Danny Bird is back for a fourth adventure across London. A falling body, an intriguing mystery, darkly comic and thought provoking.
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Whist this is the first time I’ve reviewed a Danny book, I have written about them before, I had read the first three before I started this blog and so rather than retrospectively reviewing them, I wrote a piece Danny Bird: Birth of a Legend. Derek has also kindly contributed to a longer piece I wrote on what draws crime fans to recurring series (That one is here if you’re interested). Reading over those pieces might give you the impression that I’m a bit of a fan of these books, and you would be right. There is a definite bias here, a new Danny book is something to be looked forward too and treasured. In the case of Death of an Angel, which was released earlier this year, I chose to save it for holiday reading. Caz on the deck of a cruise ship just seemed right to me somehow (more on Caz later if you’re new to the series). I also read quite intensely when I’m on holiday (five books in eight days this last trip), and the Danny books are stories I like to immerse myself in.
For those who may not be familiar with Danny, I’m conscious I’m talking about him like an old friend and that might not be the case for everyone reading this, he runs a pub in London called the Marques of Queensbury, or the Marq for short, and has a tendency to find himself sucked into cases inevitably involving an unexplained death, in a lot of ways he’s a dangerous man to be around! Whether it’s a dead diva on opening night (Death of a Diva) or in this case a woman he has never met who fell to her death from her balcony in a council estate high rise in London. Danny is surrounded by a cast of supporting characters who are crucial to his world. Nick his boyfriend, also a policeman, Ali his acid tongued bar manager, the ASBO twins – nephews of Danny who are unusually well connected when it comes to something a bit shady being required, Chopper the London gangster who owns the Marq and has a bit of a soft spot for Danny. And then there is Caz, his best friend and confidant. Caz is also Lady Caroline, landed gentry, a genuine English aristocrat. Who always has a steady supply of gin and who’s approach to mixing a martini involves giving the vermouth a bit of a passing glance across a crowded room and deciding its not worth the effort.
Our tale for this fourth installment centers on the mysterious death of Cathy Byrne, who falls to her death in the prologue and for reasons unknown has Danny’s name written on her hand. Danny having never met nor heard of Cathy in his life, an investigation ensues that takes us across London and into the very different worlds of a colorful and varied cast of characters. Although a writer that has sometimes been accused of using a paragraph when a sentence will do, nothing here feels wasted or unnecessary. The style is all Derek and that makes the book stronger, the unique voice he employs show him to be his authentic self through the stories he tells. Peppered with wonderful LGBT references and darkly comic, there is a huge amount in this book that made me smile, and in one case burst out laughing. This is the most darkly comic of the series so far in my view, as the series has progressed so has the confidence in the writing that has allowed for this. The confidence that these stories will be accepted and adored. Back in late January as were gearing up for #Fahrenbruary, I was on a call with Chris McVeigh, founder of Fahrenheit, and during that conversation he said something that really stuck with me, which I’m sure he won’t mind me repeating. I may be paraphrasing slightly but the intent remains, he said “I can’t wait for the day that Derek realises just how good a writer he is”. Because he is. Derek is a spectacularly good writer, and to see the increasing confidence throughout the series is so heartening as a fan and a reader.
Death of an Angel has a very clear social conscience too, there are two residential buildings at the center of the story. One with a broken lift that smells like a festival urinal, the other with the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch for emergency announcements. Very much highlighting the huge wealth gap that exists in modern day London and the extent of gentrification that is happening, people essentially being forced out of their homes by rising property and land prices.
There is a second mystery running through the story also, Danny’s parents are behaving strangely and his siblings want him to investigate. Which he does attempt, at the risk of his close relationship with his dad. I won’t say a lot more on that here, but the reveal in the final chapter hits you like a tonne of bricks. Beautifully executed and gut wrenching.
Death of an Angel doesn’t disappoint. A well crafted mystery told by our much loved cast of characters with a thought provoking conclusion. This is what great noir fiction is all about.