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Literature / Angels of Music

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Towards the end of the seventies—that colourful, hectic decade of garish clothes, corrupt politics, personal excess and trivial music—three girls were sent to the Paris Opéra.

Angels of Music is a 2016 novel by Kim Newman. It transposes the premise of Charlie's Angels into a 19th-century Massive Multiplayer Crossover, depicting a detective agency founded in the 1870s by a secretive genius who lives beneath the Paris Opera House, with his protegée Christine as one of the founding agents alongside Trilby O'Ferrall and Irene Adler.

The novel is divided into five "Acts", each depicting an adventure from a different period of the Opera Ghost Agency's operation and featuring a different line-up of Angels. (Later Angels include Elizabeth Eynsford Hill, Gilberte Lachaille, Sophy Kratides, a vengeful Japanese lady named Yuki, and Newman's own Kate Reed, among others of more obscure origins.) There is also one shorter story, described as an "entr'acte" (the term for a piece of music written to be played in the intermission between acts of an opera).

  • Act I: The Marriage Club (1870s). A number of prominent men have been acting uncharacteristically after recently taking young and beautiful wives of obscure origins. What role is played by the socialite Countess Cagliostro, and the mysterious works of Monsieur Coppélius and Signor Spallanzani?
  • Act II: Les Vampires de Paris (1880s). A diplomat has been murdered, and his body drained of blood. Popular opinion is that a vampire did it, possibly the mysterious caped figure lately seen haunting the rooftops of the city.
  • Entr'acte: The Case of Mrs Norton. A former Angel returns to the Agency, this time as a client seeking assistance with a difficulty involving her husband.
  • Act III: Guignol (1890s). There has been a rash of disappearances in a neighborhood where a new theatre has opened, a theatre that specialises in graphic and gory depictions of murder and torture. It's all just a show... isn't it?
  • Act IV: The Mark of Kane (1900s). The Agency's commission, should they choose to accept it, is to take down a tycoon from a barbaric nation who plans to set off a war between the superpowers in order to bolster his own country and his own business interests.
  • Act V: Deluge (1910). As a Great Flood throws Paris into disarray, an old enemy strikes directly at the Agency. One of the Angels is not who she seems, one of the Angels is not to be trusted. Is this the last stand of the Phantom of the Opera and the Angels of Music?

Angels of Music features the same version of Irene Adler as Newman's earlier The Hound of the D'Urbervilles, and has guest appearances by several characters from the Diogenes Club series; Newman has confirmed that all three are intended to "loosely" share the same setting.

Contains examples of:

