The Visiting Angel, By Paul Wilson

A man on the ledge of heaven

I must confess that I had never heard of Paul Wilson until I was sent this to review, but The Visiting Angel is his sixth novel and on the strength of it alone, he deserves to be much, much better known.

It's a complex, engrossing story with a tight cast of solid, four-dimensional characters, each with their own mysteries and histories. There is Sarah, an overworked nurse with a daughter who's dead and a marriage that's dying; and Patrick, a social worker who runs a halfway house in Salford, who is called out to talk a man down from a hospital ledge. The man, Saul, wears a dark suit and white plimsolls, is a drug addict and claims to be an angel. Patrick knew him long ago under a different name.

The story is so full of surprises that I have to be careful not to give too much away. Let's just say that nothing is quite what it seems. The writing is un-showoff-y but compelling; the setting is realist, down-to-earth, but with a defamiliarising strangeness. Most of all, this is a novel with heart, that makes you feel and sympathise with human sadness and frailty. There's something deeply unsnobbish about it. Many novelists prefer to write about clever characters (they're easier) and Wilson has a fine clever character in Saul, but he's just as at home writing about ordinary, averagely educated people or dim, disadvantaged people, and showing that their lives are as full of drama, emotion and mystery as anybody's.