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Book Review- “A Time of Torment” by John Connolly

September 10, 2016 Leave a comment

(I try to keep my reviews as spoiler free, but when you’re talking about the 13th entry in a series that isn’t always possible. So this is just a warning if you’re not caught up on the Charlie Parker series, turn back now. There are some spoilers about the endings of previous novels in the series, but this review of “A Time of Torment” is spoiler free.)

time-of-tormentPart of the reason why I love John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series of novels is the fact that they’re essentially the literary equivalent of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in that they combine two great tastes that taste great together: crime and horror. He’s been doing that since he began the series in 1999 and with each novel he took readers deeper and deeper into a larger supernatural epic. It’s been a hugely satisfying journey.

Now that we’re here, Connolly faces another challenge with his Charlie Parker novels: providing a story that serves as a fascinating sort of one off case for Parker and his associates while also deepening the long form supernatural epic tale that has started to take shape in recent years. It’s a similar challenge faced by television writers and if his most recent novel, “A Time of Torment,” is any indication Connolly is more than up to the challenge.

“A Time of Torment” picks up with Charlie Parker in the awesome status quo we saw him in at the end of the last novel “A Song of Shadows”: recovered from his near fatal shooting at the end of book 11 and seemingly stronger than ever. He, Louis, and Angel are being proactive in their hunt for some very bad and possibly supernaturally tainted people. They’re also being assisted and paid by an FBI agent who may be part of a larger cabal aware that the stage is being set for something apocalyptic and Parker, his friends, and family have a specific role to play the coming event.

So in “A Time of Torment” Connolly serves up plenty of hints to his larger, epic story. You get some answers to questions about certain characters and larger and even more exciting questions are raised. You even get the perspective of a character who’s been part of the series for a while, but you’ve never really been given a lot of their point of view. In “A Time of Torment” you get to spend some time with this character and see things through their eyes. It lead to some fun and some chilling scenes.

The case Parker, Louis, and Angel also become involved with is both powerful and ImageHandler.ashxchilling. It involves a client who in a chance encounter at a gas station chose to be a hero and saved the lives of some innocent people, but in doing so he crossed the wrong people and paid a huge price. It’s a powerful crime set up and a great use of existential horror.

It also leads to some interesting new characters. Parker’s client Jerome Burel is a tragic and very sympathetic character. Once you meet him and hear his whole story you’ll be invested in the tale and rooting for Parker, Angel, and Louis to get him their special brand of brutal and sort of cleansing justice.

That quest for justice will lead to a county in West Virginia that’s populated with some interesting and fascinating characters that include the county Sheriff, a young African American boy, and the book’s villains. You do get to spend some time with the book’s villains and they are quite vile. You’ll root for them to brought down, but not everything is black and white. Connolly shows you some of the book’s villains are viler than others. They’re nuanced characters. I’m speaking generally because I don’t want to spoil anything for readers.

So in “A Time of Torment” Connolly expertly juggles a lot of different things: his regular cast, his ongoing story, and a new tale involving a whole host of nuanced and fully fleshed out characters. The end result is another deeply satisfying read that’s powerful, creepy, exciting, and a heck of a lot of fun. You also get another great final scene that will leave you very eager for the next Parker novel.

 

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Book Review- “A Song of Shadows” by John Connolly

November 5, 2015 Leave a comment

song-of-shadows-225I try to keep all my reviews spoiler free, but John Connolly’s latest Charlie Parker novel picks up directly from the explosive conclusion of the last book in the series, “The Wolf in Winter.” It also answers some questions about the larger supernatural story the writer has been telling over the course of the series, while raising more interesting questions. So I’m going to have to kick this review off with a very large SPOILER WARNING! If you haven’t read any of the books in Connolly’s Parker series go read them, and if you’re behind get caught up! you’ll be glad you did!.

So now that that’s out of the way let’s dive into the latest Parker novel “A Song of Shadows.” It’s quite an interesting read seeing how for most of it our lead character is trying hard to recover from the near fatal shooting he suffered at the end of “The Wolf in Winter.” So Parker is broken in body, but not mind or spirit. Connolly picks things up with his protagonist renting a house in a Small Maine vacation style town named Boreas So there’s a cool and almost melancholy vibe when things begin. It’s almost like the fascinating first season of BBC’s “Broadchurch”; not in terms of plot, but initial mood or tone.

