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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



The Second Angel

by
Philip Kerr


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Second Angel



Title: The Second Angel
Author: Philip Kerr
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999
Length: 392 pages
Availability: The Second Angel - US
The Second Angel - UK
The Second Angel - Canada
Le sang des hommes - France
Der zweite Engel - Deutschland
Notes:
  • The British publishers of this book, Orion, offered a money-back guarantee to anyone not satisfied with the book. Too bad Holt doesn't offer the same in the U.S.
  • Warner Brothers paid $ 2.5 million for the film rights to this thing. Mr.Kerr has done very well selling the movie-rights to his books. Question: how many films of Philip Kerr books have you seen ?

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Our Assessment:

B- : fundamentally good ideas mired in pedestrian and sometimes awkward thriller

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Entertainment Weekly A- 8/1/1999 Vanessa V. Friedman
FAZ . 7/10/2002 Stephan Maus
The NY Times Book Rev. A- 14/2/1999 Charles Flowers
Publishers Weekly C+ 7/12/1998 .
The Sunday Times A- 8/11/1998 John Sutherland
The Times B+ 14/11/1998 Peter Millar

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)his sly and serious writer achieves his most intellectually satisfying novel yet." - Charles Flowers, The New York Times Book Review

  • "One finds oneself turning the pages faster and faster (guiltily skipping the footnotes) as the narrative excitement mounts." - John Sutherland, The Sunday Times

  • "(O)nce you get into it, this is a gripping read with the perfect mix of imagination, intelligence and action. With the right director it will make a movie to rival Blade Runner for cult status." - Peter Millar, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Philip Kerr was, once, included in a Granta magazine collection of "Best Young British Novelists" -- and rightly so. His early thrillers, set around World War II in Germany and Austria (March Violets, The Pale Criminal, and A German Requiem), were excellent and well-written additions to the genre. A Philosophical Investigation was a new turn, his highest accomplishment, mixing his philosophical concerns with a decent mystery/thriller story. Then, instead of climbing to new heights, he plummeted. The spectacularly incompetent Dead Meat marked the way -- turned into a TV movie, Kerr had not found the light (only darkness), but he did find the cash, raking in ever increasing sums. Gridiron (published in the U.S. as The Grid -- always be wary of books published under different titles abroad !) tells the story of a "smart" building, the stuff of half a dozen made for TV movies. Kerr adds some nifty cosmological spins, but it is still a disappointment. Sadder then was to see his next subject matter -- the yeti, in Esau. We could not bring ourselves to read A Five-Year Plan, which also sounds ... predictable.
       Why so much space about the author's previous books ? Oh, because the man has or had talent, and he wastes it away and it is such a sad sight to see. The Second Angel again suggests what he is capable of, without ultimately satisfying much of that promise.
        The Second Angel is a thriller, set in the year 2069. A terrible plague infects large segments of mankind, their blood tainted with a virus not dissimilar to HIV but far more widespread and considered more dangerous. Blood has become the most important substance on earth (and beyond), worth more than its weight in proverbial gold. The uninfected keep separate from the infected, who always pose a threat to them.
       In an unusual twist of irony one of the central characters, Dallas, a healthy designer of blood banks (whose main task is to make them secure), has a daughter who suffers from a genetic blood disease. It can be treated, but since treatment involves blood transfusions, it is prohibitively expensive. With Dallas needing access to a great deal of money (or blood) he becomes a security risk to his company, setting the "thriller" aspect of the book into motion.
       It is a truly pedestrian thriller, with more unlikely turns of events than anyone can be expected to believe. The rationale for what Dallas' company wants to do to him at various turns is never reasonably explained, and Dallas' reactions are similarly unlikely. All this leads up to a spectacular attempt at a bank heist -- a blood bank heist, of course, at a blood bank on the moon, no less. All of this is a lot to wade through, and because the actions are so unbelievable much of the pleasure of the book is undermined by this ridiculous story.
       There is, however, some pleasure to be had in the book. Kerr is very good with his science, and he manages to stuff a lot into this book. The endless explanatory footnotes (there are dozens of them) are not an ideal way to relate this information, but Kerr paints a largely interesting and plausible picture of what the future will look like, with nanotechnology and global cooling (bonus points for catching onto that consequence of global warming !) and whatnot. His vision of what virtual reality will lead to, and his ideas for the blood-bank security systems (Dallas' area of expertise) are entertaining and fun.
       Kerr is also after bigger things. The title, like Esau, is biblical in origin (always a bad sign in a book), and with a mysterious omniscient narrator who remarks upon events on occasion Kerr treads in dangerous waters. Let it be said that we were very satisfied with who/what this narrator turns out to be, and the final explanation is entirely satisfactory (and well done -- many books have tried the same and not pulled it off as well). That said, however, we also note that it is reminiscent of The Grid ...
       One great weakness is the blood-centered aspect of the book. While it makes for a nice, vivid image, and while the final payoff is almost worth all this harebrained nonsense, Kerr did not ultimately sell us on it. He tries to explain, but how a commodity (blood) that can be grown almost at will should become so precious is never satisfactorily explained. Similarly, the fact that the terrible disease is curable, but that the costs of curing it are still too high to do so on a large scale, are also not convincing. In the end it is perhaps that Kerr tries so very hard to make us believe all this that undermines his arguments.
       Once or twice there are literary flashes that brought a smile to our faces, but his way with words has been weighed down. The Crichton comparison seems evermore on the mark (and an ugly mark that is). The Second Angel is a decent beach-thriller, frustrating because there are many sound ideas in and behind it, but it is framed in this terrible, often cartoonish thriller story.
       For those who are not demanding in the quality of the writing they read, and those who want a carefully thought-through vision of the future and are willing to forgive a B-movie plot we recommend the book wholeheartedly. For others we recommend it only with great reluctance.

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Links:

The Second Angel: Reviews: Philip Kerr: Other books by Philip Kerr under review: Other books under review that might be of interest:

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About the Author:

       British author Philip Kerr was born in Edinburgh in 1956. Acclaimed in Granta as one of the "Best Young British Novelists" he has not lived up to the promise shown by his early works.

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