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Kirby, "Dark Angel" (reviewed by Julie J. Nichols) Options · View
Posted: Friday, July 12, 2013 7:53:15 PM

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Title: Dark Angel
Author: Robert Kirby
Publisher: Leicester Bay Books
Genre: Fiction
Year Published: 1990, 1999 (“unabridged”)
Number of Pages: 276
Binding: paper ISBN10: 1-892936-09-7 Price: $12.95, or Kindle $6.99

Reviewed by Julie J. Nichols for the Association for Mormon Letters

Old West + Disneyland ride + Brady Bunch + polygamy + melodrama worthy of the Desert Star parody theater in Murray Utah—the sum of all this adds up to the new (?) unabridged version of Robert Kirby’s 1990 novel "Dark Angel." Read it, laugh, get a little tear in your eye, groan in disbelief, nod in agreement: this isn't literature, but it’s good entertainment with a strong positive outcome, and if you go in knowing what you’re getting, you’ll be more pleased than you might have expected to be.

Narrated by ten-then-eleven-year-old Rose Merrell, daughter of the bishop of the Lehi Utah Ward in 1869, this is the story of one fateful summer that changed everybody and everything. “Everything” means just that—the whole darn town and its environs just might have to transform its habits of thought and behavior. “Everybody” includes Rose’s flirty older half-sister Laurel Anne; Josh, the abused kid down the road whose mother wants to be the bishop’s third wife; Rose herself, of course; and (drum roll) the titular “Dark Angel,” Fulton Lorings, “Hash Face,” “Ghost Smiler,” “Red Legs,” “Stuart’s Wolf”—all one and the same terrifying personage. Tremble in your shoes, reader! When he first appears, his eyes are flat and dead above the scarf that covers his face, and he refuses to speak. But with deadly aim and swift retribution, he rescues Rose and Laurel Anne from a fate worse than death at the hands of brutish soldiers. In gratitude, the bishop takes him in and gives him work. Thus the novel is set in motion.

Plot is the driver here. Don’t look for characters with complex motives and psychological nuance. You won’t have any trouble keeping straight the full supporting cast of rollicking, gun-toting, revenge-seeking Old American West archetypes. Among the good guys are the strong, wise bishop; Colleen, his angel second wife, Rose’s mother, an Irish healer labeled “witch” by the superstitious; orphan Laurel Anne, gorgeously irresistible to all the men in the county, most importantly the stupid but dangerous Eldon Bair and the non-Mormon soldier Henry du Pont; and the aforementioned Josh. Among the less good are Alva, the bishop’s shrewish first wife and her bratty twin boys who torment Rose and receive torment in return, and a number of confused and ignor’nt ward members who think the bishop’s off his bean for taking in “Brother Lorings.” And there are downright villains aplenty to keep the action going.

Rose’s voice is pitch-perfect. She knows the good guys from the evil, and she picks out Lorings as the person to follow from the get-go. He looks like the baddest of the bad at first, but she just knows he’s not. He saved her and Laurel Anne, after all. Between her observant, intuitively gifted mother and her intelligent if rough-hewn father, there is plenty of help available for the Dark Angel if he’ll just learn to accept it.

First, of course, there have to be major obstacles—people who know “Red Legs’s” violent, tortured past and ride out of town to avoid him; people who harass Laurel Anne and get their ears cut off for their trouble; people who want Lorings dead because he killed their people long ago, during the Civil War, where his own troubles began. Slowly but surely the back story is revealed. The healing begins, is thwarted, begins again. Lorings meets old enemies as well as new friends, but Rose is always his loyal ally. You like him because you like her, and she adores him—there’s a little of him in her, after all. Her dead brother Johnny, an Irish boy with the gift of sight (he listens to a box he calls his “ray-joe” and sees a number of other events you’ll recognize from your vantage point a century later) once told her she’d meet the Dark Angel but would know he was good. So not only does he appeal to something wild in herself, but he connects her to Johnny. He’s got to come out on top.

This is not a spoiler: he gets shot in the end. It’s horrible for everyone who has come to benefit from his many talents and who has come to have compassion for his needs. But that’s not all. You will want to read to the very end to discover how justice is served, and you’ll come away satisfied.

Kirby is the humorist whose column in the Salt Lake Tribune has helped thousands of Utah Mormons survive their frustrations in an all-too-Mormon world. Even if you’re not acquainted with that side of Kirby, this novel will make you laugh. It’ll keep you turning pages on a lazy summer afternoon, and you’ll toss a Kleenex or two into the trash with a satisfied countenance when the last one is finished. Some might object to Rose’s language at the beginning, but the worst is over before you’re halfway through, and frankly, the language is worth it. It belongs there. Take this novel for what it is and be gratified that such a story has made its way down the pike. No complaints from this reader whatsoever.

(Editor's note: since most of you will not be familiar with this publisher, I asked them to provide a brief note about what they're doing, what their goals are, etc. They kindly provided the following. I'm adding this to Julie's fine review so that you, the readers, can have a better understanding.)

"My goal with both Leicester Bay Books, which publishes for the non-LDS market (but titles that Latter-day Saints can also enjoy) and Zion BookWorks, which publishes for the LDS market, is to keep in print and make available both print books and e-books of all of our titles. The first time around these books got some exposure, but I don't think that they hit it big like they deserved to. I hope to be able to make that happen. We are also not just a reprint publisher. We are publishing new titles in both fiction and non-fiction. I love storytelling (as far as fiction books go -- and we have some great story tellers) and I love to be inspired and to laugh (which I do frequently as I peruse and choose). I choose books that will accomplish this. We are a 'family-friendly' publisher whether in or out of the Church. My primary goal is to promote the family and good entertainment (read "read a book") but we also have a play publishing and performance licensing arm for Leicester Bay Theatricals and Zion Theatricals. Again, 'family friendly' theater that is challenging and thought-provoking.

"The best way to contact me is through the website: www.leicesterbaybooks.com or
www.zionbooksworks.com or by e-mail at cmichaelperry53@gmail.com."
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