  • Abominable Auditorium: The Grand Guignol is a dark theatre in Paris which showcases bloody shows and satire for the audience; though initially suspected of foul play, it's really just a deeply controversial horror show that's otherwise perfectly above board... or at least it is during work hours. Unknown to all, the theatre has been taken over by the villainous Red Circle who use it to stage late-night snuff performances for their sick amusement while Guignol himself is Forced to Watch. Ironically, it ends up being brought down with direct assistance from the Phantom of the Opera himself.
  • Adaptational Badass: Sort of a necessity, since the stories are all action based, while many of the works the original characters came from were not. For certain characters (like Gigi and Eliza) it's explained as tutelage from the Persian and lessons from Erik.
  • Adaptational Villainy: To an extent. None of the villains are exactly nice people in the original works, but some of them are much worse here. Most clearly for the murderer in "Les Vampires de Paris", whose penchant for elaborate revenge never went beyond embarrassing but basically harmless pranking in the original work.
  • All Part of the Show: Invoked in "Guignol"; during a public performance to drum up publicity for the Théâtre des Horreurs, the performers abduct one of the Angels in a way that leaves the crowd believing it's part of the act.
  • Back for the Finale: "Deluge" features several former Angels returning to help the current Angels defeat a conspiracy that turns out to be led by most of the surviving bad guys from the earlier Acts.
  • Batman Parody: "Les Vampires de Paris" reinvents Dr Falke from Die Fledermaus as a vengeful crusader in a bat costume, with a variety of bat-shaped weapons and gadgets.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: In the interlude, Irene Adler is convinced her husband has some kind of dark secret. It's revealed that she convinced herself of this "fact" to justify leaving him because she can't bear living an ordinary married life.
  • Canon Welding: The depiction of Irene Adler and Kate Reed suggests that the book is set in the same universe as Newman's Diogenes Club and The Hound of the D'Urbervilles stories. In fact, Sebastian Moran is seen at the French villa in "The Mark of Kane", where he's vacationing at the end of the latter.
  • Chained to a Railway: In "The Mark of Kane", the original Dastardly Whiplashes, Raymond Owen/Mr Koerner (from The Perils of Pauline) and Perry Bennett/the Clutching Hand (from The Exploits Of Elaine), have an off-page discussion about how this never works out for them.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Played with in "Guignol", with an actual gun. Several pages are spent on Kate Reed acquiring a revolver to make up for her lack of martial arts skills compared to the other Angels; almost immediately, she is abducted by the villains, losing her newly-obtained gun in the process. Her skill with firearms does play a role in the denouement, but she needs to steal one of the bad guys' guns first; her own gun is never seen again.
  • Darker and Edgier: Compared to some of the works that characters are drawn from, in particular the use of characters from light operettas like Die Fledermaus and The Merry Widow (not to mention Giovanni Jones!) in "Les Vampires de Paris".
  • Deadly Prank: In "Les Vampires de Paris", a group of students prank one of their friends by tricking him into thinking that his girlfriend is a vampire and has killed them all. To their horror, he reacts swiftly and decisively by finding a sharp piece of wood and staking her before any of them have a chance to stop him. He subsequently murders each of them in revenge.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: "The Marriage Club" opens "towards the end of the seventies"—by which it means the 1870s, not The '70s, but the scene-setting paragraph highlights the similarities between the two decades. The opening of "Les Vampires de Paris" does the same with The '80s.
  • Eagleland:
    • Irene Adler's American nationality is very low key in the Sherlock Holmes story she originally appears in; here she has a pronounced Noo Joisey accent (when she doesn't try to hide it), learned to shoot in a Wild West show, and wears a cowgirl costume to a masquerade ball.
    • Charles Foster Kane, decidedly Boorish. He's a Fat Bastard war profiteer tycoon who buys up European towns and turns them into tacky resorts with adjacent fast food restaurants (including Burgher Kane).
  • Eloquent in My Native Tongue: Madame van Helsing is a comical figure being, with her strangeness of syntax (similar to her husband) when French she is speaking and her pedantic insistence that not existing are vampires. When they switch to German, which is closer to her native Dutch, she gets her point across much better.
  • Equal-Opportunity Offender: It's noted of a performance at the Théâtre des Horreurs that "the programme seemed calculated to offend everyone – Catholics (especially Jesuits), Protestants (especially Freemasons), Jews (no surprises there), atheists and freethinkers, conservatives, moderates, radicals..."
  • Expy: Erik to Charlie and the Persian for John Bosley of Charlie's Angels.
