“The Third Angel” is the first book I’ve ever read by Alice Hoffman, and I breezed through it in two days. It was that good. The book encompasses three stories connected by the same characters and locations in different times, as well as by the theme of hopeless and tragic love. The first story, ‘The Heron’s Wife’ is set in 1999 and shares the tale of two sisters, Maddy and Allie Heller, both in love with the same man. Maddy is the jealous younger sister, who feels that Allie is “the good sister, the perfect sister, the one who had everything.” Maddy travels to London in advance of her sister’s wedding, and becomes instantly attracted to Allie’s fiancé Paul, ultimately having an affair with him. The second story, 'Lion Park', set in 1966, centers on Frieda Lewis, who later becomes Paul’s mother, when she was a young woman working as a maid at a hotel and how she becomes the muse for and falls in love with a young drug-addicted rocker, Jamie. Finally, the third story 'The Rules of Love', set in 1952, is about 12-year old Lucy (Maddy and Allie’s mother), and how she plays the role of go-between for two doomed lovers caught up in a love triangle.
The title of the book refers to a story told to Frieda Lewis by her father, a doctor whom she accompanied on house calls. He told her that in addition to the Angel of Life and the Angel of Death, either of which rode with him when he made house calls, there was a mysterious Third Angel who walks among us: "You can't even tell if he's an angel or not. You think you're doing him a kindness, you think you're the one taking care of him, while all the while, he's the one who's saving your life."
As I said, I really enjoyed this book. Each character was compelling, even the ones with less than redeeming qualities or actions. It’s a story not only about love, but about relationships and redemption. After reading this novel, I’ll definitely be hitting my local library for some of Ms. Hoffman’s other works.