Defending Angels: The Compulsive Reader24 June 2009
Defending Angels, by Mary Stanton, is an erudite, supernatural murder mystery with a plot that is truly original. Briefly, a young lawyer, Brianna (Bree) Beaufort, moves to Savannah, having inherited her uncle’s law practice. Her first case, referred by her uncle, concerns a millionaire, Skinner, who has been drowned. Skinner’s partner wants Bree to find out if he has been murdered, as his ghost insists. The young lawyer’s next call is from Skinner himself. He also wants to retain Bree—he has been sentenced to purgatory on the charge of Greed (one of the felonies) and wants Bree to appeal his case in the Celestial court. Bree, a complete skeptic, thinks the call is a bad joke, but begins looking for temporary office space to set up her firm and investigate the murder.
She finds—“the first floor of a small house built in the early eighteenth century: a time when the streets of Savannah had been paved with mud and horse manure, and the air shrill with the cries of slave auctioneers. The house stood flat in the middle of a tiny cemetery of ill-tended graves.” Ms. Stanton creates the city of Savannah with its sights, sounds, and history, with poetic power. I had the sense of “returning from” when I finished reading, a feeling one only gets from a deeply involving book.
Bree isn’t bothered by the cemetery (one of the book’s main tensions is that the young lawyer doesn’t believe in the supernatural), rents the space, hires a staff, and begins investigating Skinner’s murder. Accompanying her is a crowd of lively and well-drawn characters, including murder suspects, an ex-lover, a handsome policeman, her mother, father, and a sister who moves in with her, plus her five guardian angels (disguised as her landlady, her dog, her office staff of two, and her mentor).
Although raised by wealthy, intelligent parents in the gentle, southern tradition, Bree has had Miltonesque nightmares all her life, dreams in which the souls of the dead plead for her help. The devils that attack her throughout the book are trying to keep her from the high job for which the Patriarch himself has chosen her—to be the temporal head of a firm of angels, The Company, and to argue the cases of the souls in purgatory in the Celestial court.
There are several layers to this complex novel. There is the murder of Skinner, which is solved only after a difficult and dangerous investigation. There is Bree’s relationship with her parents, who are too controlling and protective. There is her ex-lover, Payton the Rat, and a handsome policeman who promises to be a new and better love interest. There are fascinating discussions of celestial law (I especially liked the one phone call allowed the recently dead). But, basically, Defending Angels is a day by day account of the life of a beautiful, talented young woman with long ash-blonde hair, elegant work clothes (a closet of Armani pant suits) who, in the face of constant supernatural attacks and angelic rescues, stubbornly refuses not only to admit her high destiny, but even to the existence of the supernatural.
One of her staff says about the drowning souls in purgatory in The Rise of the Cormorant (a painting that exactly reproduces the landscape of Bree’s nightmares) “The Patriarch created this painting as a…test. There are those…who would gaze up on those drowning souls and sail as fast away from rescue as they could. There are those who beat the bodies with their oars and hope to drown them faster. And there are those who scream with rage that they cannot help fast enough.” Finally Bree realizes that, as far back as she can remember, she has harbored the need, like a rage, to help the drowning souls in her nightmares.
In the end, she sits with her two assistants, Petru and Ron; with her mentor, Cianquino; with her landlady, Lavinia, and her dog, Sasha. “The humming, crackling energy in the room increased, bit by bit…there was a sound of wind chimes, an infinite number of crystal bells stirring with the breeze. A winged, glowing column took shape before her, a…spinning rainbow, and radiant with all the colors of the stars.” Bree hears her staff give their angel names for the first time: Tabris, Matriel, Dara, Rashiel, Sensiel, Gabriel—then they say together, “Bree, you’re one of us.” And then, with a shout that seemed to reach the heavens, “The Company!”
And Bree commits herself, finally, to both The Company, and to the job she has been born for, to be legal defense for the damned.
Defending Angels alternates between scenes of danger and moments of light humor. The protagonist is young, high-spirited, and open to love, and Savannah is beautifully crafted on the page, a delight to visit. I was reminded of Thorne Smith at times, while the effortless progression of plot and the plethora of characters made me think Dickens. But don’t start reading too late at night—it’s one of those books you can’t put down until you finish.
Mary Stanton is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the International Association of Crime Writers. She lives in New York and Florida, and Defending Angels is her thirty-third novel.
— Elaine Winer, The Compulsive Reader
The fifth novel in the Beaufort & Company Mystery series. In stores now!
“The intrepid heroine deals with nasty demons, haughty nephilim and evil with aplomb as if that is an everyday occurrence. She anchors the whimsical paranormal tale with solid footing in two realms, but then again she has friends in high places.” — The Mystery Gazette
The fourth book in the acclaimed Beaufort and Company Mystery series — out now!
“The latest Beaufort & Company mystery is sure to please series fans and newcomers alike. Stanton has penned a tale that will keep the reader’s interest to the very end and even experienced mystery readers will say, ‘Didn’t see that coming!’ at critical points. Larger-than-life characters—human and temporal—infuse the story with humor and empathy.” — Romantic Times (4 stars)
“Stanton’s third Beaufort & Company mystery is a gem. It’s an original and thought-provoking concept, and Stanton’s imagination knows no bounds. Her characters — both dead and alive — are ones you want to spend time with and get to know better.” — Romantic Times (4-1/2 stars)
The third book in the series! On sale now!
“Another fabulous entry in the paranormal Beaufort & Company series…a very enjoyable and fast paced novel that is filled with unconventional characters…definitely one of the top ten books of the year!”
— The Baryon Review of Books