Wednesday, September 2, 2015


LIGHTS, CAMERA, ANGEL by Mike Ripley (Constable, 2001/Telos, 2014)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

While crime fiction often takes readers to some pretty dark places, some of the finest writing in the genre is as funny as it is intriguing, and Britain's Mike Ripley is one of the best around. 

Recently, Ripley has brought Golden Age Queen of Crime Margery Allingham's beloved Albert Campion back to the page, as well as resurrecting forgotten British thriller classics through his work with Ostara. But back in 1988 as a rookie novelist he launched an outstanding comic crime series, helmed by a fascinating and completely unique 'hero': jazz-loving illegal cabbie Fitroy MacLean Angel.

In LIGHTS, CAMERA, ANGEL, the tenth in that award-winning series, 'streetwise chancer' Angel gets coaxed into a role driving for a movie star while his fashion designer wife Amy is working on a big budget vampire movie being filmed at the famous Pinewood Studios in England. The film production has been suffering plenty of mishaps, and once again Angel finds himself surrounded by trouble. The big star might be under threat, from fanatical fans or stalkers unknown. Not to mention the Chinese gang member...

Put simply, this is a terrific, rollicking story. There's a real verve to Ripley's writing, a kind of helter-skelter vibe where things seem to always be going slightly off the rails, but the author himself seems in full control, steering the reader through an intriguing, near-farcical tale that can't help but make you laugh along the way.

Angel is a beguiling frontman, someone who creates plenty of mayhem even as he's trying to avoid it, piloting his off-the-books black cab Armstrong through London and Essex's highways, byways, and backstreets.

But Angel's band and back-up singers are pretty great too, from long-suffering spouse Amy (well, I'm sure it feels like a long time to her, regardless of chronology), to his eclectic group of longtime friends and fellow partygoers, and the movie-land newcomers of this particular Pinewood-set instalment.

As a film lover, student, and one-time extra in a big Hollywood movie, I particularly enjoyed the way Ripley took us behind the scenes in LIGHTS, CAMERA, ANGEL, bringing to life all the stresses, clashes, hard work, unsung heroes, and day-to-day grind of film-making that leads to the 'movie magic' we get to watch up on the big screen. It's fertile ground for crime fiction, and Ripley harvests it with amusement and aplomb.

Ripley, like Angel, is a bit of rebel in the crime fiction world - a hugely talented storyteller, but somewhat non-conformist in terms of standard tropes and formats. As shown in LIGHTS, CAMERA, ANGEL, he's one heck of a writer, but it's harder-than-usual to compare his work to other crime novels in a 'if you like this, you might like that way'.

If anything, his series was a precursor (maybe even an influence, who knows?) on Guy Ritchie's films such as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch. The Angel series has that same sense of British anarchy, humour and mayhem, only with more fun and likable characters. Oceans 11 across the Atlantic.

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ANGEL is a refreshing read for crime fiction fans, but more than just a palate cleanser from the all-you-can-eat buffet of dark serial killers, Scandinavian coppers, hardboiled private eyes, and cosy mysteries, Ripley gives you an zesty taste that makes you want to go back for more.

Fortunately, there are fifteen books in the Angel series. I'm adding more to my reading list.


LIGHTS, CAMERA, ANGEL was first published by Constable in 2001. After eventually falling out of print, it was republished by Telos Books last year (who are republishing the entire series), and is once again available for purchase.



  1. Thanks for the great review :) If you're interested in seeing any of Telos' other crime titles for review, then please get in touch :) david at

  2. One of my favourite crime series. I was lucky enough to discover it in 1990 so could read/buy as they came out. Ripley makes me cry with laughter every time.