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Summary

She had the face of a madonna and a heart of dollar bills.

"I came back and searched dizzily under the trailer, muttering the way drunks do, and then I heard it. A shuffling around inside the trailer. The little tramp had knocked me in the head with her Southern Comfort and now she was in there loading up....She didn't know I was alive."

A legend among noir buffs, Chaze's long-lost pulp classic is the dreamlike tale of a man after a jailbreak who meets up with the woman of his dreams - and his nightmares.

Elliott Chaze (1915 - 1990) was an old-school newspaper man who began his journalism career with the New Orleans bureau of the Associated Press shortly before Pearl Harbor. He worked for a time for AP's Denver office after paratrooper service in World War II, and then migrated south to Mississippi where he spent 20 years as a reporter and award-winning columnist. He is the author of several novels.

©1953 Gold Medal Books; Reprinted by Black Mask 2005, 2009 (P)2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic reviews

"An astonishingly well written literary novel that just happened to be about (or roundabout) a crime." ( Oxford American)

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What listeners say about Black Wings Has My Angel

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Built for one thing…

On the run after a prison-break, Tim Sunblade stops off in a cheap motel and hires himself a ten-dollar hooker. But when Virginia shows up, all lavender eyes and sinuous limbs and expensive scent, Tim sees she’s clearly used to a much classier trade. Next day he takes her along with him, telling himself he’ll drop her somewhere when he tires of her. But his fascination with her grows, to say nothing of his lust, and anyway he needs someone to help him with the big job he’s planning. Virginia has her own reasons to get away for a while and doesn’t object at all to the idea of getting rich, so Tim’s plan suits her just fine…

A noir thriller from 1953, apparently the book went out of print for many years and the difficulty of getting hold of it added to its aura as a cult classic. It’s now been back in print for a decade or so, and seems to be pleasing its new readership just as much as its reputation suggested. Noir sometimes works for me and sometimes not, so I was intrigued to give it a try at least, especially since the audiobook narrator, Malcolm Hillgartner, has also been highly praised.

Tim is our narrator and in true noir style we know from the beginning that his story is going to end badly. Virginia is the mystery that keeps the suspense going. Will she betray him, or will she share his downfall? The more time Tim spends with her, the more addicted to her he becomes – and it is an addiction, one he often wishes he could shake, but her looks, her sensuality, even her calculating coldness all exert a growing hold over him, so that he finds he can’t face losing her. But what of her? Is there a heart underneath her hard exterior? Does Tim mean anything to her or does she simply see him as a means to an end? Does she feel any of the lust and passion Tim feels for her, or is she just very good at her profession?

This is undoubtedly noir, but not quite as pitch black as some. Tim has a heart and Virginia is ambiguous enough for us not to be sure till quite late on whether she has too. This gives it a kind of emotional warmth despite their actions – there’s not quite the level of amorality as there is in The Postman Rings Twice, for instance, which is way too dark for me. Although this pair are driven by lust and money, you kinda feel they’re both deeper than that – that perhaps there are reasons they are as they are. I found myself liking them both, despite everything, and that meant I was far more interested in their fate than if I’d wholeheartedly despised them. There’s also a strong feeling that they are both emotionally affected by their actions too, that guilt may not be an altogether foreign emotion to either of them, which isn’t generally the case in the blackest noir, I think.

But it’s certainly noir in that there’s no hope of a happy ending, and the sense of impending tragedy grows strongly in the latter stages. We don’t know what the tragedy will be, exactly, but there’s a kind of inexorable quality to it, as if all things are fore-ordained, and once on the path there’s no way to turn off.

"You’ve never heard a siren until you’ve heard one looking for you and you alone. Then you really hear it and know what it is and understand that the man who invented it was no man, but a fiend from hell who patched together certain sounds and blends of sounds in a way that would paralyze and sicken. You sit in your living room and hear a siren and it’s a small and lonesome thing and all it means to you is that you have to listen until it goes away. But when it is after you, it is the texture of the whole world. You will hear it until you die. It tears the guts out of you like a drill against a nerve and it moves into you and expands."

The writing is great, with rather more literary qualities than a lot of pulp noir – it has more depth of characterisation and a wider focus, so that we see the world these two live in rather than being laser-focused on their lust, greed and crimes, though all those aspects are there too.

