Top critical review
Interesting Ideas; Slipshod Execution
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on May 19, 2014
Jace Daniel has a number of good ideas in his novel, "Under Angels," in fact, probably too many ideas for a novel this length. He also is obviously inspired by graphic novels and consciously tries to write this book in the style of a graphic novel. When he tries to combine all his ideas into a pseudo-graphic novel, the result is an inconsistent, slipshod book.
The story takes place at two different times, but the shifting temporal setting only becomes apparent after a few chapters. During World War II, Pete Durante, a crossword puzzle buff, is assigned to keep guard over the city of Los Angeles during the early days of the war, when a Japanese attack was a major concern. He is part of the K-9 Corps, working first with Dash and then with Dash's son Shadow. They patrol a series of secret tunnels that go underneath the entire city. Soon, because of his skill with word puzzles, he is recruited to serve as a codebreaker, trying to decipher Nazi messages.
Other sections of the book take place in the present day, as Pete and Shadow still patrol the now abandoned tunnels, doing... well, the book never really makes clear what they're doing for the most part. However, as during World War II, Pete and Shadow, now accompanied by a man called Mag, are still working for a mysterious character named Rip Greamer, who recruited him for some type of secret project near the end of the war. Not much seems to have changed since the war other than the fact that Pete and Mag have the ability to get shot bunches of times and not suffer as a result.
As you might guess, there are supernatural forces at play here, and, to its credit, the overall storyline does make sense by the end of the book. However, the plot is driven over and over by annoying logical lapses and inconsistencies, which make it difficult for readers to accept the book's various premises. Obviously, a book like this requires a willingness to accept the supernatural forces described here, but they act in a manner that seems excessively petty and unworthy of the time spent interacting with Pete. Further, we are asked to believe Pete and company can crack the toughest codes both the Germans and the supernatural forces can create, but the examples provided are nothing more than basic anagramming and word play... amusing answers to Sunday puzzles but not the type of intricate cryptography that has been used in World War II and beyond.
Author Daniel also tries to mimic the style of the graphic novel, and the results are more annoying than enlightening or entertaining. There are dozens of photos in the book, mostly crude, poorly framed shots that duplicate the verbal descriptions, such as a picture of a long, dimly lit corridor in a chapter in which Pete is walking down a long, dimly lit corridor. Daniel also likes to juice up the story by writing in all caps such highly descriptive phrases as "KABOOM KABOOM KABOOM or "POP POP POP."
Daniels even manages to flub his most imaginative idea, his choice of Shadow as narrator. A couple of the early chapters are very effective, because they are told from Shadow's point of view. However, when that choice becomes unwieldy later in the book because of a need to depict Pete's thoughts or events when Shadow isn't present, Daniel drops the canine narrative without explanation.
I selected this book (I received it for free as a promotion) because I was intrigued by the premise. Daniel has done his research on the Los Angeles tunnels and World War II codebreaking, and he provides a number of interesting tidbits of information. He also has some quite emotional scenes involving Pete and his family that are very effective. However, I found myself getting distracted, annoyed, and confused by Daniel's storytelling style too often for me to enjoy the book as a whole. Daniel showed me enough to indicate that he is a talented writer. Now, he needs to decide if he's writing a novel of words or a graphic novel and draft it accordingly. Once he does so and once he makes sure that what he's describing is plausible within the bounds of the type of book he's writing, he's likely to crack the code of becoming a successful author.