Falling Angel

Click here to purchase Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg

It may well be that we get our best ideas in youth and spend the rest of our lives attempting to work them out. The notion which eventually became Falling Angel had its genesis as a story I wrote as a sophomore in high school. Reading Stephen Vincent Benet’s “The Devil and Daniel Webster” was a revelation. It had never occurred to me that a writer could use Satan as a character in fiction. My own first effort, “To Hell in a Handbasket,” took the shape of a parable. I no longer have a copy but if memory serves, my little tale was about four pages long and began something like: “Once upon a time, the devil hired a private detective.” It won third place in the McBurney School short story contest.

Twenty years later, I resurrected my adolescent fiction when casting about for an idea for my next novel. As I already had the ending in mind, the challenge was to make everything else work. I intended the “voice” of the book to be an homage to Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, a trio of hard-boiled writers I greatly admired. New York is my home town and most of the locations are places to which I have an emotional attachment: the pre-Disney Times Square and 42nd Street, long-gone Hubert’s Flea Circus, Harlem, the Chelsea Hotel, Central Park, Coney Island, the Village. I left for college in the fall of 1958 and picked 1959 because it was the last year when I could trust my memory to accurately recall local geography. A fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts bought me the time (six months) to write a first draft without the distractions of having to earn a living. Thus far, Falling Angel remains the great success story of my writing career. Filmed as Angel Heart, serialized in Playboy (second-longest piece of fiction the magazine ever ran,) winner of Playboy Editorial Award (Best Major Work; this time around; incredibly, Graham Greene came in second,) and nominated for an Edgar by the Mystery Writers of America, the novel eventually appeared in 15 languages.

A spellbinding novel of murder, mystery, and the occult, Falling Angel pits a tough New York private eye against the most fearsome adversary a detective ever faced. For Harry Angel, a routine missing-persons case soon turns into a fiendish nightmare of voodoo and black magic, of dizzying peril and violent death. Many people feel that Falling Angel is the greatest American supernatural horror novel of the 20th century.

Full dust art jacket design for Falling Angel by Stanislaw Zagorski.