A KISS BEFORE THE APOCALYPSE by Thomas E. Sniegoski
Tom Sniegoski has had new revelations about angels before A Kiss Before the Apocalypse, but readers of his teen series The Fallen are going to be surprised by Remy Chandler. For one thing, Remy is – as his namesake’s greatest creation, Philip Marlowe, was – a private investigator. Only instead of 1940s Los Angeles and Hollywood, Remy prowls demon-infested alleys and byways of Boston, Massachusetts. Chandler wrote about his city, and Sniegoski writes about his. Both bring those metropolitan areas to life.
Thousands of years ago, Remy – then Remiel – deserted his role as a winged angel and chose to live among the human race. He wanted to know why God favored them above his angels when they were so fallible. Then he fell in love with people because they somehow found the courage and strength to keep going even when things turned out badly.
Sniegoski plies Remy’s background into his story in dollops, doling them out only when necessary. The noir trappings of the story novel stand out especially well because Chandler’s Marlowe work was rife with moral complexities. I loved the way the author played on those private eye novels, constantly seeking out that golden age of writing, then twisting it into bizarre new forms without losing the tale’s integrity.
When a current investigation turns out weirdly, i.e. dead people don’t stay dead, something that doesn’t happen on Earth, Remy puzzles over the events. Then he goes to see his wife in the senior citizen’s care unit where she’s gone to die from old age and cancer.
That relationship, forever young Remy with a woman possibly old enough to be his earthly grandmother, is one of the major cruxes of the story. I just didn’t expect it, and when the author pulled that one out and showed it to the readers, I struggled with it for a time. It would have been much easier to show him married to a young woman and dealing with the fact that he’d be young while she grew older. Instead, we pick up this relationship in its twilight and get quick glimpses of what their lives had been like together.
By the time he reaches his office, Remy knows that something is going on. Although he wasn’t terribly surprised to find the Seraphim appearing in his office, I was. I was even more surprised to discover that they’re looking for the angel of death. I should have figured that one out, given the whole not-dying thing. But Sniegoski keeps piling the surprises and twists on as Remy investigates. As in so many of those private eye novels, Remy finds himself invested in the outcome: if the angel of death has gone missing, dead souls are going to remain trapped in agony on the earth.
And his wife will be one of them.
Sniegoski’s story turns adventurous and violent, but he never strays far from the moral balance he’s set out to disturb and set right in the course of this novel. The action sequences are well thought out and I immensely enjoyed the cast of characters the author lifts from the Bible. But he truly had me with the image of the flaming sword Remy ultimately has to carry into battle. Those stories of the Old Testament are rife with powerful imagery, and angels with flaming swords is one that has stuck with me all my life.
A Kiss Before the Apocalypse is a great read. Not only that, but it introduces one of the coolest canine companions I’ve read about since Einstein in Dean R. Koontz’s Watchers. Sniegoski has more stories in the pipeline concerning Remy Chandler, but you really should start at the beginning.