In retrospect, Anne Rice was way ahead of her time. Imagine the fortune she could be making on books and ancillary properties if she were publishing her Vampire Chronicles in the vampire-crazy 21st-century market. Perhaps it’s to her credit that she got vampires out of her system before the glut, but what she’s pumping out these days is enough to make anybody wish she’d hop back on the bloodsucker bandwagon. Rice returned to her childhood Catholicism with a vengeance in 2004, and since then, she’s been writing “only for the Lord.” And now she’s taken a break from her series on the life of Jesus to produce a thriller about a hit man and his guardian angel. Rice’s preoccupation with matters of conversion and faith pad out this short story into a tiresome historical novel that betrays frustrating glimpses of her old storytelling prowess.
Rice’s first-person narrator is Toby O’Dare, a killer who does the bidding of a mysterious benefactor he calls the Right Man. In a hotel room after completing a job, Toby meets a seraph named Malchaiah, who has a job for him back in 13th-century England. Disguised as a Dominican friar, “Brother Toby” wades into a village lynch mob; a Jewish girl has disappeared, and the Christian population believes her parents killed her as punishment for attending a pageant at the local cathedral. The time-traveling hitman goes from England to Paris and back to perpetrate a pious fraud for the purpose of saving the lives of Norwich’s Jewish community.
Rice was inspired by the ugly history of St. William of Norwich, a 12th-century Christian boy whose death was blamed on Jews committing ritual human sacrifice. And the historic section of the book makes for a decent yarn. But it takes almost half the book to get there—more than a hundred pages of soul-searching, backstory, and tearful conversations about God’s steadfast love of his lost sheep. The book is the first installment in a series called Songs Of The Seraphim, so plenty of ink is spilled on the job description of angels, as well. Angel Time is an unholy mishmash of crime story, detective novel, and second-rate inspirational fiction, but at least a Christian housewife or two will get an education on the horrors of the medieval blood-libel tradition. It’s nowhere near as much fun to be with Rice in heaven instead of hell; a little sin would do her writing a world of good.