Angel TouchBy: Mike Ripley
I wrote the second Angel novel in the ten month gap between Just Another Angel being accepted by Collins in Crime Club in October 1987 and it actually appearing in print in August 1988.
I was working in London for the Brewers’ Society, the trade association of the British brewing industry, when there was a British brewing industry, and I was in regular contact with financial journalists, stockbrokers and City analysts.
One evening, I had arranged to meet a certain broker for a pint or three in one of the pubs near Liverpool Street station. In those days, there were still good pubs, wine bars and even oyster bars there – and just about everybody smoked.
I was early and so I did what I usually did in London pubs: hid behind a book and listened to other people’s conversations.
Through a forest of Hugo Boss suits and bright red braces, I picked up on one particular voice saying: ‘… so he took out the market-makers in a dawn raid …’
I thought that sounded fantastic, even though I had absolutely no idea what it meant. When my City broker finally turned up, I let him buy me pint and then asked him what ‘taking out the market-makers’ meant. His response was an instant, snappy ‘Who told you that?’ and he looked so guilty, I knew I was on to something.
After another round of beers, or maybe two, I had my plot: a financial scam in the newly-reorganised City of London where a new breed of market-makers were trying to iron out (or exploit) the glitches in the ‘Big Bang’ electronic revolution that had shaken up the stock exchange.
Despite all the promises of an IT-based future, 1987 was still the Bronze Age compared with today. In most London offices, the cutting edge of technology was the fax machine, though it was far from universal. My own office in the West End had only just consigned its telex machine and punched-tapes to a museum. A word processor was a middle-aged woman with a Dictaphone and an IBM golf-ball typewriter. No-one had a mobile phone smaller or lighter than a brick.
Technology has changed so quickly since then that much of Angel Touch now seems completely dated, and few who work in the City now would recognise the ‘McGuffin’ of the plot. The background premise, though, may still hold good. On my visits to the offices of brokers and analysts, I had noticed the conspicuous absence of female faces, and the colour of the male ones was, without exception, white.
Therefore I decided on a situation where there was a financial scam (insider trading) going on and the prime suspect was the sole black, female stockbroker. I wanted a situation where Angel, who knew nothing about the City or financial dealing, could be accepted because he was white and wore a suit, whereas Salome was automatically a suspect even though she was brilliant at her job.
The other key element in the story was paint-balling – war games for terminally-teenaged men – which was still a game in those days and had not yet become a ghastly management torture under the guise of ‘team-building.’ It was so intrinsically silly a pastime, I just couldn’t resist it.
Most of the characters in the book were reprised from Just Another Angel, but with one notable newcomer, the itinerant musician and professional Irish scallywag Francis Xavier Dromey, better known as Werewolf.
Although he featured in only two books, Werewolf is one of the most fondly remembered of my creations. (Springsteen is the top one.) And like the plot of the novel, he was born in a pub, this time the Three Tuns, the home of the notorious Thursday Club, an informal friendly society of off-duty policemen, writers and other layabouts founded by the lovely Bill Carmichael, step-dad of Pierce (007) Brosnan.
The prototype Werewolf had stumbled (literally) into the pub after a heavy morning auditioning somewhere. Striking up a conversation, as you do, with the regulars, this incredibly hairy young man with fantastically bad teeth and a beard you could hide a badger in, told us he was a jobbing actor, currently unemployed. Someone remarked that he must have been after the part of the Wolfman, and he liked the idea and slipped into character for the rest of the afternoon, whilst remaining witty and charming, though not necessarily upright. He was instantly christened ‘Werewolf’, including by the Irish landlady, but I think his real name was Peter something. He was good value and stuck in my mind, though I only ever met him that one time. I did see him some years later, as an extra in an episode of Casualty, the BBC’s hospital soap opera. He played a drunk. He was rather good.