Parker is in this town trying to get better with the assistance of his friends (two of the best supporting characters in crime– and heck any genre fiction!) Angel and Louis. It’s nice to have Angel and Louis as part of the story from the get go. It makes sense too considering these guys would be there for Parker as he’s trying to overcome his devastating physical injuries and decide if he’s going to go back to his old job as a private detective or become something different.

So Parker is testing himself physically day by day with walks and strengthening exercises and then trouble arrives to test him mentally and spiritually. That trouble appears in two forms; a body that washes up on shore and a haunted single mother neighbor whose sick daughter Parker bonds with. That connection opens the door to the emergence of a character who has become a regular reoccurring character in these books, Parker’s daughter, Samantha, who comes to visit him and has a playdate with his neighbor’s daughter.

I’ve always liked Sam. She’s been a cute and interesting character, but in “A Song of Shadows” you get a glimpse of just howImageHandler.ashx interesting Sam really is. Questions are raised like does seeing and communicating with ghosts run in Parker’s family? And like Parker, does Sam have a larger supernatural destiny? Connolly provides some definite answers to some of those questions and some cool, creepy, and tantalizing hints about the others.

The parts with Sam were some of my favorite sections of the book, but the main mystery is fairly interesting as well. The washed up body puts Parker in the sights of hitman and a sinister conspiracy of people who have lots of blood on their hands; blood that’s decades old. So it’s not his reoccurring foes, The Believers, but it’s a conspiracy of people who are arguably just as evil, if not more so.

Investigating those crimes and recuperating brings Parker back into the circle of some other fun and fascinating faces, both old and new. Characters like the Fulci brothers and Parker’s Ex Rachel make some entertaining appearances, but I also enjoyed spending time with Parker’s state police contact Gordon Walsh, who finds himself becoming even more immersed in the Detective’s dark and sinister world. I also liked the Chief of Police in Boreas who found herself strangely drawn to Parker.

As far as big cases and explosive action go the one in “A Song in Shadows” is relatively quiet. Some people might be disappointed in that, but it makes sense. Ultimately, the novel is not about that. It’s a more quiet piece about a wounded man finding his way back and deciding what kind of destiny he wants for himself, while also discovering if he has any choice in that destiny. What Parker finds in those last pages of the book are both chilling and exciting. It sets the stage for some truly epic stories and takes the series in a new and interesting direction. As always, I can’t wait to see where the series goes next.

Book Review- “The Wrath of Angels”

February 10, 2013 2 comments

The Wrath of Angels US, John Connolly,“Now that’s more like it, Mr. Wayne”- Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) “The Dark Knight”

When I first started reading John Connolly’s series of novels about police man turned private detective Charlie Parker I was under the impression that I was going to be getting some cool crime fiction tales about P.I. up against some of the worst criminals imaginable. I got that, but I also got something a little more intriguing. Just below the surface there was a bubbling undercurrent of supernatural horror. It was also almost implied, you weren’t sure if the horror elements were real or a product of Parker’s grief stricken mind.

As the series progressed that undercurrent began to bubble even faster and eventually reached a boil in 2009’s “The Lovers,” one of my favorite books in the series. It was there where after wading into the supernatural horror swimming pool that Connolly finally took his readers into deep end. After that we were given two books that had supernatural elements, but did not add to the larger tale that Connolly had been telling about Parker’s battle against beings that may or may not be fallen angels and the shadowy figures that supported them. These books were entertaining, but they didn’t contain the payoffs I was looking for. I’m happy to report though Connolly’s latest Charlie Parker novel, “The Wrath of Angels” was all I was hoping it would be and more.

In “The Wrath of Angels” Parker is hired to find a plane that crashed deep in the Maine woods several years back. Sounds fairly mundane right? Wrong! It’s believed that wreckage of the plane contains a list of people who have struck deals with the devils

This means that more people then Parker are interested in the list. In “The Lovers” Connolly introduced a Rabbi named Epstein who hunts fallenImageHandler.ashx angels with the help of a private army. He returns in “The Wrath of Angels” and wants to use the list to strike a blow for righteousness. The Collector, the fearsome and vengeful serial killer that Connelly introduced back in a novella in his short story collection “Nocturnes” wants to use it to add to his collection and eliminate some evil doers. And of course the forces of darkness want to make sure none of them retrieve the list. That triangle makes ‘The Wrath of Angels” so much fun.

You of course get to spend your usual amount of time with Parker and his friends and comrades at arms the ex-hit man known as Louis and his lover the ex-burglar Angel. Regular readers of the series know that Louis and Angel are both awe inspiring bad-asses and provide the Parker books with some much needed comic relief. On top of that usual stuff though you get so many more cool and interesting insights.

For instance, you get to learn more about the past of Rabbi Epstein and his organization. What we learn there is so exciting and interesting that I wouldn’t mind reading a novel about the exploits of Epstein and his organization.

You also get to spend an extended amount of time with the Collector. Connolly gives you a peek inside this intriguing character’s background and how his world works. Those scenes  just jumped off the page too.

Plus you’re given a lot more info about the fallen angels and the organization that supports them. There are some pretty creepy and cool revelations there that I won’t spoil, but let’s just say they’re an even more fearsome than I previously thought.

The shadowy organization lingers in the background of “The Wrath of Angels,” but they also send out two champions to deal with those trying to gain control of the list. One will be familiar to long time fans of the Parker series, and one is a creepy new villain. They’re not the only opposition either. The patch of Maine Woods where the crash plane lays is haunted by forces both living and dead.

So that mix of horror, action, revelations, and compelling characters makes for a hell of a read. “The Wrath of Angels” is one of the best entries in the Charlie Parker series, and not just because it’s an immensely satisfying read. It’s also because the book furthers the larger story Connelly is telling and sets up what could be an even more interesting and exciting next novel.

Book Review- The Whisperers

September 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Many of my friends know John Connolly from his novel “The Book of Lost Things”, but I haven’t read that yet. I discovered Connolly through his work on the Charlie Parker series of novels. They’re great reads that mix together the best elements of horror and private eye fiction for an always enjoyable cocktail.

The last entry in the Parker series, “The Lovers” was particularly enjoyable. That’s because for years after giving you scenes where the supernatural elements may or may not have been figments of characters’ imaginations Connolly plunged readers into the deep end of the supernatural pool with a story about his protagonist’s true origins. The revelations about Parker in “The Lovers” got me excited because they meant the series could go in some very interesting directions.

It doesn’t seem like Connolly is ready to head down those directions, at least not yet. Because “The Whisperers”, the latest Charlie Parker novel, is for the most part a standard entry in the series. That doesn’t mean it’s bad though, in fact I found it to be a pretty enjoyable read. I’m just really anxious for the next step in the series evolution.

In “The Whisperers” Parker gets hired to investigate an Iraq war vet whose been behaving strangely and waving around a suspicious amount of cash. As Parker investigates he discover the vet and his war buddies are part of an antiquities smuggling ring that has ties to the looting of the Iraq museum. One of the things that they have in their possession is a mysterious box that seems to whisper horrible things to those who posses it.

In “The Whisperers” Connolly gives us the usual mix of first person narration from Parker’s point of view, but he also gives us third person scenes from the perspectives of many other characters. Among these characters are Joel Tobias, the leader of the smuggling ring, and several of his comrades. These scenes are very compelling and poignant in that they give you a glimpse of characters who started off as doing bad things for all the right reasons, but greed stepped in to poison their endeavors. Parker also uses these characters to explore how the U.S. Government is failing the brave men and women who fought in Iraq and illustrates how when a man enters into something like war he’s in danger not just of physical death, but a spiritual one as well. Because the horrors of war can haunt a person long after a conflict is over and turn him into a nasty, broken shell of a human being.

The downside of following other characters is that we get to spend less time with Parker’s comrades Louis and Angel. The gay, black, republican assassin and his Latino thief lover are two of the best supporting characters in thriller and mystery fiction. And whenever they’re around you want to spend as much time as possible with them. Connolly does give readers a few neat scenes with Louis and Angel though.

Another character that Connolly further develops is the enigmatic Collector, a mysterious and supernatural seeming assassin who Parker has come up against before. In “The Whisperers” you learn a little more about who the Collector is and why he does what he does. He also sets up a final and very interesting revelation about Parker’s role in the battle against supernatural evil, which will hopefully set the stage for more supernatural revelations in the next book.

So “The Whisperers” isn’t the best Charlie Parker thriller, but it’s still entertaining and moves the series forward a little more into even more interesting territory. I anxiously await the next entry in the series.