Thursday, September 29, 2011
Author Spotlight | John Connolly
The truth of nature, wrote the philosopher Democritus, lies in deep mines and caves. The stability of what is seen and felt beneath our feet is an illusion, for this life is not as it seems. Below the surface, there are cracks and fissures and pockets of stale, trapped air; stalagmites and helactites and unmapped dark rivers that flow ever downward. It is a place of caverns and stone waterfalls, a labyrinth of crystal tumors and frozen columns where history becomes future, then becomes now.
For in total blackness, time has no meaning.” - John Connolly, The Killing Kind
One read of this opening paragraph in The Killing Kind and I fell in love. This Irish crime author was a serendipitous find at my favorite bookshop, the little one at Coimbatore airport. Every line read like something from an Edgar Allen Poe poem and I realized I had finally found an writer who refused to treat me like an idiot just because I enjoyed stories from another realm.
Connolly’s hero and my favorite fictitious crush, Charlie Parker, straddles the delicate boundary between the real world and a darker one Connolly refers to as the Honeycomb world; a place where things go bump in the night. His plotting is like a Micheal Nyman composition, it takes a while to build up, but when it does you can't gulp it down fast enough. I found myself devouring his long richly drawn character sketches that did not interfere with the most tightly woven plot I had read in a long time. I also hadn't met a sexier detective, Agent Pendergast is too strange to count.
I spent a good part of the next three weeks catching up on every Charlie Parker book he had ever written. When we meet Charlie in The Killing Kind, he has gone through the worst possible thing any man can endure which has left him with wounds raw, gaping and easy to pick at by those creatures that lurk in the Honeycomb world, who are drawn to him like moth to a fire. We also meet his two close friends Louis and Angel, who aid and abet him in a cowboy pursuit of his nemesis. To read a Charlie Parker novel is to descend into the depths of human depravity so much so that you start to suffocate until he brings you up for a little air, nicely provided by Charlie Parker’s dry wit and the ongoing banter between Louis and Angel.
Over the next few installments, Charlie is pulled deeper into this labyrinth as he solves one crime after another and the ensuing web that Connolly weaves suggests that our hero is something of a deliverer of justice for all those in purgatory, no surprises there. Many parts of the concept remind me of Constantine, that most favorite comic character of mine.
Charlie does find happiness albeit momentarily only to lose it again. The supernatural element, ever present, seemed to only linger in the background until the The Black Angel, my favorite, where the Honeycomb world blasts into your reality and you know that Connolly has decided not to hold back anymore.
The Burning Soul, released on 6th September 2011, begins with an abduction of a child in a small town called Pastors Bay in Maine. All the novels are based in the state of Maine, a character in itself as it provides much of the evocative atmosphere. There are the odd trips to New York, but Charlie is a countryman at heart. He is pulled in not to find the missing girl, but to save the face of one who could be potentially framed for it; a man with a secret so close to Charlie’s haunted past that it seems darkly ironic that he chooses to even help him. Redemption: As always the book deals with it, others and his own, against the backdrop of this small town being picked apart by a vicious Italian gang war. Any more and I will spoil it for you but the usual characters Louis, Angel and the hilarious Fulcis make an appearance. The otherworldliness is kept at the fringes like a watchful cat, waiting to pounce and it does for one small scary moment involving Parker and a television. This subtle use of the supernatural is what makes it so potent and almost believable.
This book is less violent and more deductive in its plot line than its predecessors. The author admits that having children has made it harder for him to delve into the darkness anymore. One review went as far to say Connolly is steering Parker towards the mainstream detective reading public who read Lee Child and Eric Larsson. I was happy to find that to be untrue as the macabre still hovers in the air:
“But the ravens had come to it, for the ravens liked dying things.”
The Burning Soul also humbles our usually razor sharp detective, making us wonder what more Connolly can throw at him before he breaks altogether. I just wish him some luck, love and hope that the author cuts him some slack soon.
The Killing Kind and its sequel, The White Road, are not for the faint hearted. My mother winced as she read and kept the light on as she went to sleep. His darkness is disturbing but there is always light in the horizon and we are more grateful for it once we immerse ourselves in his luscious writing.
The Burning Soul works as a stand alone novel but if you want to really get into the thick of things start at the beginning with Every Dead Thing or The Killing Kind and work your way up. You lucky lucky thing.
Read this if you love: Stephen King, Peter Straub, Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe, John Donne poetry and P D James.
Avoid: If you are squeamish and don't enjoy the macabre. Even then try it if you like beautiful writing.
For more John Connolly check out The Caterpillar Cafe's poem inspired by the author's honeycomb world.
Buy The Burning Soul; Buy The Killing Kind; Buy Every Dead Thing