Written by Kate Rhodes — It’s several years since the financial crisis hit but it seems there’s no let-up in the banker bashing. In the case of the second book in the Alice Quentin series, bankers have to endure a bit more than a bashing for their sins.
A Killing of Angels begins from the point of view of Leo Gresham, a senior executive at the Angel Bank, who’s waiting on a platform in Kings Cross Underground station. As the train approaches, he feels a hard thump and then he’s falling onto the track. It’s a horrific opening to the novel that is just the start of a murderous campaign against the Angel Bank’s employees.
Behavioural psychologist Dr Alice Quentin is brought into the case by detective Don Burns, who’s been demoted and is under pressure. There are few clues to go on apart from the classical image of an angel and white feather left at the scene of the crime. Burns has an inscrutable boss known as the Invisible Woman and an egotistical deputy who’s desperate for his job, which doesn’t make Alice’s role on the case any easier.
The psychologist is already personally acquainted with violence from the traumatic experience of her previous police profiling case, and you may feel a little lost at first if you haven’t read the debut novel Crossbones Yard. As well as investigating these latest slayings during a sweltering London summer, Alice has her day job at Guy’s Hospital and she’s trying to care for her bipolar brother, who’s living in her spare room near Tower Bridge. To complicate matters further, she’s got a stalker patient from her anger management group who’s on a mission to protect her from harm.
The Angel Killer continues to strike at past and present employees of the bank with an increasing ferocity. Yet while Alice sees enough of the banking world to understand it is based on greed and rampant testosterone, she soon understands there’s something personal about these murders. As the investigation progresses, she quizzes a high society prostitute, a jailed banker and a charity fund-raiser in the finance sector, who gradually becomes a love interest.
Rhodes’s first-person narrative is one of the best things about this procedural as the everyday details of Alice’s busy life – gossipy friends, a haughty mother and an addiction to running – bring a note of realism to what is a slightly far-fetched serial killer story. Rhodes is also a poet and while this is not in any way a lyrical novel there is a precision to her prose, which draws you into the story and the characters’ lives. Alice’s belief that her brother is afraid of ‘strangers whispering secrets’ on her answering machine is one of the sentences that gets under your skin.
She also does a good job of capturing the sights and sounds of the capital during a sweltering summer, particularly the mutable nature of the City of London, which bustles with bankers and then empties at the weekend. A Killing of Angels is also a convincing portrayal of a psychologist who’s often fighting for more NHS resources, though it’s less successful with other careers. The depiction of a sleazy journalist feels a bit clichéd and unrealistic. Whatever the sins of the tabloids, it’s hard to imagine a newspaper so readily libelling a psychologist by suggesting she might carry her brother’s mental illness.
The bankers are also pretty loathsome in this novel and, while it might have felt a bit more newsworthy a couple of years ago, the casino culture of high finance makes for a colourful backdrop to this case. Alice Quentin is an engaging character and this is an absorbing crime novel in which the mystery deepens with each corpse that crops up in the Square Mile. ‘It was beginning to feel like almost anyone in the city could be the Angel Killer,’ is how Alice puts it. Don’t be surprised if you’re still trying to guess the identity of the murderer 20 pages from the end.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars