In the depths of the Maine woods, the wreckage of an aeroplane is discovered. There are no bodies, and no such plane has ever been reported missing, but men both good and evil have been seeking it for a long, long time. What the wreckage conceals is more important than money: it is power. Hidden in the plane is a list of names, a record of those who have struck a deal with the Devil. Now a battle is about to commence between those who want the list to remain secret and those who believe that it represents a crucial weapon in the struggle against the forces of darkness. The race to secure the prize draws in private detective Charlie Parker, a man who knows more than most about the nature of the terrible evil that seeks to impose itself on the world, and who fears that his own name may be on the list. It lures others too: a beautiful, scarred woman with a taste for killing; a silent child who remembers his own death; and the serial killer known as the Collector, who sees in the list new lambs for his slaughter. But as the rival forces descend upon this northern state, the woods prepare to meet them, for the forest depths hide other secrets. Someone has survived the crash. Some thing has survived the crash. And it is waiting . . .
If you go down to the woods today you’re sure of a big, and in true John Connolly fashion, quite nasty surprise in this the eleventh, in the Charlie Parker series. Fear not if this is your first step into the dark, supernatural tinged tales from the pen of Mr Connolly as there is just the right amount of back story to bring you right up to speed as to why everyone behaves in the way that they do, and the numerous, and at times more than a bit scary skeletons that reside in Parker’s closet which delight in coming back to bite him on the derriere. If you’re a seasoned fan of the unholy trinity of Charlie, Louis and Angel step right in and prepare to be entertained- this is a corker with more than a few familiar faces along the way…
Despite the slight flippancy of the introduction to my review, this is indeed one of the darkest tales yet featuring Charlie Parker and there is a suffocating miasma of evil throughout the whole affair, with most characters being touched in some way by this atmosphere of death and misery. From the opening scene of a dying old man’s confession of a past sin to a sinister path of discovery towards a hidden list of doomed souls, Connolly weaves a convoluted tale that is murderous, tangential and twisting hither and thither with all the main protagonists being expertly drawn together for a bloody denouement. As I alluded to earlier, the recurring characters all have a part to play and with the reappearance of wonderfully sinister Kushiel (or ‘The Collector’) and with a couple of other nasty surprises, there is more than enough to keep Parker on the back foot throughout the novel as they close in for different reasons to the acquisition of the list, languishing in the wrecked fuselage of a crashed plane in the backwoods of Maine. As regular readers of Connolly know, there is a strict adherence in his writing that no-one can really be perceived as ‘good’( and spookily in this tale not even children as one character more than proves)- there is an element of badness within all the main characters with strikingly different reasons for the course of their actions and how this ‘badness’ manifests itself in their own tarnished views of the world. There is always a balance between depraved cruelty and loving heroism and this is what sets Connolly apart from just being a mainstream crime writer as his books always give the reader something more to think about on the human condition, as well as his ability to construct a good yarn…
There is a carefully used quote at the outset of the book from artist Andrew Wyeth that says “I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape- the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show” and what was particularly striking in this novel was Connolly’s adherence to the naturalistic writing style prevalent in the formative period of American fiction in his depiction and realisation of the potency of the natural environment within this tale. The natural setting of the woods is instrumental to the thrust of the plot and his perfectly rendered descriptions of the beauty but inherent malevolence of the natural world are perfectly realised. Skilfully interweaving folkloric tales into the plot, the woods and their surrounds become like another character in the book and influence greatly the actions of the human characters within its confines as it seeks to conceal the evidence of evil that the protagonists are seeking with a grail-like intensity…
But even within the darkness of the plot there are elements of humour particularly in the interplay of Charlie, Louis and Angel on a particularly eventful evening babysitting Parker’s daughter Sam and in the description of the most depressing ‘titty bar’on the planet to name but two, and these interludes of playful joshing or pure wit do much to lighten the sinister atmosphere that prevails within the rest of the novel.
All in all another great read in an always entertaining, yet wonderfully disturbing series that deviates enough from being strictly crime writing to incorporate moments of pure horror but beautifully balanced with a literary, naturalistic and philosophical bent- what more could any reader ask for?
See John Connolly talking about the new book and Charlie Parker here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3xz3TyE74I
(Many thanks to Kerry Hood at Hodder for the advance reading copy)
BOOKS TO DIE FOR is a unique, must-have anthology for any fan of the mystery genre, featuring personal essays from 120 of the world’s most beloved and renowned crime writers on the mysteries and thrillers that they most admire, edited by two of their own—John Connolly and Declan Burke.
Certainly like the look of this new collection from some of the finest names in crime writing and if you pop over to the website you can make your own contribution as well- http://www.bookstodiefor.net/p/your-picks.html