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Black Wings Has My Angel (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – January 19, 2016
"The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10 comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel, The Lying Game. Pre-order today
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"[W]hat remains unforgettable is [Chaze’s] lovers’ cat-and-mouse relationship, as high-voltage as the one depicted in James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. Everything — murder, betrayal, self-sacrifice, great physical and psychological suffering — ultimately comes to seem trivial compared with the visceral intensity connecting Tim and Virginia.” —Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
“[An] underappreciated hard-boiled masterpiece...The novel features everything we've come to love about noir crime fiction. The dialogue is crackling, stylized and often funny….Chaze's characters are more memorable than you often find in hard-boiled fiction….What makes Black Wings Has My Angel truly great is Chaze's writing, which is simple but elegant...Chaze's gift with words, combined with a plot that moves quickly toward its brutal, startling conclusion, makes Black Wings Has My Angel a trip worth taking for anybody with a taste for the darker side of crime fiction.” —Michael Schaub, NPR Books
“Probably the most cinematic story that’s never been filmed.” —Peter Lewis, Medium
“The exquisite writing is surprisingly contemporary, which makes it hard not to get sucked into this violent, vintage world…[Chaze] clearly knew the power of a good story, but more importantly, he had the style, in spades, to tell it with. This demonic artifact is the real deal; with its reemergence, fans of both pulp and literary fiction have reason to rejoice.” —Molly Boyle, Pasatiempo
"Black Wings Has My Angel is an indisputable noir classic, arguably the best of all the crime novels published by Gold Medal during its glory years...The details of the crime and its aftermath are vividly described, and the love-hate relationship between Sunblade and the woman and the demons in both that lead to their downfall are masterpieces of dark-side character development...Elliott Chaze was a fine prose stylist, witty, insightful, nostalgic, and irreverent, and a first-class storyteller." --Bill Pronzini
“Chaze was an electrifying hard-boiled prose stylist. There was clearly a humorous glint in his eye when he wrote, though he never allows the sleaze to get out of hand or undercut his story’s existential drift or its Cain-like fatalism.” —Graham Fuller
"Chaze is known in pulp circles for his flawless novel Black Wings Hath My Angel, which many people feel is the single best novel Gold Medal published during its heyday." --Ed Gorman
About the Author
Elliott Chaze (1915–1990) was born in Mamou, Louisiana, and attended Washington and Lee, Tulane, and the University of Oklahoma before joining the New Orleans bureau of the Associated Press. He served in the army during the Second World War and was stationed in Japan in the early days of the American occupation, an experience that informed his first novel, The Stainless Steel Kimono (1947). After returning to the United States and living for a time in Denver, Chaze moved to Mississippi, where he would spend the rest of his career as a reporter, columnist, and city editor at the Hattiesburg American. In all, Chaze wrote nine novels, including Goodbye Goliath, Wettermark, and Tiger in the Honeysuckle, and contributed articles and short stories to Life, Reader’s Digest, The New Yorker, Redbook, Collier’s, and Cosmopolitan.
Barry Gifford has written fiction, nonfiction, poetry, screenplays, and librettos, and has contributed to many publications, including The New Yorker, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Brick, Film Comment, and The New York Times. His film credits include Wild at Heart, Perdita Durango, Lost Highway, City of Ghosts, Ball Lightning, and The Phantom Father. Among his most recent books are Sailor & Lula: The Complete Novels, Imagining Paradise: New and Selected Poems, The Roy Stories, The Up-Down, and Writers.
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Top customer reviews
His plan is to head west (isn’t that the classic American criminal’s destination—the wide open spaces?). Virginia’s look and demeanor suggest she’s not just a hotel tramp, and eventually he learns she’s on the lam herself, fleeing the New York City cops.
The book is full of sly dialog. When Tim discovers her call-girl past, Virginia tells him she used to “go with” various Army officers, who were always talking about “the big picture.” “Do I make it clear, Tim? About what is the big picture?” she asks. “You make it clear that your wartime activities were not on the enlisted level.”
Virginia is accustomed to rolling in dough, literally, and more than a bit money-mad, so she encourages Tim’s plan to rob an armored car in Denver and dispose of it in an abandoned mine shaft they’ve found in the Rockies. Flush with their cash, they hit the road again until a drive through a small town turns out to be a big mistake.
It’s a first-person narrative, and Chaze has captured the voice of Sunblade terrifically well. A bit bemused by life’s twists and turns, but resigned to them. Loving and hating Virginia in fairly equal amounts and never really trusting her. Too much whiskey and too many cigarettes.
In the introduction to this reissue. Barry Gifford calls Black Wings a gem that still sparkles, and though author Chaze wrote several other novels, none of them stack up to it. A New Orleans native, Chaze worked for the Associated Press, served in the Second World War, then settled in Mississippi. He lived a time in Denver as well, which is perhaps why the book’s locations are so well drawn.
He working in various capacities for The Hattiesburg American, for a decade as its city editor. His newspaper training shows in the economy and precision of his prose, and even when events are dire, the narrator’s detached view allows his wry humor to surface. Though Sunblade doesn’t often dwell on Life’s Larger Questions, I was struck by this observation: “Life is a rental proposition with no lease.” That’s exactly the kind of thing Tim Sunblade would say.
