It may not be the most beloved episode of Doctor Who (or of season 7, even), but I’ve always had a soft spot for “The Angels Take Manhattan.” I love River Song and I love film noir-style detective stories. So, of course, I love an episode where River is a film noir-style detective. And in that episode, there’s a book that’s based on her adventures as this detective—Melody Malone. It’s one of my favorite elements of the episode; I mean, who doesn’t love a good book-within-a-show? Honestly, I’d love to read a novelization of the episode written like a Melody Malone novel. And, when I first came across Justin Richards’ “The Angel’s Kiss,” I thought that’s what I’d be getting—a recreation of the book featured in “The Angels Take Manhattan.” Unfortunately, that’s not what this is.
For all intents and purposes, “The Angel’s Kiss” is a prequel to “The Angels Take Manhattan.” It sees Melody Malone taking on a case from Rock Railton, one of Starlight Studios’ biggest film stars. Rock believes someone is trying to kill him and enlists Melody Malone’s help in figuring out who the potential murderer is and why they’re trying to murder him. Of course, this is a Doctor Who story, so the answers are far stranger than those normally found in a film noir. Melody Malone’s investigation takes her through a world of lies, shady studio owners, forgetful movie stars, and Weeping Angels.
Truth be told, the story’s not a bad one. It would make a pretty good episode of Doctor Who. The problem is that “The Angel’s Kiss” is just far too short. It exists in that weird place where it’s probably longer than the average short story but shorter than the average novella. As a result, there’s simply not enough time to explore the story or its characters with any real depth. Instead, Richards moves through the story at a dangerously fast pace, never spending enough time properly laying out the mystery in a way that would lead to a satisfying conclusion. We just get a collection of scenes that build-up to the villain explaining the plot in their second scene in the story. Not exactly a great mystery novel. For a book starring River Song as a 1930s detective in New York, we don’t get to see much of her doing any real detective work.
And that’s a bit of a shame since Richards nails River’s voice. The whole story is narrated from Melody Malone’s point of view, as though it’s an old, pulpy detective novel. And this aspect is a total delight and the best part of the book. It allows River’s personality to shine in ways the plot doesn’t. As you read the story, it’s very easy to hear River’s voice in your head, and it elevates the whole experience into something more than a questionably executed mystery novel. That being said, the narration doesn’t always work flawlessly. It sometimes feels like Richards is reaching for adjectives so he can avoid using the same phrases too many times in a row. These moments break the illusion of River narrating a bit, as they don’t sound as authentically River Song in the way that most of the narration does. Still, it’s not enough of a problem to really impact one’s enjoyment.
On the whole, “The Angel’s Kiss” is fine. It’s far too short to have a truly compelling mystery and it’s a shame it’s not just the book that’s seen in “The Angels Take Manhattan.” But it’s still a very quick and very fun read. River Song is a great character and her Melody Malone persona is exceedingly enjoyable to read. So, the story’s worth reading for that alone. Plus, there are hints of interesting ideas in the plot that make the mind race—it’s just a shame none of them are ever expanded upon. If you’re looking to read “The Angel’s Kiss,” read it for a quick River Song fix, and don’t expect much else.
3 out of 5 wands.