Thanks to guest-blogger Gareth J. Medway for this heads-up on a peculiar yet telling tome, penned by an ex volunteer tour guide at Highgate Cemetery. This pseudo review may or may not entice readers to track down the obscure ‘Angel of Death’ for themselves. But they do say where there’s muck there’s brass … Naturally it is only fair to assume that ‘Richard Shaw’ used a lot of creative licence and that his ‘recollections’ translated into pulp fiction are highly colourful if not downright libelous. But the less seedy aspects are somewhat enlightening. Anyhow, enjoy, all. Della Farrant
In the 1990s Virgin Publishing noted that two of the most popular types of paperback fiction are murder mysteries, and pornography. They therefore decided to combine the two with their ‘Crime & Passion’ series, which featured whodunit enigmas along with gratuitous sex scenes: ‘Detective stories for grown-ups’. The line was not a success, probably because readers want either erotica or homicide, but not both, so it was soon abandoned.
It so happens that I was asked to proof-read one of these works, Angel of Death [1998, ISBN 0-7535-0255-0] by ‘Richard Shaw’ (I do not suppose that any of the Crime & Passion authors used their real names). The plot is as follows: Victoria Donovan, a private detective, is hired by the Friends of Blythwood Cemetery in north London to investigate the theft of stone angels – stolen, as it proves, for sale by crooked antique dealers – from their gothic boneyard. Then, Mrs. Prendergast, the President of the Friends of Blythwood Cemetery, is found murdered, and eventually Victoria is able to identify both the angel thieves and the killer, all the while getting laid frequently.
Blythwood Cemetery is stated to be on the slope of a hill overlooking central London, and the nearby hospital is called the Whittington. It is of course a thinly disguised Highgate Cemetery, where the author used to work. All of the characters, I was told, were real people with not much more than the names changed.
The reader is first introduced to Chloe Redfern, the assistant manageress, whilst she is having an intimate encounter with a security guard in the cemetery at night. She regularly buys skunk from another employee, an Afro-Caribbean woman named Saskia, and, in exchange, sells her cocaine. Disappointingly, though Chloe has a Lesbian attraction to Saskia, this is never consummated.
The Friends hold regular guided tours. When Victoria is talking to the gardeners, one goes past led by a middle-aged man named George Antrobus. She asks about a story of an angel, commissioned by a man to look like his late wife, and is asked: “Which story? It changes depending on how much George has had to drink” It was said of the widower that: “And she wept real tears when he came to visit”, Saskia comments. “You get all sorts of bollocks stories here. Werewolves, ghosts . . . all nonsense too. People like to make it up because the place looks like a Hammer Horror film set, but nobody who works here believes any of it. Leave it to them . . .” and points to a couple of pale-faced teenage Goths.
When Antrobus is beginning a tour, explaining to the visitors how an Act of Parliament legalized the creation of private cemeteries, he is interrupted with: “Stop! Stop! You cannot smoke in here! This is a place of rest!” This is Mrs. Prendergast, who is of course the late Jean Pateman. “Put it out! Put it out! No smoking! No drinking! No eating! The rules are perfectly clear!” A Japanese man drops his cigarette and treads it out, after which she carries it to the nearest litter bin, “holding the dog end in front of her as if it might be radioactive”. She further exhorts: “Please see that the rules are enforced, Mr. Antrobus! This is a cemetery not a theme park!” It is hardly surprising that behind her back she is nicknamed ‘Daughter of Darkness’ and ‘the Wicked Witch of the West’, or that she eventually proves to have been murdered by one of her own staff, who could not stand her behaviour any longer.
On one occasion, when Victoria is patrolling the cemetery late at night, she is assaulted by a man who addresses her as “mother of lies, tauntress and temptress”. She uses her martial arts skills to defeat him. He proves to be Arthur Eddison, ‘Imperator of the White Brotherhood of Thoth’ and ‘President of the Lamia and Succubus Research Society’, who is said to be “Barking mad . . . He’s spent the last twenty years convinced that the cemetery is a nest of female demons, and he comes to do battle with them whenever they let him out of the big house.” Whoever may he have been based upon, I wonder . . . ?
Gareth J. Medway