The Trial of Fallen Angels

By James Kimmel

(Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, $25.95, 384 pages)

Who is this author?

First, let me wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Debut novelist James Kimmel is a lawyer who specializes in cases involving spirituality and the law and is a Quaker and a former college teacher. He grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania and still lives in that state, with his wife and children. According to his online biography, he is “the creator of Legal Ceasefire Day, a member of the organizing committee of Peace Day Philly, an advisor to the CURE Addiction Center of Excellence at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Addiction Studies, the founder of the Nonjustice Foundation, and a co-founder of Peerstar LLC – a leading provider of services to individuals with mental illness in the criminal justice system.”

What is this book about?

It’s a fantasy novel about Heaven, or more precisely, Heaven’s waiting room, a rather bureaucratic place here called Shemaya. That is where the protagonist, Brek Cutler, a murdered lawyer, wife and mother, suddenly finds herself. Her task: use her formidable legal skills as part of the Judgment Day team, the ultimate arbiters of whether a life has been naughty or nice and what happens next. To make it even more interesting, she now has the power to get inside the minds of people and experience their lives through their own eyes, and one such person is the white supremacist who killed her.  Each case Brek handles in Shemaya is related to her life on earth, and as these stories play out there are lengthy and compelling discussions about justice, mercy, forgiveness and all the high ethical concepts that are easy to admire but hard to put into practice.

Why you’ll like it:

Already being likened to Mitch Albom’s works and “The Lovely Bones,” “Fallen Angels” will appeal to readers who are seeking moral guidance. It’s an intriguing mix of real life and metaphysical concepts, and while some reviewers found its philosophizing a dead weight on the story, others are praising it as an unusual vehicle that will take sympathetic readers on a spiritual journey.

What others are saying:

“In his first novel, Kimmel has created a thrilling and fantastic world, a heady combination of the movie “What Dreams May Come,” John Grisham’s best work, and Dante’s” Divine Comedy.” Sometimes dreamily lyrical and sometimes harshly realistic, Kimmel’s authorial voice is undeniably compelling. Raw, tender, and intelligent, “The Trial of Fallen Angels” is a fascinating glimpse into the judgment of lost souls and recovered memories,” says Booklist in a starred review.

Publishers Weekly says: “ A murder mystery becomes a lesson in forgiveness in this overblown spiritual tale by debut novelist Kimmel, who envisions a bureaucratic afterlife called Shemaya in which recently deceased Brek Cuttler, a lawyer on earth, is drafted “to make sure justice is served at the Final Judgment.” …As Brek absorbs experiences and navigates Shemaya’s courtrooms, she comes to terms with her own death and with what seems the unfair judicial process of heaven. Though a cluttered plot is eventually woven neatly together, any sense of suspense or momentum is stalled by bouts of weighty philosophizing….Kimmel, a lawyer, is a deep thinker whose intelligence shines through, but his first foray into fiction fails as both a theological treatise and a page-turner.”

 “From the time she was a little girl holding mock court sessions with other neighborhood children, Brek Abigail Cuttler was destined for the law. As an adult, her life is good. She’s become a successful lawyer, new mother, and loving wife to a TV news anchorman. But suddenly she is sitting at a train terminal covered in blood and cannot recall what happened. Approached by a seemingly familiar older gentleman, Brek finds out she has died. Before she can fully move on, she has been assigned to represent other souls waiting for judgment. With each case, Brek finds connections to her own past life that will reveal the final choice she must make. VERDICT This powerful debut from lawyer Kimmel (“Suing for Peace: A Guide for Resolving Life’s Conflicts”) explores a myriad of spiritual concepts expressed in various religions. He deftly unveils each new character and cleverly balances the positive and negative aspects of their lives. Building upon the memories of multiple generations, Kimmel has written a stirring spiritual thriller,” says Library Journal.

Kirkus Reviews says: “Kimmel pays readers a supreme compliment here by inviting them to take seriously the theological question of the Last Judgment. Lawyer Brek Cuttler wakes up one day to find herself in Shemaya, the land of the dead… The circumstances of her death are hazy, even to her, but as the story unfolds, some dense and troubling images, as well as some kind and soothing ones from her past, assault her. She aches at the loss of her husband, Bo, a television reporter who’s recently been doing undercover work and has infiltrated a white supremacist organization, and she grieves her separation from her one-year-old daughter, Sarah. Kimmel’s narrative weaves together four generations of Brek’s family both in life and in death. Much of this theological and moral framework is provided by Luas, the High Jurisconsult of Shemaya and mentor of Brek in these shadow lands. Although occasionally overly discursive, Kimmel presents here an intriguing, intricate and metaphysical novel–not your typical fare.”

When is it available?

It’s on the shelves now at the Barbour, Blue Hills, Camp Field, Dwight and Mark Twain branches of the Hartford Public Library.

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