Charles de Lint (writing as Samuel M. Key), Angel of Darkness (Jove, 1990; Orb 2002)

In the early 1990's Charles de Lint wrote three novels under the pseudonym "Samuel M. Key." The name was used to signify to de Lint's readers that beneath these covers lay something very different than what they expected from the usual de Lint fare: darker, more graphic. In a word, horror. Angel of Darkness is the first of these novels, reprinted now under de Lint's own brand. It is one of the darkest novels I've read recently; and it is also one of the best.

Musician Chad Baker looks to make a "different" kind of music, so he lures locals to his home studio, tortures them, and records the sounds of their cries, moans, and screams. In doing so he unwittingly unleashes an "avenging angel" more powerful than even he could have imagined. In reward, he becomes its first victim.

Angel of Darkness's main theme is abuse; abuse of the physical and sexual type as well as the abuse of power. De Lint does not shy away from graphic descriptions, and that makes these abuses more horrific than more "fictional" horrors.

His solution to these issues is mythologically based, but then again this is a "dark fantasy." We don't expect our novelists to come up with truly feasible solutions to society's ills, but merely to give us an ending that makes us feel better temporarily. Near the end, I was afraid that he was edging into Rose Madder territory (Stephen King's otherwise good novel of domestic abuse that was ruined by a trite ending), but he redeems himself by not falling into that "easy escape" trap.

De Lint's skill in this genre is immediately noticeable. I was grabbed by the first page and dragged through such fast-paced, well-written atrocities that I was unable to look away, however disturbing the scene (and there are many). None of the characters is a complete person, but in this case "personalities" work better. It was immediately apparent who we were expected to root for, and I went right along with it.

It's not a happy story; good people die and not many characters survive at all. This Angel of Darkness leaves a string of corpses in its wake, and I, for one, was glad to be along for the ride.

[Craig Clarke]