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Angel Unfolding

Selected by the Library Writers Project 2019

Gentle as a butterfly, I took the rifle off his belly, fell into the tattered glider beside the bed, and wept. No sobs, just a flow of tears hard on my cheeks. That was real lucky, I thought. Maybe he’ll sleep this off and the three-day festival of wife-beating will come to an end.

But luck isn’t with Angel McQuinn. In a moment she only half regrets, Angel ends the torment once and for all, killing Mack with his granddaddy’s Winchester. Her case enflames the passions of women’s rights groups and conservatives alike, attracting national media and giving Billings reporter Murphy Gardiner the scoop of a lifetime. We meet Angel in prison, serving a stiff 35-year sentence. Retiring Judge Ukiah Steele just wishes all the hoopla would disappear. But Angel’s saga is just beginning. Walking the prison yard, she sees a billboard that inspires a scheme so bizarre that it creates an avalanche of unexpected consequences and an unstoppable band of allies.

Despite its dark premise, Angel Unfolding is told with grace, wit, and surprising optimism. Angel takes you on a journey from heartache to redemption – not just for Angel but for all those whose lives she touches.


The Voices of Angel Unfolding

Excerpt: Angel McQUinn

Mack embraced the gun like a little boy with his teddy bear. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He snored like a bull, turned fitfully. The fear bubbled up from my stomach to my mouth. My insides wouldn’t quit shaking. It never occurred to me to call the cops. Didn’t think I’d survive the hour if he woke up to a siren or saw a sheriff’s badge.

But then he fell into a deeper sleep, and I found myself wondering how promise could turn to such misery. I searched his face for the man I fell in love with as I watched his fingers loosen their grip from the stock and the barrel.

I didn’t get to church that morning, but this was my moment of prayer. Angel calling God. This would be a good time to show up.



Excerpt: Judge Ukiah Steele

It would not have been my choice, so late in my career, to become entangled in a case so compelling and divisive. But there it was, amidst the maddening sameness of check-kiting and meth production: a homicide stripped from the headlines of the tabloids.


Even before jury selection was complete, the press from Missoula, Bozeman and Idaho Falls had joined the crew from the Billings Tribune. A few ladies from our local shelter protested quietly, carrying signs that read FREE ANGEL and DON’T MAKE HER PAY. Silver-haired women traveled hours from Butte with hand-made signs and bumper stickers exclaiming, YOU CAN’T BEAT A MONTANA WOMAN…

 “The prosecutor was over-zealous. She was…” My law clerk, Turner, shook his head, unable to find words crude enough to suit his disdain.

“Exploitive and shameless,” I concurred. “Posturing for her conservative cronies.” The prosecutor had even refused to plea bargain.

“You make it sound so political.”

For a savvy young man, he suddenly seemed so naïve.

“So it is.”…

Turner frowned. He wanted to blame someone for Angel’s tragedy. Someone other than Angel, and someone other than me.



Excerpt: Reporter Murphy Gardiner

I stared at the front-page photo of Angel McQuinn in handcuffs. “She’s No Angel,” the headline read, complete with quotation marks. That was the irresistible conclusion of the prosecuting attorney, and, apparently, the jury agreed. Now why the hell couldn’t I land this story? The hottest story Billings has seen for years, and I’m interviewing balloonists.

Four years at the Trib and where had it gotten me? The Magic City Hot Air Balloon Fest was a choice assignment for the photographer but, for me, it was barely an upgrade from obits. I smoked a pack and a half of cigarettes that day, just getting through the sameness, pissed at myself for not moving on.

I turned back to Angel’s downcast face and glared at the byline. Gregory Johnson. A man, for Christ’s sake! We’ve got a real life soap opera, every woman’s nightmare, and we can’t find a female reporter?

Then I came to a depressing conclusion. I never asked for it. I bitched. I mumbled spiteful remarks about my sexist editor. But not once since Angel’s arrest had I considered asking Charlie to put me on the story. Now the verdict was in, the story practically over. She deserves better, I complained to myself. I deserve better.



Excerpt: Reverend Reuben Albright

Yesterday I stumbled on Murphy Gardiner’s business card and stared at the name “Angel McQuinn.” Something stops me from throwing it in the trash. What does this misguided soul want with me? My heart is far too heavy and fragile to carry another load.

Lord, help us both if she’s seeking the peace and comfort of redemption. Worse still if she’s expecting me to paint her a picture of Heavenly delights awaiting all those who believe. I may be doing her a disservice in my sorry state. Won’t a prison minister suffice?

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Call it morbid curiosity, sheer stupidity or a last mission of mercy, but I plan to pay her a visit.

I rehearsed silently: Lord God, give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go but only that your hand is leading us.

A self-absorbed selection, isn’t it? After all, I’m the one facing death. Poor Angel McQuinn has to figure out how to face her messed up life.


Reader’s  Guide

Are you a curious reader or member of a book club?
Find thought-provoking discussion questions in the Angel Unfolding reader’s guide.