The Watchers (book, Jon Steele, 2011)
A review from SFX #210.
Author: Jon Steele
Publisher: Bantam Press
Swiss Angel Delight
Let’s get the negatives out of the way. The characters in The Watchers are in a million other books: the naïve whore, the noble fool, the drunken PI, the know-all puppet master. Steele doesn’t manage to transcend their inherent cliché and take them into the purer realm of archetype. Secondly, bits of it don’t make sense, The Watchers blends modern mores and lingo like “way above my pay grade” with the doings of angelic beings marooned on Earth for two and half million years, and has an underwhelming MacGuffin.
Yep, it’s the war in heaven taking place on terra firma. Earth should have been paradise, only the creator has been absent for aeons, and half the angels left behind – whose role it is to guide human souls into their next life – have gone very bad indeed. And right now is the start of the bad ’uns’ next unholy breeding cycle…
Where Steele wins his stars is with atmosphere. His characters are clichéd but marvellously drawn, while his depiction of Lausanne and its cathedral, where much of the action takes place, is excellent. He’s done a ton of research and delivers it deftly, while touches of poetic intensity sit well with moments of sex and real horror. His use of an amnesiac lead, and the ambiguous Swiss detective manipulating him, to tell his story loses him star number five, but it’s pretty damn good as it is. A great first novel.
Did you know?
Jon Steele is a famed American news cameraman, whose memoirs, War Junkie, are regarded as a classic. He lives, unsurprisingly, in Lausanne.