“A purpose can be larger than a man. Even if the man dies, the purpose can become a cause. If it holds on long enough, it will grow into a belief and then a religion. This is how gods are made.”
FBI agent Jessica Blackwood comes from a long line of stage magicians. She was poised to enjoy a successful career as magician herself, before a stunt-gone-wrong prompted her to leave the family business in favour of a career helping others. Her unusual past goes largely unremarked at the agency, and she does her best not to draw attention to it, until FBI consultant Jeffrey Ailes realizes she may be perfectly suited to helping the FBI catch a new serial killer calling himself the Warlock. The Warlock’s carefully planned and highly visible murders seem to defy explanation, driving media attention and public speculation to a fever pitch. It is up to Jessica to use her knowledge of stage magic to help the FBI expose the murderer’s methods and bring his killing spree to an end.
As a magician himself, and with a father and brother who are federal agents, Andrew Mayne is uniquely positioned to tell this type of story. Original independently published as an e-book, Angel Killer was picked up and re-released by HarperCollins as part of their Fall 2014 catalogue. Mayne has also worked with the James Randi Foundation to use magic to teach critical thinking skills in schools, giving him first-hand experience with how the public reacts to and thinks about stage magic, which he puts to good use here.
The chapters in Angel Killer are short but have cliff-hanger endings that keep pushing you forward to get that next bit of information that Mayne is holding back. The structure can be both exhilarating and a little frustrating when Mayne plays coy about how the killer has pulled off his various illusions. But Mayne explains his logic through Jessica: if you give the explanation too quickly or simply, the audience will believe the trick was equally simple and that they could have eventually figured it out on their own. Mayne also seems to adapt the big reveals to the pacing of the novel; early on, they are either very drawn out or sometimes elided all together. But as the action gathers speed, so do the revelations leading to a twisty and intriguing plot. Inevitably, the stakes eventually become personal when the media latches on to the idea of the FBI’s “Witch” opposing the self-proclaimed Warlock, drawing unwanted attention to Jessica’s past.
Although it stands alone well, Angel Killer is also set up for a larger series. We get only a glimpse at Jessica’s background, and she isn’t in contact with her family, the older magicians who shaped her childhood and early career. We meet Damian Knight, a mysterious past love interest whose inability to leave Jessica alone borders on obsession, but whose insight into the Angel Killer case proves invaluable. Mayne still has plenty of additional ground to cover, beginning with The Name of the Devil, due out in July 2015.
You might also like The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.