% of my life with animals, I prefer to take them on their own terms and not as furry little humans. The thing with Madeline is that, yeah, she is a cool person and it’s a bummer that Remy is losing her and Sniegoski brings her in frequently. But plotwise, she (and Israfil’s human lover, Casey) is really only there as a reason to get Remiel geared up to stop the Apocalypse and save the world. I mean, would it have been too much to ask to have some female angels if the female humans were going to be so helpless? I’m just saying.
The other problem is that Madeline, Remy, Israfil, and Casey are all a bit too noble for words, while the villain sneers a little too much, with the principle good guys wringing their hands a lot until they finally get their acts together and blow the doors off the story. I like my heroes a little dirty, a little profane. I want to see some moral struggle. I want to feel that, you know, they might fall on the wrong side of the fence. Chandler and Hammett really had that down. This book…not so much. The cover art, which seemed a little clumsy, didn’t help, though I do like the covers for the next two books.
That said, I had the same feeling about this book that I did about the first books of both Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series and George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series. Loved both, but never warmed to the first books of either one because neither book quite gelled. Sometimes, a series needs more time than one novel to get all the elements together and that’s how I feel about this one. So, I’ll probably be giving the next two, Dancing on the Head of a Pin and Where Angels Fear to Tread (which apparently involves some Lovecraftian elements), a try.
You can find A Kiss Before the Apocalypse on Amazon.com.