Too Much Hines, Too Few Angels
Review of Angels of the Flood by Joanna Hines.
Angels of the Flood is the kind of book that the word “potboiler” was invented to describe. I probably shouldn’t be amazed that Simon & Schuster gave Hines a contract for this, um, work, but — color me naive — I am. Full of the kind of clichés of Italian culture that you’d expect from someone trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator, this book can satisfy only those readers for whom fiction has essentially the same function as a bowl of potato chips.
Dialogue isn’t Hines’ forte, and the conversations here (esp. when she’s trying to render Italian in English) are decidedly on the trite side. What’s worse, the plot is, in a word, unbelievable. Though the early pages may hook you with their promise of an intriguing mystery to be unraveled (Hines suggests that forged paintings, an art restorer with a tragic past, and a not-entirely-explained death might have something to do with the story she’s telling; they don’t), you will be tempted to hurl this book out the window when the “secret” is ultimately revealed.
I bought Angels of the Flood in large part because (I’ll confess) I got hooked on the set-in-Italy format after Angels and Demons (which this book does not, in its wildest dreams, resemble), and I thought Hines might actually have done some research into the Florence/Pisa flood of 1966 or into art restoration. But in turns out she didn’t. You learn that museums in Florence were filled with mud when the flood waters receded and that volunteers used talcum powder to absorb water from the walls of buildings — which is the sort of colorful “detail” you’ll find if you spend about 10 minutes researching the flood on the internet.
Missing is any real sense of “setting”; the book unravels (rather than develops) in and around Florence, but aside from the usual banalities about “beauty” and “art” and “skies where you can see the stars,” you could be in Reykjavík for all it matters that the book is set in Italy. Similarly, the fact that the main character is an art restorer is likewise an utter coincidence; Hines could just as well have made her a plumber. Characterizations are daubed in with a trowel, and I’m not sure why the Italian Anti-Defamation League isn’t burning this book for its stereotypical, sixteenth-of-an-inch-deep representations of Italians.
All in all, a flood of disappointment. I’d like my money back.