Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliott Chaze (1953, Gold Medal Books, 154 pages; reprinted by Bruin Books, 2011, 230 pages)
If you like your crime novels dark, edgy, and hard-bitten as a sack of poisoned rats, this is your book.
Originally written in 1953 by Elliott Chaze (whose earlier war novel, The Stainless Steel Kimono, was much admired by Ernest Hemingway), Black Wings Has My Angel is regarded as one of the finest crime novels in American letters, and with good reason. It is a sublime example of American noir writing. Chaze’s complex sentences and long, descriptive passages, fused throughout with style and verve, are what sets this novel apart and let it transcend its pulp counterparts.
Narrated in the first person by a roughneck who calls himself Tim Sunblade, the story follows the love-hate relationship of a pair of uprooted misfits, an escaped convict and an ex-society girl on the run-turned hooker, brought together by a mutual love of money. Adrift between the cracks of society, they form a bond that is less like love and more like a dark, swirling fate neither can escape.
Having busted out of prison, Tim is now fresh off an oil rig and flopping at a cheap motel in Mississippi when he hires Virginia, a prostitute, for the night. They decide to travel together, embarking on a dark journey across the American landscape. The reader is left guessing who will kill or turn the other in first, until Tim decides that Virginia is the perfect person to help him pull off the armored car heist he's been planning all along.
This is an overlooked classic, an astonishingly well-written literary crime novel, and as noir as it gets.
Excerpts from Black Wings Has My Angel:
When we came in, the noise quieted, the men looking at her, the single ones staring and the married ones looking out the sides of their eyes as if it didn’t matter too much to them about her being there. But looking just the same. There was no arguing that she had it, and that whatever it was, she beamed it out solid and steady as a revolving beacon. And if you didn’t actually see it, you still felt the warmth of it and wondered.
He wore a shirt with genuine French cuffs and he was so proud of them he kept shooting them out of his jacket sleeves and glancing at them as if they were a perpetual and pleasant surprise to him.
I was sick of Virginia, too, and of what the money had done to the both of us, changing the tough, elegant adventuress with plenty of guts and imagination into a candy-tonguing country club Cleopatra who nested in bed the whole day long and thought her feet were too damned good to walk on.
Order this title through Interlibrary Loan: Black Wings Has My Angel
Recommended by: Greg