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Wednesday, 11 January 2017


About a year ago, maybe a bit less, I got really bored of reading the same sort of stuff - when it comes to films, I can happily watch anything, but I'm a lot less lenient with books. Why spend time chewing on a potentially boring thriller when you can devour a well-written horror? I'm making a grotesquely broad generalization there, but what it boils down to (for me) is: I like old detective thrillers, but all the modern books are like TV cop dramas. There's some grisly death and a world weary detective solves the case. Rinse and repeat. I was looking for something not dissimilar to what I like to write, which could be broadly (or narrowly, I suppose) defined as 'horror noir'. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there doesn't seem to be much of a market for this, which made it all the more surprising that I stumbled across the work of JOHN CONNOLLY.

Thanks to my local library's database revealing his books as 'horror/crime' I picked up a copy of THE WHISPERERS, which turned out to be the tenth novel featuring his detective creation Charlie Parker. What sold me on giving it a go was the mention of supernatural elements worked into a crime story, which is exactly what I got. However, despite the overt reference to demons and unnatural happenings, it was Charlie Parker himself who grabbed me. A lot of the book doesn't follow his point of view, and I found those bits a little dull. They were well-written, don't get me wrong, but Parker's personality is so strong it made everything else pale in comparison. 

Parker's a haunted man, but also possessed of a strong wit and driving need to see justice done. He exudes a paradoxical menace; dangerous to know but also the sort of person you feel safe having on your side. I was so enamoured with his adventures I immediately set about trying to get hold of the rest of the Parker series. His "gimmick", if you will, is sharing a name with a famous jazz musician, so that he's often nicknamed 'Bird'. Thankfully, this conceit rapidly fades away (I don't think anyone calls him that in the last few novels at all) and the character gets to stand on his own two feet.

Thanks to someone in my area obviously following the same path, I read a few of the novels in a random order, but have since managed to read everything up to THE BLACK ANGEL (the fifth novel) and after THE UNQUIET (the sixth novel - both of these are packed and ready to read on my travels, when I leave the country at the end of this month), save the short stories that feature in some of Connolly's anthologies. THE WHISPERERS remains, I think, the weakest of the lot, though it's a clear testament to Connolly's writing that it still made me want to read more.

Throughout the series, supernatural elements come into play, though with varying degrees of success. Perhaps my favourite novel - in terms of crime plot - is THE BURNING SOUL. In this one, a young girl goes missing from a small town and an unassuming accountant with a dark past hires Parker to help figure out if someone knows about this and/or is looking to pin the crime on him. The supernatural aspects are practically non-existent but the way certain characters are shown to be less savoury than they appear more than makes up for this. 

This is followed by an exceptionally supernatural tale, THE WRATH OF ANGELS, in which previous characters and questions as to Parker's past and 'uncanny nature' come to light in a story that also explicitly features a buried, malevolent god. Great stuff. THE WOLF IN WINTER follows this with an intriguing, though ultimately squandered, tale of a town that feeds women to another, different, buried entity. 

However, events in this book lead into A SONG OF SHADOWS, which I'm currently reading. It's another one like THE WHISPERERS in that, so far, Conolly is keeping the action removed from Parker's viewpoint; effectively, making him a character in his own story. This has worked well before, (particularly in THE REAPERS, which focused on Louis and Angel - Parker's best friends and thoroughly dangerous accomplices) though here it can't help but create a kind of impatience: we know, from many of the other books, how Parker tends to come across to others, but how is his current situation affecting him directly? What is going through his mind right now, as he takes it upon himself to investigate the discovery of a corpse on the beach near his current hideaway?  

I can't wait to find out, though. From all accounts his latest, brand new, book, A TIME OF TORMENT, is an excellent jumping-on point for new readers, but I'd recommend THE LOVERS, before going back to the beginning with EVERY DEAD THING. THE LOVERS deals with Parker's childhood and the suicide of his father, which is mentioned quite a few times beforehand, though the events surrounding his dad's death feature a heavy supernatural component that gets repeated/referenced in later novels. It works as a decent standalone story but also gives that sense of intrigue that makes reading the preceding books that little bit more interesting: Parker is touched by the unnatural from the very beginning, so in what ways will it manifest going forward?

And now, to finish, how can I not link to his namesake? I CAN'T. So here you go:

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