Derek Farrell – Death Of An Angel
Published by Fahrenheit Press, paperback £8.95. I bought this book new, direct from the publisher (check out their shop here: https://fahrenheit-press.myshopify.com/). Do also check out my review of the previous novel in the series, Death Of A Devil.
First, the official blurb: A woman is found dead in a London street – the evidence suggests she plummeted to her death from a nearby tower block, but did she fall or was she pushed? And why does she have Danny Bird’s name written on the back of her hand? In the frame for a murder he didn’t commit, London’s self-proclaimed “Sherlock Homo” has no choice but to don his metaphorical deerstalker one more time to prove his innocence and uncover the truth about the tragic death of Cathy Byrne. With the indomitably louche Lady Caz by his side, Danny plunges headlong into a complex investigation while at the same time trying to be a dutiful son to his increasingly secretive parents, and still find the time to juggle his frustratingly moribund love-life.
Each of the Danny Bird series has been richer than the last, and Death Of An Angel is no exception to that, starting with a moving prologue introducing Eddie, and also our victim, who plummets through the sleety night to the ground in front of Eddie. I love the way the sleet turns to angel’s feathers for him in the moments before he sees the woman; so beautiful and so fragile like his mind.
Next we cut to The Marquess Of Queensbury pub (“The Marq”) where Danny Bird is discussing family matters with his brother and sisters. Danny, the youngest, is being gently bullied by the others into unleashing his inner Jessica Fletcher and talking to their parents, who have been acting strangely. After three books watching him build a family from his friends at The Marq, particularly Lady Caroline, aka Caz, it’s interesting to see him with his real, immediate family – it’s altogether more personal, more intimate, somehow.
Their conversation is rudely interrupted by a couple of uniformed police officers looking to take Danny in to answer some questions: How well does he know Cathy Byrne? Not at all. So why does she have The Marq’s phone number in her mobile phone and his name written on her hand? And oh, by the way, she jumped from her ninth floor balcony and is dead. The cops say there’s no suggestion it wasn’t suicide, but Danny and DI Frank Reid for very different reasons want to know more about the death.
Danny also agrees to look into another apparent suicide, of Mehmet Aksoy, the husband of a university friend of his lawyer, Dot. There’s a possible link with a newspaper cutting about a missing banker, too. “Sherlock Homo” rides again, with a fistful of loose ends and few details that make sense – well, not yet, anyway, but if you have read any of the earlier novels, you’ll know that Danny has a knack of recognising the whole jigsaw picture from a couple of corners and a few scattered pieces in the middle.
Danny and Caz go undercover as cleaners where Cathy worked, an apartment block so exclusive most of the owners have never set foot in their property, but if they ever do and something goes wrong, there’s a cosy lounge in the basement that doubles as a panic room. Woven into the plot is some sharp commentary on the gentrification of parts of London which is pushing out locals and working-class people in favour of property bought by City bankers and overseas businesspeople via less-than-transparent corporate entities (Caz’s description of the apartments as “concrete money-boxes” is spot on). Crime fiction is a great place to find discussion of social issues, and this is one that will resonate with many people.
The undercover cleaners operation throws up some delightful barbs about interior design choices, and several interesting encounters that spark intrigue and investigatory synapses alike. And then a mysterious phone call leads the two to a building site in the dead of night, and an unpleasant discovery…
There’s a whole lot going on here, including bank fraud and psycho villains and family worries, but don’t worry if you feel a little lost, for there is eventually a gorgeously Agatha Christie-esque scene, where the participants are stuck in a locked room (with drinks and snacks) while Danny joins the dots between the seemingly disparate plot strands and presents the finished picture to DI Reid to deal with.
But while the denouement is punchy and unveils the ruthless and the vicious and the pain they inflict, it’s the final pages that hit me the hardest. Farrell has poured his heart into this scene and it spills out from the pages into the reader til there’s a lump in the throat and liquid in the eyes. It is beautiful and moving both in terms of what is on the page and what it provokes in the reader.
Caz may have a problem with the nylon tabard provided by the cleaning firm, but something I love about this series is that there is no fuss or patronising comments about meeting and dealing with ordinary people – residents of tower blocks who make ends meet with three cleaning jobs are created with dignity and treated with respect by Caz and Danny. I’ve said before that no-one loves their characters like Farrell does, and I’ll add that few people write working-class people as accurately and respectfully as he does, frequently focussing his plots on their lives and troubles (albeit with a few added deaths and dodgy deals).
Meanwhile, the wit, fun and snappy comments – and the delight that is Caz’s Mary Poppins-esque handbag – remain, but are toned down in favour of greater depth in a novel that has a more assured feel. There is more tension, more grit, and some serious danger to go alongside the serious themes. This is the book I’ve been waiting for – the one that shows the author finally believes in their skills, believes that they are creating something worthwhile. In short, Farrell is becoming the writer he always promised to be. The fifth Danny Bird novel, Death At Dukes Halt, is coming out very shortly and I have a feeling it’s going to be a bloody brilliant read.
Derek Farrell is the author of five novels and one novella in the Danny Bird series, all published by Fahrenheit Press. The books have been described as “Like The Thin Man meets Will & Grace”, “Like MC Beaton on MDMA”, and – by no less an expert than Eric Idle – as “Quite Fun”. Derek’s jobs have included burger dresser, bank teller, David Bowie’s paperboy, and investment banker, and he has lived and worked in New York, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Prague, Dublin, Johannesburg and London. He’s married to the most English man on the planet and lives in West Sussex. They have no goats, chickens, children or pets, but they do have every Kylie Minogue record ever made.