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June 23, 2009 / C.T. Henry

Gone to the Dark Side

They say that if you start with small addictions, like gateway drugs, it can lead to harder stuff.  Well, it’s true.  I’ve always liked hard-boiled mysteries, and after being introduced to the likes of Charlie Huston, I’ve finally gone over to the dark side.  I’ve become addicted to John Connolly’s books.

theunquietI first read Connolly’s The Unquiet (2007), which was a finalist for the Gumshoe award and the Macavity award.  I thought it was profound and unlike anything else that I had read.  Connolly’s writing not only challenged me, but the gothic style simply mesmerized me.  Then I read his first book, Every Dead Thing (1999), which won the Shamus award for Best P.I. First Novel.  Among readers, however, Every Dead Thing received mixed reviews for the violence described within its pages.  Some people may be frightened by such horrors, but Connolly pushes the envelope in the first book so that Charlie Parker is thoroughly transformed by the violence.  Like Bruce Wayne losing his parents, Parker has to rise above the tragedy and commit himself to something greater.  While other readers may think that Every Dead Thing is a masterpiece, I would refrain from such a compliment.  I think Connolly’s craft is constantly improving.   His subsequent books are better simply because they become more layered, blending the hard-boiled detective story with supernatural elements.  The addition of Louis and Angel, as reoccurring characters in the series, is also simply brilliant.  For much of April, I was an addict, reading one Charlie “Bird” Parker mystery after the other, until I had read them all.

Fair Warning: Unlike other authors, Connolly writes about the dark side of the human psyche, and his villains ooze with evil.  As perfect foils for the protagonist, Connolly’s bad guys are well written and almost supernatural.  If you can’t stand reading about sadistic serial killers, spiders, ghosts, angels, and demons, then don’t bother.

I love Connolly’s hints of the supernatural.  He never goes overboard or writes overtly, instead there is always something that remains hidden, something going on beyond the surface, something more than a fairy tale…

every-dead-thingEvery Dead Thing (1999)
First line: “The patrol car arrived first on the night they died, shedding red light into the darkness.” When you read Every Dead Thing, you get two books for the price of one.  This haunting thriller is written in two acts, which could easily have been two separate books; however, they work well together.  The first introduces you to ex-Detective Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, and the second, shows you the depths that he will go to.
As the book opens, Parker’s wife and daughter are brutally murdered by a serial killer, known as the Traveling Man.  The descriptions of the violence are visceral and often repugnant.  This is not a story for the squeamish.  Connolly wants readers to understand why Parker believes that true Evil does exist.  At the beginning, you can’t help but empathize with Parker.  His tragedy transforms him though, and that’s why he’s such a fascinating character.  The first act is about Parker’s search for a missing girl in New York.  In the second act, Parker chases the serial killer, who killed his white and daughter, to Louisiana, where the pace quickens and Parker confronts his worst nightmare. In the end, the soulful way Connolly writes about morality and how Parker deals with the pain in his life are the main enticements of this first novel.

Dark HollowDark Hollow (2001)
First line: “I dream dark dreams.” Book Description: Haunted by the murder of his wife and daughter, former New York police detective Charlie Parker retreats home to Scarborough, Maine, to rebuild his shattered life. But his return awakens old ghosts, drawing him into the manhunt for the killer of yet another mother and child. The obvious suspect is the young woman’s violent ex-husband. But there is another possibility — a mythical figure who lurks deep in the dark hollow of Parker’s own past, a figure that has haunted his family for generations: the monster known as Caleb Kyle….

The second book, featuring avenging angel/P.I. Charlie Parker, suffers from an over abundance of villains.  Even though it all comes together in the end, the pursuit of Billy Purdue’s stolen millions involves Mafia hit men, two sadistic assassins-for-hire, and a legendary serial killer named Caleb Kyle.  Like the Boogeyman, parents have used Kyle’s name for thirty years to keep their children under control.  His name alone expresses fear: “Caleb Kyle, Caleb Kyle, when you see him run a mile.”  Nevertheless, the action is swift and abundant, especially with introduction of Parker’s new partners: Angel and Louis.  While Angel happily provides the comic relief, Louis rounds out the partnership as a stone-cold killer.  The three of them make a lethal team.

killing kindThe Killing Kind (2002)
First line: “This is a honeycomb world. It hides a hollow heart.” Book Description: Did Grace Peltier commit suicide? When a mass grave in Northern Maine reveals the final resting place of a religious community that disappeared almost 40 years earlier, detective Charlie Park realizes that their deaths and the violent passing of Grace are part of the same mystery.