  • Fixing the Game: In "The Mark of Kane", Kane has set up a casino where all of the games are rigged. He plans to use it to secretly distribute funds to his Legion of Doom to allow them to put in motion their various schemes that will tip Europe into war. The Persian and the Angels re-fix the games so that all of the cash flows back to the casino. Needless to say, this does not go down well with the collected fanatics, zealots and madmen, who now think that Kane is trying to humiliate them and rip them off, and start extracting suitable vengeance.
  • Garage Band: a period-appropriate variant in Le Gang des Schubert, a band of unruly opera-wannabes consisting of Giovanni Jones, Dr. Falke, and Anatole Garron (from the 1941 Phantom of the Opera film). Fittingly, they disbanded after a falling out over a girl. That is, a girl they killed who may or may not have been a vampire.
  • It Will Never Catch On:
    • When Kate Reed visits the Opera House's armoury, she's offered pearl-handed revolvers that look like they could have belonged to Anne Oakley, and reflects that Oakley's life would be an absurd subject for musical theatre.
    • General Sternwood derides Britain's plans for a hypothetical war with France, because the Normandy beaches would be a terrible place to stage a counter-invasion.
    • In the final chapter there's a throwaway gag about Kate hearing "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and predicting it will sink without a trace.
  • Jedi Mind Trick: Used to get past a checkpoint in "Deluge". "These are not the Angels you are looking for."
  • Killer Outfit: Rollo wears a Badass Longcoat lined with dozens of knives so he always has a blade to hand. He dies when Erik grabs the coat and pulls it tight around him; causing him to be stabbed by dozens of his own knives.
  • Knife-Throwing Act: In "Guignol", Rollo is a knife-thrower with Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol who is dismissed by Guignol for collaborating a little too willingly with Le Theatre Des Horreurs when they take over the theatre. He returns in "Deluge", alongside several other of the Angels' old enemies; now a fully-fledged Psycho Knife Nut looking to flense the Angels in revenge for his earlier humiliation
  • Legacy Character: The Phantom is suspected by some, to explain his longevity, of actually being a succession of people behind the mask. This is not true—until the end of "Deluge", when one of the Angels steps into the role after the Phantom is apparently killed.
  • Legion of Doom: Charles Foster Kane assembles one in Act IV, though one of the Angels observes it's full of notable second-raters (compared to the Legion that normally shows up in Newman's work, which boasts Moriarty and Fu Manchu); members include Raymond Owen and Perry Bennett (some of the earliest villains to tie a damsel to a railway), Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life, Senator Paine from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the Face from Adam Adamant Lives!, Natasha di Murska from George Griffith's The Angels of the Revolution and General Sternwood from The Big Sleep.
  • Literal Metaphor: In Act V, Irene Adler calls Olympia "a real doll", and Kate Reed chides her for using Americanisms. Irene replies she wasn't. Olympia really is literally a life-size doll animated by an internal mechanism.
  • Losing Your Head: In the stage show at the Théâtre des Horreurs, a representation of Saint Denis is decapitated and his headless body continues to blunder around, while his bodiless head preaches against immorality until another character kicks it off stage like a football.
  • Made of Plasticine: Discussed in Act III. Yuki says that she can tell the decapitations in the Théâtre des Horreurs stage show are fake because the heads come off too easily: "To cut off a head... it is not so easy as they make out. Even with a sharp sword."
  • Massive Multiplayer Crossover: The Phantom, the Persian, and Christine Daaé from The Phantom of the Opera join forces with the heroines of Trilby and A Scandal in Bohemia. All the later Angels are also borrowed from various works of fiction, as are most of their antagonists and a fair percentage of the side characters.
  • Master of Disguise:
    • La Marmoset, who first appeared in the pulp novel La Marmoset, the Detective Queen by Albert W. Aiken, has an exceptional talent with disguises.
    • Elizabeth Eynsford Hill (formerly Eliza Doolittle) is depicted as an expert in impersonation, having developed the skill set from the starting point of a talent for vocal mimicry.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The vampiric murders in "Les Vampires de Paris" turn out to have a mundane explanation, but several of the supporting characters were real vampires in the stories they're drawn from, and each gets at least one hint that they're vampires in this story as well. This also applies to the young woman the murderer is avenging, who was killed after being mistaken for a vampire; for the reader familiar with Carmilla, there are hints that she really was a vampire — and that she's not really dead.
  • Monster Clown: Guignol, the mascot of the Théâtre des Horreurs, "the capering mountebank [with] his padded paunch, his camel's hump, his gross red nose, his too-wide grin, his terrible teeth, his rouged cheeks, his white gloves with long sharp nails bursting the fingertip seams, his red-and-white striped tights, his jerkin embroidered with skulls and snakes and bats, his shock of white hair, his curly-toed boots, his quick mind, his cruel quips, his shrill songs..." It turns out that he's less monstrous than many at the Théâtre who look more normal, and is secretly working to bring down the people who made the Théâtre — and him — what they are.