I don’t give very many books five stars, but in this one, every word is perfect.
The book was originally published in 1953, and is set in early 1950's Louisiana and Colorado. Timothy Sunblade is an escaped convict planning a major heist, but he needs a partner. Much to his surprise, he finds one in Virginia, the "ten dollar tramp" that the bellhop brings to his hotel room. I won't give away any plot details, but I will say this book is up there with the best of Jim Thompson, and is even more haunting in some ways. If you're looking for a really good read, this is it.
Tim Sunblade, the name he takes on as his tribute to a love of the great outdoors, is not only a big hunk of a good-looking tough-guy but a World War Two vet who served in the Pacific and still carries a piece of metal lodged in his skull. Tim is also an escaped convict from a Mississippi penitentiary, having been sent there in the first place after a tongue-thrashing by an FBI agent about making off with other people’s cars.
Picture a man in 1953 who slapped down his quarters and dimes at the corner drug story for a copy of this recently published Gold Medal paperback. Chances are such a man was himself a war veteran and knew the intensity and toughness of battle and might even have had his own brush with the law. All this to say, a reader back then felt an immediate kinship with big, tough, adventurous Tim Sunblade when he spoke to men as intimates, addressing them directly, as in “Virginia had told me – did I tell you her name was Virginia?" and "You hear and read about legs. But when you see the really good ones, you know the things you read and heard where a lot of trash."
Although we discover Tim’s real name along the way, no compelling reason to mention it here since Tim would like nothing more than to shove his past identity in an incinerator, watch it go up in smoke and be done with it forever. However, it is worth mentioning, wartime and jail-time gave Tim added layers of toughness beyond the likes of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Hammett’s Sam Spade and Cain’s Walter Huff. And since so much of noir revolves around violence, crime and the rough and tumble, this is one good reason to judge Black Wings Has My Angel, by far Elliott Chaze’s best novel, as a king of noir.
Looking at the bigger picture, there’s no question all the returning veterans with their wartime experiences made a serious impact on American society and Tim Sunblade gave voice to what these men faced as civilians in postwar America. And if men supporting a wife and kids by working a dead-end job at the local factory or office or warehouse couldn’t have their own Tim Sunblade-style adventures at least they could read Chaze’s novel and live through Sunblade vicariously. Additionally, Black Wings can be read as a keen social commentary on the state of how American character and mythology played itself out during the 1950s in the home of the brave.
Right up front in Chapter 3 Mississippi born and bred Tim gives us a little foreshadowing by getting down to some good old boy Southern philosophizing, telling us how facing death at his twenty-seven years isn’t that much different from dying as an old man since life, real life, is all about forgetting all the junk and living and remembering the delicious moments, and he has had plenty of delicious, luscious moments with Virginia. In this way, the stark reality and blackness of death coats every page we read from this point forward like ugly on an ape (cliché, I know, but in Tim's case it works).
Tim Sunblade is a rebel with a cause and his rebellion is against staleness, routine and depending on anyone other than himself. Ah, the American myth of the self-made man, standing without any props, standing strong and tall. Here are Tim’s reflection on his knock-out, sexy babe as he speeds along the highway under an open sky: “I was all for dumping her along the way in a day or so. Now I didn’t know for sure, but I still thought I would, because a woman had no place in my plans.” Even as Tim’s heart pounds with more and more love for Virginia, all the rest of him screams for boundless freedom.
Oh, Virginia! You femme fatale! Tim’s gorgeous lady is a study in contrasts, as refined and elegant as Lauren Bacall but with a wild-crazy-mad streak a mile long. Here she is after a successful big-time, masterful robbery: “She was scooping up handfuls of the green money and dropping it on top of her head so that it came sliding down along the cream-colored hair, slipping down along her shoulders and body. She was making a noise I never heard come out of a human being. It was a scream that was a whisper with a laugh that was a cry. Over and Over. The noise and the scooping. The slippery, sliding bills against her rigid body.”
Interestingly, it was exactly the above scene that made the deepest impression on prepubescent Jean-Patrick Manchette, the author who would revitalize French crime fiction in the 1970s and have his slim, athletic, fetching thirty-year-old Aimée Joubert in Fatale take a bath with her own stolen bills. Black Wings, a serious novel with serious influence, and New York Review Books (NYRB)'s republication provides a great service in bringing this classic to a wider audience. The NYRB edition also includes a colorful introductory essay by Barry Gifford.
“Virginia was in bed, all frou-froued up in a pink robe with some kind of white fur around the collar. The fur was so silky the air-conditioning made it move. She was eating a thick cube of a kind of candy they call Heavenly Hash in New Orleans, and now and again she took a straight raw sip of bourbon and turned the page of her book.” Did I mention greed, gluttony, lust, freedom and thrills? Black Wings is dripping with it. And since Virginia is such an huge part of each and every chapter, Elliott Chaze’s two hundred page angel is supercharged, a book that can be enjoyed nowadays by both men and women (I mention this since men were definitely the target audience back in 1953).
Most recent customer reviews
GREAT STORY, GREAT DIALOGUE, GREAT CHARACTERS, GREAT ENDING.
FROM START TO FINISH.Read more