The Angel Makers by Jessica Gregson

A lost and wayward work of fiction built haphazardly around a far more intriguing reality.

Book Review by Daniel Wood | 10 Feb 2007
Book title: The Angel Makers
Author: Jessica Gregson
Five dozen corpses and nobody noticed - or, if they noticed, then nobody cared. Of all the thousands of personal stories to emerge from the First World War, surely the account of the Hungarian village of Nagyrev is the strangest. When the men of the village were called up to serve the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the war, their wives were left to wait out the conflict by themselves. But the women became so accustomed to sharing each others' company in the absence of their husbands that when the men returned home at last, they conspired murderously against them. So, over a period of twenty years and with a hefty supply of arsenic at their disposal, the women of Nagyrev established an almost exclusively female community in the village and left a trail of fifty poisoned cadavers in their wake. They became known as the 'Angel Makers'.

Jessica Gregson's The Angel Makers fictionalises this true story. Fiction could have shed new light on these grim incidents, but here it manages to muddle them up. This is partly due to an awkward stylistic exercise, as Gregson wedges a supernatural subplot into a novel already weighed down with dialogue so explicitly contemporary and so quintessentially English that it shatters the believability of the story's century-old Hungarian setting. Mostly though, the novel's confusion is due to the author's absurd handling of the content, as she eventually discards any sense of historical realism in favour of some type of radical feminist treatment that warps each of the murders into an act of female empowerment, then underscores this portrayal of the killings with vague notions of pseudo-New Age sexual liberation and pagan ceremonial practices thrown into the mix.

The end result is a lost and wayward work of fiction built haphazardly around a far more intriguing reality. Unfortunate, really, because there is a first-rate story to be found in The Angel Makers, but it's so far beneath the surface you have to squint to see it.
Release Date - 6th of February. Published by PaperBooks Ltd. Cover Price £14.99 hardback.