  • Neck Lift: In "Deluge", Rollo is deciding which of the Angels to execute first when he grabs Aralune by the throat and holds her off the roof the opera house one-handed. It looks like he is preparing to drop her, but instead starts strangling her.
  • Never Be Hurt Again: A downplayed example. Irene Adler (apparently referring to dealings with Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty) is determined to never be used by another "mastermind" again, which is the reason she leaves the agency.
  • Never Found the Body: Several cases, in accordance with tradition, end with the villain's body not being found. Specifically, Falke at the end of "Les Vampires de Paris", making it possible to reappear as one of the vengeful villains in "Deluge"; and the denouement of "Deluge" features the Phantom and his nemesis plunging to an ambiguous watery doom.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Théâtre des Horreurs in "Guignol" is based on the historical Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, with the grotesqueness turned up even further than in real life.
  • Prophetic Fallacy: In "Deluge", Unorna receives a warning in a vision, the true meaning of which is not apparent until it's too late to be useful. The warning — "One of us is not to be trusted. One of us is not who she seems." — is actually two separate warnings. The Angel who is not who she seems is entirely trustworthy, while the traitor Angel is untrustworthy for reasons that have always been apparent.
  • Psycho Knife Nut: Rollo is the knife-thrower in Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in "Guignol" who is dismissed for collaborating a little too willingly with the horrors. He returns in "Deluge" equipped with dozens of blades and looking to extract vengeance on the Angels by skinning them.
  • Public Domain Canon Welding: The Phantom, the Persian, and Christine Daaé from The Phantom of the Opera join forces with the heroines of Trilby and A Scandal in Bohemia. All the later Angels are also borrowed from various works of fiction, as are most of their antagonists and a fair percentage of the side characters.
  • Sequel Non-Entity: Act I, which was originally written and published as a stand-alone story, ends with one of the Angels retiring and an unexpected person being recruited to take her place. When he chose to write more Angels stories, Newman decided the new character didn't work well as an Angel, so Act II has a brief mention that she didn't last long and then she's not mentioned again until everyone comes Back for the Finale.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The whole set-up is borrowed from Charlie's Angels, while "The Mark of Kane" also takes cues from Mission: Impossible.
    • In addition to the many borrowed characters who are central to the plot, even ones who get a line or two at the most of description are often lifted from other works. Chapter one features C.F. Kane's mentor, Baron Maupertius (a mentioned but not seen character in "The Adventure of the Reigate Squire", described as having 'colossal schemes', here described as a 'colossus') and Basil Hallward (who painted The Picture of Dorian Gray), mentioned by first name and explicitly identified as a homosexual. There are many, many more (including brief reference to Sibyl Vane, also from The Picture of Dorian Gray).
  • The Stinger: The book's final chapter is followed by the author's afterword and acknowledgments, an author bio, a page plugging other books from the same publisher, and then a brief epilogue with a Sequel Hook.
  • Supervillain Lair: The Persian notes that there are not many contractors around to build these. The Phantom of the Opera is on good terms with enough of them that he can get the original blueprints of the Villain of the Week's lair just by asking nicely (what, you thought he built his underground home himself?)
  • Sword Cane: Yuki is always described as carrying her parasol, which is eventually revealed to have sword concealed in it. (This comes as a surprise to no one who has seen Lady Snowblood.)
  • Theatre Phantom: Erik, the original Phantom of the Opera, is now seemingly immortal and still dwelling beneath the Paris Opera House. Although he now largely delegates things to his Angels of Music, the climax shows that he can still haunt a theatre with the best of them and instill terror into his enemies.
  • This Page Will Self-Destruct: In "The Mark of Kane", as part of the Mission: Impossible shout-out, the Opera Ghost Agency receives a secret message on a self-destructing phonograph.
  • Tone Shift: Each chapter has a different tone to match the decade it's set in (or the century-later equivalent); Act I is decidedly cheesy while Act III is horrifically gory.
  • Too Good to Be True: In "The Case of Mrs Norton", Irene Norton née Adler hires the Angels to investigate her husband Godfrey, having become convinced that someone as seemingly upright and noble as him must be hiding some kind of dark secret.
  • War for Fun and Profit: Charles Foster Kane made a fortune selling newspaper headlines about the Spanish-American war, so he plots to start a sequel of sorts: a crisis involving the Suez Canal.
  • Whip of Dominance: One of Kate Reed's bizarre findings in her investigation of the Montmartre neighborhood is some attractive nuns wielding riding crops while giving their sermons, while also wearing fishnets under their habits.