From the reader’s perspective, the book title, Angels, Sinners and Madmen, may refer to a group of salvage hunters who lurk along the shores of Key West searching for ship wrecks off the Floridian coastline during the 1800s. Though the author, Cate Masters , does not confirm this supposition in the story’s details, nor does she specify the year which the story takes place, the reader is put in the position of needing to make logical inferences and conclusions, filling in the blanks left by the author as the tale advances.
Readers first notice the poetic phrasing of the scenic details as Masters spins a yarn that is vividly descriptive and puts audiences inside the individual vignettes, seeing what the characters see, occupying a seat in the characters lives as they interact with one another. The details pull readers away at certain points from connecting with the characters as the flowery speech has the effect of putting up a wall between the story and the audience. It’s a partition which separates modern culture from the mindsets and customs of people from another point along America’s timeline. The reader has a sense of this division from beginning to end. The positive side of this outcome is readers discover aspects of 19th century mores which have changed over time. The negative side is readers feel like the characters are indicative of the 19th century where they stay and can’t transcend beyond that point.
Olivia “Livvie” Collins is introduced to audiences in the first chapter. A writer by trade, she is sailing from New York to Louisiana to visit her brother in New Orleans. Though visiting her brother is her destination, her purpose for taking the trip is to acquire experience which she hopes to use in her stories and characters. One of the opening scenes could be grist for her stories. From Livvie’s point of view, she describes a savage storm which destroys the ship she is on and tosses its passengers and crew into the ocean. The author captures the perilous situation with poetic phrases that evoke the reader’s emotions.
Livvie is rescued by one of the scavengers of shipwrecks off the coast of Key West, Sam Langhorne, who works with a group of men that owe their livelihoods to being salvage hunters. Sam is described as a moral figure, remorseful when he is unable to save Livvie’s chaperone and livid about scavenging goods from shipwrecks, though it is a primary source of income for the people around him; hence, his relation to the title of the book being an angel for rescuing Livvie, a sinner for taking the spoils acquired by his group’s conquests/robberies, and a madman spurred by his feelings for Livvie when he swore off love years ago. The internal struggle between his physical attraction to Livvie pulling him towards her and his protective instinct for self-preservation pulling him away from her make him feel like a madman.
Though Livvie’s and Sam’s back stories are sketchy preventing readers from discovering what motivates them, their romance is sweet. They are two people trying to survive while recognizing their need for somebody to hold onto through life. The theme has a modern ring to it though the characters represent people from a previous time. It’s a theme which readers must figure out on their own as the author withholds her characters motivation from the story.