The Killing Kind is, by far, my favorite in the series so far.  Not for the faint-hearted, Connolly’s third Charlie Parker novel is deliciously evil.  He’s created one of the best villains ever with the fiendish, arachnid-loving Mr. Pudd.  In addition, Parker must solve a case involving the disappearance of a cult-like religious group in the 1960s.   More tightly written than his previous books, Connolly’s plot unravels to reveal something truly sinister.  Only Parker can stop it.

white roadThe White Road (2003)
First line: “They are coming.” Book Description: In South Carolina, a young black man faces the death penalty for the rape and murder of Marianne Larousse, daughter of one of the wealthiest men in the state. It’s a case that nobody wants to touch, deeply rooted in old evil — and old evil is Charlie Parker’s specialty. He’s about to enter a living nightmare, a dreamscape of sorrow haunted by the murderous specter of a hooded woman, by a black car waiting for a passenger that never comes, and by the sinister complicity of both friends and enemies in Larousse’s brutal death. Soon, all will face a final reckoning in an unearthly realm where the paths of the living and the dead converge. A place known only as the White Road.

Set in the South, away from the usual New England setting, Connolly’s fourth Parker thriller is an excellent sequel to The Killing Kind. Readers learn more about Parker’s two pals, Angel and Louis, and some unfinished business from The Killing Kind is finally resolved. Plus, this book unveils Parker’s true role in this wonderfully gothic series of good and evil.

black angelThe Black Angel (2005)
First line: “The woman stepped carefully from the Greyhound bus, her right hand holding firmly on to the bar as she eased herself down.” Book Description: When a young woman disappears from the streets of New York City, ties of friendship and blood inevitably draw ingenious, tortured detective Charlie Parker into the search. Soon he discovers links to a church of bones in Eastern Europe, a 1944 slaughter at a French monastery, and to the myth of an object known as the Black Angel — considered by evil men to be beyond priceless. But the Black Angel is not a legend. It is real. It lives. It dreams. And the mystery of its existence may contain the secret of Parker’s own origins.

Except for a lengthy tangent about two American WWII veterans, this book tells an amazing story about an object protected for centuries by Cisterian monks.  Connolly also finally delves more deeply into the supernatural aspects of the Charlie “Bird” Parker series, as Parker must face the truth about his origins.  Overall, it was a compelling read from start to finish.  If I were to recommend three books to read in a row, it would be The Killing Kind, The White Road, and The Black Angel.  They’re really one story, and The Black Angel ends it brilliantly.

nocturnesNocturnes (2004)
Connolly also wrote a Charlie Parker novella in Nocturnes, an anthology of short stories.  In “The Reflecting Eye,” he introduces the Collector, who also appears in The Unquiet.  Before The Unquiet, I highly recommend reading this short story.

Book Description: Bestselling author John Connolly’s first collection of short fiction, Nocturnes, now features five additional stories — never-before published for an American audience — in a dark, daring, utterly haunting anthology of lost lovers and missing children, predatory demons, and vengeful ghosts. In “The New Daughter,” a father comes to suspect that a burial mound on his land hides something very ancient, and very much alive; in “The Underbury Witches,” two London detectives find themselves battling a particularly female evil in a town culled of its menfolk. And finally, private detective Charlie Parker returns in the long novella “The Reflecting Eye,” in which the photograph of an unknown girl turns up in the mailbox of an abandoned house once occupied by an infamous killer. This discovery forces Parker to confront the possibility that the house is not as empty as it appears, and that something has been waiting in the darkness for its chance to kill again.

Other books written by John Connolly:

bad menBad Men (2004)
Book Description: In 1693, the settlers on the small Maine island of Sanctuary were betrayed to their enemies and slaughtered. Since then, the island has known three hundred years of peace. Until now…

A group of men are descending on Sanctuary, their purpose to hunt down and kill the wife of their leader and retrieve the money that she stole from him. All that stands in their way are a young rookie officer, Sharon Macy, and Melancholy Joe Dupree, the island’s strange, troubled policeman.

