Bookshelf Project 2016: #5–Black Wings Has My Angel
Black Wings Has My Angel is not only a great old-fashioned crime noir novel, the story of its history is also great. Written by Elliott Chaze, the story was originally published in the 1950s by Gold Medal Books, the publisher that introduced paperback originals to readers. (They also published the first lesbian pulp novel, Women’s Barracks, which is a pretty awesome claim to fame.) However, as the years slipped by, Chaze faded into obscurity, and so did his tale of an epic heist gone awry.
That is, until the book was reissued earlier this year by the New York Review of Books, the amazing press that routinely discovers and reissues classic forgotten gems (like Elaine Dundy’s wonderful The Dud Avocado). Sadly, Chaze died in 1990, so he wasn’t able to see this resurgence and appreciation of his best novel–recent praise includes “You might say Black Wings Has My Angel is beyond perfection” which is a tough line to beat.
The basic premise is a simple one: Tim Sunblade, a recently escaped felon, meets up with Virginia, a prostitute whose beauty doesn’t quite match her surroundings: a seedy motel in the middle of nowhere. Tim quickly becomes enamored of the cool blonde with the “heart made of dollar bills” and they jet off together in his old Packard. Though at first Tim plans on deserting his new companion before he enacts the perfect heist his prison buddy Jeepie envisioned before he died, he soon finds that Virginia is so clever, heartless, and cold-blooded that she’d be the perfect partner in crime.
But it’s not just the story and the characters and the chase scenes, shootouts, bygone New Orleans glamour, and a creepy abandoned mine in the mountains of Colorado that held my attention. The writing is just GOOD–clean, evocative, the kind of efficient prose that can knock you off your feet. Take the page below, for example:
It’s so matter-of-fact, but there’s a poignancy, too, that comes from the musings of a man on death row–but it’s not sentimental or maudlin.
This book is definitely not a book I would have picked up on my own, but one of my roommates is a librarian, and brought home a stack of ARCs and advance copies of books from The American Library Association’s annual conference, which was in Boston earlier this year. And she was kind enough to share them with me, so I’m going to take full advantage of these perks while I can still get them!