Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:
JON STEELE – The Watchers: Book I of the Angelus Trilogy. Blue Rider Press, hardcover, May 2012. Signet, paperback, April 2013.
“C’est le guet! Il’ a sonne l’heure! Il a sonne l’heure!”
According to Jon Steele, the author of this massive first volume in a trilogy, those are the last words you will hear, a whispered guide to the other side, administered by angels on Earth. They are also key to this outstanding book that is equally fantasy, mystery, action thriller, and a character study of three wounded people — well, at least one of them is just a person, the others not so much so.
The place is Lausanne, in and around the Great Cathedral. The three people are Marc Rochat, the somewhat simple-minded watchman who guards the cathedral; Katherine Taylor, a tough-minded sexually robust call girl caught up in things she doesn’t understand; and Jay Harper, a private detective who awakens in Lausanne with no idea how he got there or why he is there, but driven to solve a series of grisly murders in the city.
For Marc Rochat. it all begins when a beautiful angel draws him from out of the shadows. To Marc, she is the angel his mother promised him when he was young.
“Ten bells echoed down the empty street …” is how we meet Jay Harper, who has no idea why he is in Lausanne. All he knows is that he is Jay Michael Harper, age 31, and carries a card that reads his name and Guardian Services Limited, and that he is a freelance security expert.
He saw Lausanne Cathedral reaching for the clouds. Something caught his eye in the belfry — something in the shadows of the arches and pillars. Bright as firelight floating from side to side. The light went away and the floodlights went black.
That light is key to the mystery at hand, but it is a deeper and far older mystery than mere murder. Forces are at play which have warred for millenia and may fight their final battle in beautiful Lausanne.
There is the Inspector, Monsieur Gabriel, and tough beautiful Officer Janssen and the sinister Komarovsky, who lures Katherine into a small private online sex show from hell for the mysterious Two Hundred, and who knows exactly who and what Jay Harper is. Those are a few of the elements of the mystery.
I’m trying not to give too much away. There are many elements: a dying soldier in WWI, brutal murders, a voyeuristic online sex cult, the identity of the Two Hundred, the salvation of Katherine and why her salvation is key to everything, the true nature and mission of Jay Harper, the secret of Marc Rochat, the enigmatic Monsieur Gabriel, and I mustn’t forget Katherine’s cat Monsieur Booty.
At risk, a prize that must be protected by Marc, Katherine, and Harper at all costs in a final confrontation with evil on the roof of the Lausanne Cathedral where no less is at stake than the very light of creation entrusted to a simple minded watchman — or is he?
I suppose how you feel about this book will depend on your fancy for dark fantasy, though it is also a detective story, complete in itself, but with mystery enough left for two more volumes. It is also a study in three very different people with very similar fates, all bound together by forces they can only vaguely comprehend, and motives that are still partially obscured at the novel’s end.
This is a big book, 743 pages in paperback, so if you don’t like thick books, three this length may slow you down a bit. I can tell you I have read Book I and Book II (Angel City) and Steele has yet to let me down or keep me anything but enthralled, the second volume ending in a cliff hanger that still has my teeth gritted. There are passages of simply lovely prose, storytelling skills too rarely seen these days, and moments of power here that will move the stoniest readers’ hearts.
The Watchers reminded me of the kind of power that C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams once achieved in their allegorical novels, but Steele is a modern writer, and this is a very grown up book about far more than a war spilled out of the heavens onto Earth. There is still another volume to go before we find out Steele’s full plan, but I have come to trust he will bring it off, and even if he fails The Watchers stands as a brilliant one of a kind novel that fulfills the one goal so few books today seem capable of accomplishing: No matter how much I wanted to know what happens next, I didn’t want it to end.
“C’est le guet! Il a sonne l’heure! Il a sonne l’heure!”