Joe Dupree is no ordinary policeman. He is the guardian of the island’s secrets, the repository of its memories. He knows that Sanctuary has been steeped in blood once; it will tolerate the shedding of innocent blood no longer. Now a band of killers is set to desecrate Sanctuary and unleash the fury of its ghosts upon themselves and all who stand by them.

On Sanctuary, evil is about to meet its match….

reapersThe Reapers (2008)
Book Description: As a small boy, Louis witnesses an unspeakable crime that takes the life of a member of his small, southern community. He grows up and moves on, but he is forever changed by the cruel and brutal nature of the act. It lights a fire deep within him that burns white and cold, a quiet flame just waiting to ignite. Now, years later, the sins of his life are reaching into his present, bringing with them the buried secrets and half-forgotten acts of his past.

Someone is hunting him, targeting his home, his businesses, and his partner, Angel. The instrument of revenge is Bliss, a killer of killers, the most feared of assassins. Bliss is a Reaper, a lethal tool to be applied toward the ultimate end, but he is also a man with a personal vendetta.

Hardened by their pasts, Louis and Angel decide to strike back. While they form a camaraderie that brings them solace, it offers them no shelter from the fate that stalks them. When they mysteriously disappear, their friends are forced to band together to find them. They are led by private detective Charlie Parker, a killer himself, a Reaper in waiting.

If you’re one to venture into the dark, try John Connolly’s books.  They’re definitely worth it.



Leave a Comment
  1. Corey Wilde / Jun 23 2009 1:09 pm

    I’m going to have to move Every Dead Thing higher up in the TBR stack…

  2. Hard Boiled / Jun 25 2009 2:38 pm

    I haven’t read any of these and I must admit I am a little put off by the supernatural elements. Are you sure you it should be considered hard boiled mystery?

    For instance there are a couple series that I have been reading which sound very similar in regards to the supernatural. They are mysteries but I almost put them in the horror/thriller genre.

    F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack series is about a “fixer” who runs into some very weird stuff while trying to solve some ugly situations for regular people. These are quite violent.
    Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas series is about a regular guy who can see spirits and tries to find out who killed them. These are a bit lighter in nature.

    I enjoy both series, but I would in no way class them with the authors you have mentioned in your top ten hard boiled list.

  3. Kara / Jun 25 2009 6:36 pm

    After reading one John Connolly book that isn’t described here, The Book of Lost Things, I thought I could add to this conversation. Connolly is an excellent writer with a vivid imagination who, in this “children’s book for adults”, creates a mystical and evocative world. Like other talented writers, his works seem to defy characterization and span multiple genres including fantasy, mystery, and thriller. Regardless of how you classify this book, Connolly’s phrasing and word choice made my reading of The Book of Lost Things pure enjoyment.

  4. johnbsher / Jun 29 2009 10:21 pm

    I’m a john connolly aficionado and have just started his latest “the lovers” having been hooked from the early days when I read “every dead thing”. personally i haven’t come across anyone straddling the same space as connolly – yes there are supernatural elements (think stephen king at his more subtle e.g. the dark half, before he lost the plot and decided that 1000 pages was a substitute for any kind of sensible narrative but I digress) but parker is a tortured p.i. and with angel & louis as sidekicks the stories always remain routed in the mystery / thriller category. with his latest just the opening 2 page prologue was enough to reel me in and set aside the other books I’ve been reading to concentrate on his.

  5. Hard Boiled / Jul 7 2009 2:58 pm

    So I read my first John Connolly (Every Dead Thing) and I did enjoy it, though I would place it in the thriller category moreso than mystery. Simply put, I figured it out well before the payoff. That doesn’t mean I wont be reading more though because the pacing was great. I’m sure I’ll have most of them read before the end of the year. That is if I can squeeze them between Charles Todd’s Ian Rutledge series of which I am on book three.

    • henryct / Jul 8 2009 8:09 am

      Hard Boiled,
      Glad you enjoyed Every Dead Thing. Remember it wasn’t my favorite, but I know many readers like to start with the first book in the series.

      I also liked the beginning of Charles Todd’s Ian Rutledge series. I loved a Test of Wills and Legacy of the Dead.


  1. Best Reads of 2009 (so far) « The Mystery Bookshelf

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