‘Angel’ flashback: ‘Love and Death’ (2004) (Book review)

J

eff Mariotte probably didn’t know “Love and Death” (October 2004) would be the last “Angel” novel when he wrote it, but it plays pretty well since it has that status. By Season 4, when this book is set, the likelihood that the general public doesn’t know about vampires and demons was starting to be stretched thin, and “Love and Death” directly addresses this through Night Country radio host Mac Lindley, who encourages his loyal listeners to go to L.A. and kill monsters.

We eventually learn there’s more to Lindley’s situation (and this leads to the Big Bad of the book), but a bunch of rednecks invading L.A. as amateur Slayers makes for great drama. Mariotte sketches out good characterizations of a lot of these guys, and paints a picture of an L.A. where the gridlock – bad during the best of times – is unbearable. It’s easy to see how the city could quickly turn to chaos simply because people are so frustrated by the congestion.

Connor at one point pays lip service to the idea that these vigilantes are on their side, but mostly we see the problems they cause, including harassing Lorne, Connor and Angel in various suspense/action sequences. They are a tremendous annoyance to Angel, but an entertaining one for the reader, particularly Joe Ed, who kills his own friend while trying to kill Angel.

Although Mariotte is the most consistently good and most prolific “Angel” author, I wish he had leaned into the mystery genre even more.

Mariotte also does some good character work with a pair of cops who get trapped in some sort of darkly magickal house where the doors and windows disappear. Gunn tracks down an area expert on the supernatural, and the story behind the haunted land containing the magickal house is “Love and Death’s” highlight. Although Mariotte is the most consistently good and most prolific “Angel” author, I wish he had leaned into the mystery genre even more (“Hollywood Noir” remains his best work in that style).

As “Love and Death” accelerates to its end, there is some genuine tension with Lindley going increasingly crazy on the radio, his prompts for demon-fighters to go to L.A. getting mixed up with a bizarre incantation. But when the mystery elements die out, we’re left with one of those endings where the tension is whether or not our heroes will save the world and survive the fight themselves. The author spends three pages describing the end boss that Angel must fight, and while the description is good, I never doubted that Angel would somehow defeat it.

So it’s a little hard to get through the end of the book, and it’s also strange that Mariotte has nothing for Gunn to do on-page – although the fact that he can’t link up with the rest of the gang does effectively illustrate the L.A. chaos.

Mariotte doesn’t spend a lot of time on characterization for the main cast, and that’s actually a plus here, because all the descriptions of the Gunn-Fred, Angel-Connor and Angel-Wesley rifts in the Season 4 novels had been getting redundant. There were only five Season 4 novels before this one, but every author wrote about these rifts, which is understandable because they are the backbone of the TV season. But of course, tie-in fiction can’t move these threads forward. The “Angel” book series would’ve benefitted tremendously from moving into Season 5, fertile ground for standalone mysteries with the gang having Wolfram & Hart’s resources behind them (and also – Spike!).

It’s a shame that Season 5 got very little spinoff fiction overall – IDW Comics’ early “Angel” stories, which started in 2005 (including some by Mariotte), mostly take place in a pseudo “Season 6” that glosses over the Season 5 cliffhanger. In retrospect, it should’ve told Season 5 standalone stories until Joss Whedon was ready to tell the canonical continuation from the TV cliffhanger in “After the Fall” in 2007.

So there’s no question the “Angel” novels ended too soon in 2004 (the “Buffy” line would get 11 more novels before it was canceled in 2008), but “Love and Death” serves as an appropriate grace note about the place of vampires and demons in the world and how Angel fits into that mix.

Click here for an index of all of John’s “Buffy” and “Angel” reviews.