Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday, or maybe Wednesday? This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.
Have you ever looked at a noun without an adjective, and just seethed with anger? Have you ever wanted to rub all the punctuation out of a book until reading it out loud sounds like the Sardaukar throat singing from Dune? Well, this is your book. The Vigilance of the Angels is a smelling-burnt-toast simulator by Doctor Erik Christopher Wimbley-Brodnax.
Our story takes place in a fictional town called Prize County, in Georgia. That’s right; we’re back on my home turf, baby! And wouldn’t you know it, I have comments about Prize County’s geography that absolutely none of you asked for. The fact that the town and county are used interchangeably is actually fine. We do that a lot because we can’t read. More important is the fact that it’s described as thirty miles west of Atlanta, but one day’s ride from the mountains. So this must be the type of west that’s straight north, again a common and understandable error in Georgia. The bigger problem is that this places Prize County smack dab in Cherokee County.
For those who don’t know, Cherokee County competes with Jimmy Savile’s rec room for the title of Most Cursed Place on Earth. Just to give you an idea, Cherokee County has an official language. So when you go there, you’d better not be some interloper who fails to assimilate to the local culture. Guess what Cherokee County’s official language is. Go on, guess. Did you guess Cherokee? I’m sorry, that’s not correct. Cherokee County is also the place Fuckface is from (whose name I will not repeat), the man who killed eight women, including six Asian women (whose names should not be forgotten). Not to suggest that Atlanta proper has no history of violence and bigotry, but when the identity of the shooter was made public, the universal reaction in the city was “Fucking of course.”
You might think a racist murder spree would be a curious thing to bring up on a comedy blog about books. But murder and race, even some pretty uncomfortable depictions of racism, are central to The Vigilance of the Angels. In fact, this is one of those rare occasions when I have to include a trigger warning to anyone brave enough to follow the trail of breadcrumbs back to Doctor Erik Christopher Wimbley-Brodnax, PhD’s work. I don’t put trigger warnings on reviews of rape fantasies, but this book gets one for sure: The Vigilance of the Angels includes frequent use of the N-word and other racially hostile language. Like, a lot. Like, the n key on this guy’s keyboard is mirror smooth. We’ll get into how race is dealt with in the story, but you should know that up front.
Doctor Erik Christopher Wimbley-Brodnax, Esquire’s fictional version of Cherokee County circa 1908 is a small, idyllic town of Black farmers centered around a store, a church, and most importantly a school. There is one White family in town, formerly headed by Lazlo Keper, up until the moment of his murder. Deputy Brooks is tasked with solving the murder, and the gravity of this task weighs heavily on his shoulders. Not only was Lazlo a formidable person in life, but the longer it takes to solve his murder, the greater the risk of White vigilantes coming to do Brooks’s job for him. And in proper Cherokee County style, they’ll probably leave a bunch of random bodies in their wake and blame it on “having a bad day.”
The narrative jumps back and forth between Lazlo’s perspective as he lives through the Civil War and comes to settle in Prize County, and Brooks’s perspective as he tries to solve the case with the help of his girlfriend Sophoronia. In the Lazlo chapters, the perspective character is complex, with a lot of hidden nuance. But he’s kind of a jerk, at one point using the Civil War as a smokescreen to bail on an ex. And of course these chapters are… unflinching in the way they present a turn-of-the-century White American’s view of race. The Brooks chapters are a little more upbeat, with quirky relationship drama and walks through the pastoral landscape. But that’s also the part of the book where the Klan threatens to show up, so I guess it’s all pretty dark. Actually, I’m remembering now the parts that aren’t trying to be tragedy are some of the parts I enjoyed the least. There’s an extended sequence (and in this book, the word “extended” is not used loosely, see below) in which Lazlo buys and resells a case of Coca Cola, and it is interminable. The biographical and detective stories mesh reasonably well together, though neither one really succeeds on its own terms.
The thing that really drags The Vigilance of the Angels down, and probably the only thing anyone will notice if they flip through the first few pages, is the writing style. Doctor Erik Christopher Wimbley-Brodnax, Notary Public, writes in what I would call “Thesaurus Gothic.” If you’ve ever read the classic Eye of Argon, you know what I mean (and if you haven’t, look for that to feature in future installments). Entire paragraphs are subdivided by nothing more than commas, with every noun embedded in a phalanx of adjectives. Parentheticals that interrupt a sentence mid phrase? Lots of those. Adverbs on adverbs, describing how adverbially the adverbs adverb? Oh yeah. This book’s only review on Amazon says “I believe the author is trying too hard.” Here’s one of my favorite sentences: “[He had to bring them] Some news that might relieve them of the ghastly pain that stuck in their chests and caused racking, heavy heaving sighs to emit from their mouths, drawing as they did all of the body’s oxygen up through and past the throat and carrying with it heart wrenches that were as powerful as the anvil in the local smithy.” literally the entire book is like this.
As luck would have it, I have met Illinois National Guard Honorary Lieutenant Colonel Doctor Erik Christopher Wimbley-Brodnax in real life. I doubt he remembers me, but the point is I feel entitled to stalk him on social media and see if this is just how his mind works. And wouldn’t you know it, he knows no other mode of communication. He “midwifes dreams” for a living, which took me a couple tries to parse. Multiple students on professor rating sites complain of “pretentious and condescending” courses. In case it isn’t obvious, I fully support this. Creators who commit to a character in all aspects of their lives will always earn my respect. And the man’s clearly ahead of the curve. Everyone has a coherent personal brand these days. It’s all about what personality you can sell. Tom Brady is out here telling people to eat five avocados a day and getting away with it. It turns out, all those cult of personality documentaries were small business webinars the whole time. Shine on, Eurovision Song Contest Third Runner-up Doctor Erik Christopher Wimbley-Brodnax, shine on. And to anyone interested in diving into this book yourselves, I would say it is unquestionably better than its first impression. The verbosity slacks off a bit over time, or maybe I just developed an immunity. And while there isn’t much to the plot, it does hit all the beats a detective novel needs to hit. I would recommend it to anyone with a high tolerance for cringe, on the grounds that you’re not going to find a lot of books that deal with these issues in exactly this way. I say this a lot, but The Vigilance of the Angels is definitely different. It’s three dollars on Kindle.
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