A Kiss Before the Apocalypse
by Thomas E. Sniegoski
Review by Drew Bittner
Roc Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451462053
Date: 06 May 2008 List Price $14.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Remy Chandler is not your ordinary Boston private eye. For one thing, he's an angel who's forsaken Heaven; for another, he's been married for decades and is facing some decisions no man -- or angel -- should ever have to face. In A Kiss Before the Apocalypse, Thomas E. Sniegoski weaves a tale of angels, demons and supernaturals at work in the city of Boston as a catastrophic danger looms around them.
Remy (once a warrior seraph named Remiel) is retained by his former brethren to find the missing Angel of Death and the scrolls that unlock the Apocalypse. It seems that Israfil (said Angel of Death) was inspired by Remy's defiant leave-taking and subsequent life as a mortal man. He attempted to do something similar but found it was not as easy as Remy made it look.
Now Heaven and Hell are seeking Israfil, with Remy only narrowly in the lead. He turns to Lazarus (the original, whom Jesus raised from the dead) for help and information. When that proves unhelpful, he seeks out the Grigori, an order of angels shorn of their wings when they grew too close to humanity and condemned to remain on Earth. Along the way, a cohort of fallen angels roughs up Remy, attempting to discourage him from this new case, even as his beloved (and very old) wife Madeline weakens in her nursing home bed.
Remy gets help from Israfil's human love interest, Casey Burke, and his police detective friend Steven Mulvehill. Both come to realize what Remy's case means, supporting him to the best of their (human) ability, only to realize that the stakes are too high for mortals to truly grasp. But perhaps his strongest support comes from Madeline and their dog Marlowe, whose language Remy can understand.
Although Remy is good at his job, time is quickly running out ... and the nameless puppet master behind the scenes is very close to triggering the Apocalypse. If Remy cannot solve the case, the end of the world isn't just a possibility -- it's damned sure going to happen.
Sniegoski returns to some elements he explored earlier in his Fallen series of YA novels (adapted for television by ABC Family). Readers who liked that series will find a similar spirit at work here.
The novel is at its best when exploring the relationship (partly told in flashback) between Remy and Madeline. She becomes a woman whose love could anchor an angel weary of bloodshed and suffering. Madeline is more than the tragic spouse often seen in such stories, and the emotional bonds between them and Marlowe -- especially as the story progresses -- elevate it above the rest. This may be Sniegoski's best love story yet.
Lazarus and Francis (a not-quite-fallen angel stuck on Earth) are also great supporting characters. Francis is a supernatural bounty hunter, sending demons back to Hell but trading with myriad contacts there for weapons (and tea) -- a canny echo of how law enforcement and criminals interact in the oddest ways. As for the villains of the story, it would be hard to say much -- they seem a bit more opaque and their motivation was something most genre fans have seen before in various guises. However, the Black Choir of fallen angels was noteworthy and quite interesting.
The genre of urban fantasy is extraordinarily crowded these days. An angel private eye has potential in a field jammed with wizards, witches, half-demons, magic-enhanced mortals and werewolves. And it's kind of refreshing to see the holy side represented. There are opportunities here that have been generally under-explored in mainstream fiction -- and here's hoping Sniegoski will continue to do so.
Lastly, the sense of location was fantastic. I'm not familiar with Boston but he did a very effective job at placing me there -- it's a knack many writers seem to lack, especially in urban fantasy. Too many stories serve up a generic location, like New York City, but miss any sense of really being there.
Fans of urban fantasy with a new twist are likely to enjoy Sniegoski's latest venture into that realm between humanity and angels -- this time, with a more mature audience in mind.