No ‘Bones’ about it: Connolly’s epic takes its damned tome…

Pleasure and Panes: John Connolly's haunted private detective Charlie Parker, heads to the UK for a memorable and truly epic read.......

There are places in this world  – and perhaps others – that have ancient, profane power and encountering their touch can bring tragedy and pain. Maine-based private detective Charlie Parker knows that more than most and has spent much of his life avoiding that touch or seeking it out as necessary. Amid his more pedestrian investigations, he knows that  important matters are coming to a head: time may be growing short… as those who believe in twisting the world in their own image – whether they be merely crazy, genuinely dangerous or both – get ever closer to reassembling the ancient ‘Fractured Atlas’ which has influenced its owners through the years.

Parker and his ever-few friends and colleagues find themselves drawn from America to Europe – to Amsterdam and London, gathering further information as the forces aligned against them make their own plans to deal with Parker once and for all.

And a team of British police-officers investigate a series of murders on holy – and unholy – sites, trying to desperately piece together a motive as the real culprits toy with them…

And by the time all is done, there will be sacrifices…

 

John Connolly is clearly a man who values words and knows their power – indeed, one could reasonably argue that  A Book of Bones is about that very adoration. Connolly is in love with the sheer art of language as much as with the needs of story and it shows here more than ever. In this latest entry in his Charlie Parker series, by far the longest, thickest tome so far, he populates the sentences, paragraphs and chapters with so much loquacious language that it weaves between being genuinely beautiful and even occasionally a little self-indulgent, never using a one syllable word when a more lyrical one in Latin and three times its length will do and never turning down the opportunity to meander on roads less traveled into historical anecdotes that go beyond basic research and into incidental tableaux that read like an anthem of expanded footnotes.

This is undeniably Connolly’s most ambitious book to date – arguably, not his best, but only in the sense that there are too many threads, too many diversions and too many ideas and incidental characters colliding within its pages – enough for two separate and distinct volumes at least. Epic: yes. Thrilling: absolutely. Magical: in all senses of the word, of course. But this is not, then, a journey for the casual reader nor the faint-hearted, nor an entry point in to the world of Charlie Parker, but a culmination of many plot strands and characters from previous entries and two decades of Connolly’s writing (this, amazingly, being the seventeenth Parker story). It has moments that soar majestically and swoop with precision and others that knowingly drag feet along the ground, inspecting every bit of dirt and stone along the way… and your mileage may vary on the resulting balance as you make your way through it all.

Running to the best part of 700 pages, A Book of Bones actually feels like two very different stories sharing the same shelf-space, like two complete strangers on a bench merely sheltering from the same storm under the same covering umbrella for convenience – each with their own very different tales to tell but only exchanging occasional pleasantries and worried glances in each other’s direction.

It’s always a pleasure to meet up with Charlie Parker again as he navigates both mundane matters and those that speak to some horrors beyond the veil of man. Here, he and companions Angel and Louis are frequently strangers in a strange land, almost half the book taking place in Europe as they chase down matters related to the whispered dangers of the historical Fractured Atlas – the arcane collection that people have killed for and which has made people kill for it. But alongside that, imbued with the same razor-sharp wit, banter and ear for dialogue that’s made the Charlie Parker stories such a delight, is a no less interesting, investigation into a series of ritual murders scattered across the UK that brings in several new domestic police characters that quickly become just as endearing.

Long time readers are aware, but casual readers might not know that Connolly is in fact an Irish writer, rather than American, so it probably shouldn’t be surprising that he has such a handle on British manner and policing – it’s just we haven’t seen it given free rein before.  Though it feels like a hard gear-shift, such elements are excellently executed and almost demand that the author write some more for the Eastern side of the Atlantic divide (and perhaps more straight ‘crime’ fiction rather than tinged with the supernatural) though Connolly has a knack for letting us warm to characters before coldly dispatching them and making it hurt, so we’ll see if any such survivors of A Book of Bones get a repeat performance.

There’s something unnerving in reading about the destruction of a holy site while glancing towards the television screen and seeing Notre Dame in flames or noting the rise in reports of racism across the board – the kind of synchronicity between fact and fiction that sends a chill. Truthfully, as a thriller, the book is too long and uneven and could easily have been snipped considerably without losing any of its effectiveness, but as it is, it still remains superior stuff. Those history-buffs wanting a litany of esoteric facts will be ecstatic and thriller-readers will be satiated – though those wanting a true climax to the world of Charlie Parker may have mixed feelings… as this feels more like a high-budget, feature-length season finale to keep you wanting more, rather than a series-ending climax for which it sometimes hinted as a destination…

However, on that level, as always, Connolly is a grand-master wizard and continues to be our finest arcane poet laureate…


‘A Book of Bones’ by John Connolly is published by Hodder and Stoughton and on the shelves from 18th April…

'A Book of Bones' by John Connolly  (book review)
8.7
'A Book of Bones' by John Connolly (book review)
  • Story
    9
  • Writing
    9
  • Pacing
    8
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