It is a colossal oversight on my part that I’ve not properly reviewed the works of Kim Newman. I’ve been reading his books since long before I started doing this sort of thing. Even so, I am a fan. The stories he creates tend to take my favorite things and collide them together in new and interesting ways. The result is often mind-boggling that anyone has this kind of deep knowledge to begin with. That Newman can use that knowledge to this level of prowess… well, that’s why I keep coming back. I’ve followed his character Genevieve Dieudonne through various incarnations from his Jack Yeovil Warhammer novels, his Diogenes Club stories, and his Anno Dracula adventures. Add in my interest in P. J. Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe, Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and my general love of pulp adventures, you’ll quickly understand why Newman ranks as one of my all-time favorite writers. When it comes to unlikely crossovers that somehow work against all odds, classic pulp characters, and parallel universes, Newman is about the best there is.
Now add in the fact that The Phantom of the Opera remains as my favorite classic horror monster, earlier this year I fell in love with the book Trilby, and I practically cut my teeth on the Sherlock Holmes stories. That leads me to this book. Angels of Music is a collection of novellas and short stories originally printed as part of a larger anthology series called Tales of the Shadowmen, a pulp collection that plays on the ideas of the larger Wold Newton Universe. These stories, now collected here, play on the theme of the TV series Charlie’s Angels. In this case, the shadowy Charlie is replaced by our Phantom, Erik, who takes a minor role as the mandatory looming background presence secretly running a detective agency out of the bowels of the Palais Garnier. His Bosley is The Persian, another character straight from Leroux’s classic novel, and the Angels themselves are the Phantom’s own Christine Daaé, Trilby O’Ferrall, and Irene Adler of Sherlock Holmes infamy. Following the idea of storytelling over time, these Angels are interchanged and spotlighted in later stories with new recruits from other pulp and film sources, essentially giving the reader a who’s who of strong, and prominently kickass female characters.
Here’s the lineup of Erik’s Angels, directly from the opening of the book, with source annotations that I tracked down because I could:
Christine Daaé – the Angel of Song (The Phantom of the Opera)
Trilby O’Ferrall – the Angel of Beauty (Trilby)
Irene Adler – the Angel of Larceny (“A Scandal in Bohemia,” Sherlock Holmes)
La Marmoset – the Angel of Light (La Marmoset, The Detective Queen)
Sophy Kratides – the Angel of Vengeance (“The Greek Interpreter,” Sherlock Holmes)
Unorna – the Angel of Magic (The Witch of Prague)
Ayda Heidari – the Angel of Blood (“The Sussex Vampire,” Sherlock Holmes)
Ysabel de Ferre – the Angel of Rapture (The Fourth Witness)
Hagar Stanley – the Angel of Insight (Hagar of the Pawenshop, The Gypsy Detective)
Katharine “Kate” Reed – the Angel of Truth (excised from Dracula, used by Newman in Diogenes Club / Anno Dracula)
Clara Watson – the Angel of Pain (The Torture Garden, as performed at Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol)
Lady Yuki – the Angel of the Sword (Lady Snowblood films)
Gilberte Lachaille – the Angel of Love (Gigi)
Elizabeth Eynsford Hill – the Angel of Many Voices (aka Eliza Doolittle, Pygmalion)
Riolama – the Angel of the Air (Green Mansions)
Alraune ten Brincken – the Angel of Ill Fortune (Alraune)
Olympia – the Clockwork Angel (“The Sandman”)
Thi Minh – the Angel of Acrobatics (Tih Minh, 1918 French film serial, spelled differently in this book)
Of course, part of the fun of reading a story like this is to see if you can spot or track down all of the easter eggs and source material, so I’m not going to spoil it by listing out all of the opponents. Suffice it to say, a lineup of Angels like this requires some seriously cool antagonists to play against.
This collection is five larger stories and an Entr’acte, arranged in chronological order to provide a sense of the passage of time. Because easter eggs aren’t enough, each of these stories stands on its own as a grand pulp adventure, and ultimately the whole is even greater than the sum of its parts. For me, I was pretty much sold just on the Phantom and his first three Angels, to say nothing of my general interest in all things pulp, but the book kept getting better and even more outlandish the further it went. Between my newfound interest in Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol and my already profound respect for the great Orson Welles, it’s like Newman found new ways to fixate my interest at every step. The stories are inventive, the characters pop off the page, and the prose is as brilliant as anything else I’ve read from Newman. If you’re not familiar with his work, this is as good a starting point as any. If you are familiar, odds are you’re a loyal fan, in which case you already know why you need this one.