Black Wings Has My Angel

At 27, Tim Sunblade has already lived quite a life. He fought in World War II, spent over 2 years in a Japanese prison camp, and escaped from Parchman Penitentiary in Mississippi—a feat during which his fellow inmate Jeepie was killed. After a 6-month-long stint on a drilling rig that came with a good salary and lots of dirt, he’s now ready to put into action a heist that was planned in Parchman. It’s easy, really: Observe an armored car until you know every little thing there is to know about it, its route, and its operators; steal the damn thing and drive it into a trailer; and then drive away with the trailer as quickly as you can. There are just two problems:

  1. This is a 2-person job.
  2. What to do with the trailer and the armored car once you’ve cleaned it out.

How convenient then that the prostitute Tim asks for once he’s washed off the dirt from the rig turns out to be much more beautiful, much more intelligent, and much more ruthless than he had expected. She is also one hell of a driver, so after several days of alcohol-soaked fun, Tim decides to make Virginia his accomplice. He has some doubts about her dependability, especially after she tries to run off with his savings. But after they’ve spent some time camping in the Colorado Rockies—a forced “vacation” to allow the evidence of their latest fight to heal—and find a deserted mine shaft that would make the perfect final resting spot for a trailer and an armored car, Tim knows that things will work out just fine.

They rent a small house in Denver, and Tim finds a job to appear respectable. In his spare time, he follows and observes armored car #12, and it doesn’t take long to find its weakness. The heist goes off as planned. Soon enough the trailer has been deposited in the mine shaft, and Tim (or should I say Kenneth?) and Virginia are living the high life in New Orleans. But then the emotional and psychological strain is starting to take its toll, and before long, Tim and Virginia find themselves back in the Rockies, trying to deal with the outfall of their crimes.

Black Wings Has My Angel… don’t you just love the title? I first saw the book mentioned in connection with Dorothy B. Hughes’ In a Lonely Place, which I enjoyed, and a little research brought continuous praise for Black Wings, most calling this book a noir fiction classic. So how can one resist? It’s a quick read, and it’s a fabulous one. Granted, some of the descriptions of Virginia are typical for a book published in the 1950s, but otherwise great writing and the overall uncertainty of what is going to happen, or rather how it is going to happen, more than make up for that. Pretty much right from the start, it becomes clear that Tim is not a nice guy, but I couldn’t help to also sympathize with him. He was pretty easy to like, despite the fact that he has no qualms killing people. He grew up with an alcoholic father, and he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He fancies himself in love with Virginia, when he doesn’t even really like her, and the distrust between the two characters comes into play beautifully time and time again. The outcome of the heist—and their time as a couple—was clear early on, but the road to get there was still full of suspense and surprises. And the end, well, the end is something else. Let’s just say that I couldn’t have stopped reading even if I had wanted to.

I am not a big reader of this type of book, so my recommendation for you to read this one might not carry that much weight. But by chance I happen to notice that Jacqui has also reviewed this book not too long ago, and since she has read much more noir fiction than I have, you might want to check out what she had to say. And, since I read it for the RIP XII event, you might also want to click here to see what other spooky, suspenseful, gothic, and dark books people are reviewing.

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11 comments

  1. Great review! I already added this to my wishlist when Jacqui reviewed it, so I shall now pop back and shove it up the priority list! It sounds wonderful – I like a bit of old-fashioned noir…

  2. Fabulous review, one that really captures the spirit of the book! It’s quite a ride. As you say, Chaze does a great job in painting Tim in such a way that is virtually guaranteed to elicit the reader’s sympathies. And I can see the link with In a Lonely Place, especially in terms of the backstories of the central protagonists.

    Many thanks for linking to my post, that’s very kind of you. I’m so glad you enjoyed your trip into the dark heart of noir…

    • I’m not sure how I missed your review when you posted it, but the funny thing is that while I was reading, I was thinking you might like this book, and then, when I did a little Internet research before writing my review, your review popped up in the search results. I’m glad you enjoyed the book as much as I did!

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