I loved it – probably my favourite noir novel, though I admit I haven’t read a lot of the genre. I also loved Malcolm Hillgartner’s narration – he is completely believable as Tim and keeps the emotional level just right, relying on little changes in speed or emphasis to increase the tension as the story moves towards its wonderfully dark climax. And one last bit of praise – isn’t it a wonderful cover? Perfect for the story and the expression on the blonde’s face is exactly Virginia.

"She was a creature of moonlight, crazy as moonlight, all upthrusting radiance and hard silver dimples and hollows, built for one thing and only one thing and perfectly for that."

Great book, great narration – highly recommended!

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Dark hubris -like a lion to a zookeepers thigh

Such beauty in blackness.The ideal Noir read....( And ,so little seen ,as if reversed down a literate cavern,where it sobbed til now).This is a raw blood diamond.Revel in it readers\ listeners.

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Outstanding forgotten Noir

I’d never heard of the author or the book, so I wasn’t expecting much. But this is perhaps the finest noir story outside of Chandler. It’s reminiscent of the Mitchum film “Out of the Past” but actually has a stronger plot. The writing zings, especially on the first two chapters. You can feel the ending approaching from almost the start, but you still don’t know what’s going to happen. Very well read by a completely believable voice for the narrator. Strongly recommended.

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A fine, evocative, tale.

Very enjoyable. Not what I expected, but a fine treat. Well worth giving this a listen.

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great book

loved it as good as Great Gatsby in my opinion sadly unknown until optioned as a film it just goes to show how many great ignored books from the past there must be

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  • John
  • 24-08-14

Guilt..... a deadly emotion !!

Would you listen to Black Wings Has My Angel again? Why?

Definitly. The author actually gives you 2 stories in the book. The story line is engaging.

What did you like best about this story?

the insight that Chaze has into the human psyche. He understands what makes human tick. His story is a study in human frailties.

What does Malcolm Hillgartner bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

His emotion. He does not overplay any part yet conveys every emotion, every nuance, every scene

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

I could have, but took 2 sittings

Any additional comments?

a very solid noir book . A must have in your library !!!

4 people found this helpful

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  • Mr. Eyuz
  • 27-03-22

A Towering Achievement in Any Genre

While many have praised this book as brilliant crime fiction, I’m going to go way out on a limb and declare Black Wings Has My Angel a great novel by any standard, in any genre.

Elliott Chaze’s writing is lean and mean in a way that echoes both Chandler and Camus. Whether describing a landscape or filling in a character profile, he tends to sketch in just the essentials, leaving the rest for the reader to fill in.

Yet for all its economy, Chaze’s literary technique might best be compared to a dense and delicious cake made of many layers. The first layer is a sturdy narrative in which an ex-con undertakes the perfect crime. Next is a layer that explores the psychology of misfits damaged by the ills of mid-20th century America: war, conformity, parochial mores. Then there’s a layer that ventures into Kerouac territory, complete with jazzy road trips, dead-end jobs and candid sexual escapades. Finally, there’s a layer of local color capturing the landscapes of the Deep South and the Mountain West through a Technicolor lens. What more can you ask for?

A (negative) reader review seemed to like nothing about this book except its title. I find this ironic, since in my view, the title—at once wordy and tawdry—is likely to chase away many readers. Yes, Black Wings Has My Angel is classic pulp fiction in the darkest shade of noir, but it is so much more.

The Audible performance of this book is pitch perfect—so good in fact that I did something very rare for me: I listened to it twice.

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  • Avi Stachenfeld
  • 13-11-21

Better as a movie?

Genre pièce. Some intelligence but waaay out of date. Might be better as a movie.

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  • Frank Donnelly
  • 03-11-21

My Favorite Crime Noir That I Have Ever Read

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. “Enjoyed” may be inappropriate. It was haunting and enthralling. The narration by Malcolm Hillgartner was excellent. I read and listened simultaneously. There were numerous times I could not put this down. If you enjoy American Noir give this one a try. Thank You…

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  • PatrickPeQueen
  • 18-10-21

Not bad at all

Found this one on the free list and tried it out.
Rather a noir tale worthy of a decent Black and White movie.
A quick listen that moves right along.
PQ

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  • cynthia reilly
  • 30-04-21

Angels

Speaking of angels, Chaze writes like one. This is a big muscular spectacular book. Unforgettable work from both the author and the narrator.

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  • Michael J Gore
  • 01-01-21

Unsettling

A strange and bizarrely moving novel concerning two people whose love is as weird as the life they share.