Jeff Mariotte recaptures some of the hardboiled style from “Hollywood Noir” in “Sanctuary” (April 2003), which has a straightforward mystery that all takes place in one night. It’s also an excellent character piece for Fred – marking one of her rare early ventures outside the Hyperion Hotel – even though she spends most of the book chained to a radiator as the kidnap victim that Angel and company must retrieve.
Set very early in Season 3, “Sanctuary’s” action starts at Caritas, Lorne’s titular demon bar with an anti-violence spell. Everyone goes outside to check on the sound of an explosion nearby. But when Fred disappears, Angel and friends realize the explosion and building fire, along with a drive-by shooting by a carful of demons, were a distraction.
Then Mariotte’s hardboiled mystery investigation kicks in. He doesn’t lean into the genre here as much as in “Hollywood Noir,” which is an outright love letter to the genre, but many of the trappings are in place. Gunn and Wesley pound the pavement, looking for anyone with information about a scheme against Angel. Angel himself pounds separate patches of pavement, as well as some demons. Lorne interviews all the patrons of Caritas table by table, trying to re-create what happened. Cordelia researches demons known for using fire as a diversion.
As the puzzle comes together, Mariotte paints a robust picture of the interactions among demon species in Los Angeles – groups with longstanding feuds against each other, and those who have a grudge against Angel. Lorne references the events of “Judgment” (2.1), when Angel accidentally kills a good demon but then tries to make up for it. I briefly wondered if “Sanctuary” would tie in with some event from the TV series where Angel kills another demon he shouldn’t have, thus sparking a revenge plot.
There are some misleads, including an entertaining one where Gunn, Wes and Cordy fight a group of demons before realizing they’re on the same side. But “Sanctuary” is tightly plotted despite the fact that it’s 300-plus pages chronicling one night. The time crunch of needing to find Fred by morning – as per the kidnappers’ demand that Angel commit suicide by sunrise in exchange for Fred’s life – makes this a fast-paced read.
Fred, as we know, undergoes quite a change from hiding in a Pylean cave in Season 2 to becoming a full-fledged contributor to the team as a scientist in Season 5. So Mariotte can’t give her too much of a character arc here, but he nicely shows Fred’s thoughts as she works her way through her situation step by step, like a scientist examining a problem. She’s a damsel in distress in narrative function, but she determines to not sit around waiting to be rescued.
Although it has passages where characters weigh the value of having Angel in the world versus the value of having Fred in the world, “Sanctuary” doesn’t go too deep or get overblown with high stakes. It’s a relatively simple “Angel” novel, but a satisfying one.