In his novella, “An Occupation of Angels”, Tidhar presents us with an alternative 1980s in which the end of the Second World War came about through the intervention of Archangels who manifested above the battlefields and occupied sites across the world. They are not, however, the beings of moral light that one might assume, serving their own interests and balancing the world powers.
In this gritty Cold War caper with angels, the Archangels begin to be assassinated and it quickly becomes clear that some shadowy figure or organisation is orchestrating the killings, with agents planted in the security forces of several major powers. Our tale follows Killarney, a British agent tasked with hunting down a potential defector who she believes may hold the key to the mystery. She is a good, solid first-person protagonist, and it is a testament to Tidhar’s characterisation of her as a hard-bitten undercover agent that, while we sympathise with her greatly, we never truly learn that much about her. Her detachment to herself extends to her regarding her body as “the organism” – which admittedly I found to be a little off-putting. Likewise with her stream-of-consciousness manifested in run-on sentences – although this is a personal foible, and the technique works well in some places to convey the fast pace of the action.
It is a premise which in the hands of another could risk become silly or ridiculous, but as in HebrewPunk Tidhar is generally able to keep it serious, at least until towards the end, where the gritty “Tinker-Tailor” vibe of the first half of the novel merges into that of a James Bond/Indiana Jones mash-up – not that this is a bad thing, although the ending Tidhar provides, for me, ends up providing more questions than answers. Here Tidhar occasionally falls prey to the “deus ex machina” that he was prone to at times in HebrewPunk; yet in a story of wars in heaven on earth, one suspects that this is hard to avoid.
Tidhar once again provides a fun “what-if” tale by playing with Judeo-Christian mythology in a gritty modern setting. Definitely worth picking up for an afternoon’s entertainment.