Angels by Denis Johnson (Shane's book 15, 2011)

"It was around nine-thirty, there was a chill in the air, the wind was gentle now, and he was moving inside it like the light of love, ringing without sound, giving himself up to every vibration, totally alive inside of a crime."

[amtap book:isbn=0099440830]

Angels, Denis Johnson's first novel, is a dark and affecting story, populated with characters that are easy to dislike but difficult to avoid empathising with.

The novel opens with Jamie meeting Bill on a Greyhound bus. He's a smalltime crook with little going for him and she has left her husband, taking her two children with her. He is unable to resist falling back into crime; she fantasises about killing one of the children The two of them are soon bound together.

What follows is gloomy and often harrowing but Johnson balances the tone perfectly. He doesn't make the characters so repellant that you can't stay with them but nor does he try to convince you that they deserve your sympathy.

The writing is frequently brilliant with a tinge of oddness, as with the quote above. There's the odd clanger: "…he could feel the sinuses at the back of his nose opening up." (Oh, those sinuses!) But generally the writing is great.

It feels inevitable from very early on that things won't end well and, rather than manifest itself in tension or dread, that feeling is one of sadness. It's a moving book.

It's the third of Johnson's novels that I've read. It's better than Nobody Move but not as impressive as Tree of Life, which takes on a more ambitious task and succeeds. Nevertheless, I'd recommended it.