I enjoy stories where different genres are combined, especially when one of those genres is crime fiction. For the past several years writer John Connolly has been telling some great stories that mesh elements of supernatural and psychological horror with detective fiction. In his earlier stories starring private investigator Charlie Parker the horror elements were always sort of at the background. You never quite knew if they were real or not. There were hints that something bigger was going on though.
Then in his 2009 novel “The Lovers” readers got to know a lot more about Parker’s past and it felt like Connolly was ready to plunge into the deep end of the supernatural pool. The novel hinted that some very powerful people were interested in using Parker to fight some very evil things. Since that novel though there hasn’t been much of a follow up. The supernatural still figures into Parker’s cases, but it’s almost like Connolly’s 2010 Parker novel “The Whisperers” and his most recent one “The Burning Soul” are stand alone cases while readers wait for the next big event to happen in Charlie Parker’s life. That doesn’t mean those novels are bad, in fact “The Burning Soul” was quite entertaining. It just makes them a little frustrating.
In “The Burning Soul” a teenage girl is abducted in the small town of Pastor’s Bay. Parker is drawn into the investigation when he agrees to help find out who is blackmailing and trying to frame Randall Haight for the crime. Haight has been targeted because when he was a teenager he and friend murdered a child. He did his time and thanks to the machinations of a crusading judge he even got a new identity upon his release
Parker is a great character so it’s always cool to be seeing things through his eyes especially in the early stages of his investigation when both he and you the reader are getting to know the town of Pastor’s Bay. Randall Haight and several other of its citizens are all colorful and eclectic characters.
We’re also treated to some creepy supernatural scenes. At the very beginning you get the feeling that Parker is being watched by some animals that are in the service to something smarter and more sinister. There are also places where “The Burning Soul” becomes a pretty chilling ghost story.
Things slow down though in the early stages when Connolly moves the action away from Pastor’s Bay and to the mean streets of Boston. Here he focuses on some low level mobsters whose connections to the larger story are not readily apparent. Connolly valiantly tries to make these characters interesting, but the more time we spend with them the more things slow down. Mid way through the book their connection to things become apparent and they disappear only to show up again at the book’s ending. So ultimately they feel a bit extraneous.
Also these two mobsters take away time from other characters like Charlie Parker’s friends Angel, the Hispanic thief and his lover Louis, an African American assassin. Anyone whose read Connolly’s work knows you don’t do that. Angel and Louis are two of the best supporting characters in crime fiction. They still play a role in the “Burning Soul,” but not as big as fans might be used to.
About halfway through “The Burning Soul” heats up and rockets towards a pretty exciting conclusion. We follow Parker’s investigation into who Randall Haight really is and what happened to the missing girl and uncover some pretty shocking and compelling clues. Best of all the last couple lines of the book seem to suggest that Parker’s actions will be reported to a shadowy, nefarious adversary.
So ultimately “The Burning Soul” was not the book I wanted it to be. That doesn’t mean it was a bad one though. It was highly entertaining in parts, had a pretty satisfying climax, and had an ending that could lead to the Parker book I’ve been wanting for several years