When it comes to selecting their next read, lovers of literature are familiar with the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Whether most people actually subscribe to this rule is debatable, but the advice is particularly sage when considering English author R.J. Ellory’s A Quiet Belief in Angels. The bold cover evokes authors like James Patterson, and it would be all too easy to dismiss Ellory’s American debut as a cookie-cutter thriller. To do so would be a shame for both fans and non-fans of the crime thriller genre.

Given the basic premise of the novel, it’s not hard to see why A Quiet Belief in Angels is billed as a literary thriller. Growing up in small-town Georgia, Joseph Vaughan knows only a hard life that is mired in tragedy and horror. The days of his youth are forever tainted by a series of brutal murders targeting young girls, shaking the bedrock of his sleepy town and forcing Joseph to grow up faster than seems fair. As all that he holds dear is slowly stripped away, Joseph decides to leave his hometown and head north to pursue his dream of becoming an author—only to find that the atrocities from his past will not be so easily left behind.

While the mystery behind the mounting body count might motivate many readers to stick with this novel, the story has a rather leisurely pace, which might make “thriller” seem like a misnomer here. The murders never feel as though they are the central conceit of the novel, with the real focus instead being Joseph’s transition from boy to man; A Quiet Belief in Angels reads more as a dark coming-of-age tale rather than a traditional crime novel. But don’t consider this a weakness—Ellory’s writing is so lyrical, powerful and heartrending that those who normally steer clear of the genre are likely to feel at home. A Quiet Belief in Angels has already gained Ellory international acclaim, and while Americans may be a bit late to the party, another saying once more proves true: better late than never.

Stephenie Harrison writes from Nashville.

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