by John Connolly
Recommended Ages: 16+
This creepy, grisly novel has a hero who moves with unsettling ease among monsters in human form. One of Bird's best friends is a (cough) semi-retired hitman. He seems to specialize in bearding the lion in his den, paying social calls (in search of information) to no fewer than three executive-level gangsters and actually playing a role in the destruction of two of them. He has a murder on his own conscience, and when he's hanging out with the law-and-order side of his social set, he seems to attract (as in, gravitationally) cops with a blemished record of their own.
Something between that and a light touch of the paranormal – a few faint glimmers of ghosts, a subplot involving psychic communication with a dead girl and a voodoo witch – make this a story that twists the serial killer/detective genre in a disturbing new direction. The magic isn't right out in the open, but it's woven into the fabric of the novel in a way that distinctly alters the texture from a crime procedural to something uncanny, laced with metaphysical threat.
However, this is also a gorgeously written literary novel, reflecting its well-read, intelligent characters. Take, for example, this description of a shabby little town in Virginia:
It was the sort of place where, once a year, the local Veterans of Foreign Wars got together, hired a bus, and went somewhere else to commmemorate their dead.Or this interlude in a conversation between Bird and the father of one of the child-killer's victims:
Perhaps he saw something in my face, even in the slow-darkening evening, that led him to understand. I do not know for certain, and he gave no sign that he knew or that there was anything more between us than a need to know and a desire to tell, but he stopped for a moment in the telling and in that pause we all but touched, like two travelers who pass on a long, hard road and offer comfort to each other in the journey.I mention the fact that I guessed whodunit long before Bird cottoned on, not as a flaw in this book, but rather as evidence that it was well planned and straightforward and doesn't attempt to deceive us, like the works of some mystery writers. (You know I mean you, Jeffery.)
Prior to this book, the only John Connolly title I had read was The Book of Lost Things. His Charlie Parker novels, starting with this 1999 book, continue to the present day, with the 18th installment, The Dirty South, due for release in October 2020. Next in line after this book is Dark Hollow. Connolly is also the author of two books of scary short stories, Nocturnes and Night Music; three "Samuel Johnson vs. the Darkness" novels for young people, starting with The Gates; the sci-fi trilogy "Chronicles of the Invaders," starting with Conquest; the standalone novel Bad Men; and a novel about film comedians Laurel and Hardy, titled He.