Connolly’s latest tales are Strange and full of Fury…

John Connolly brings us twice as much Charlie Parker investigatiing in the latest release featuring two shadow-tinged stories...

When last we ventured into the dark, mysterious lands and outlying territories inhabited by John Connolly’s saviours and miscreants, the tome (The Nameless Ones) was mainly concerned with Louis and Angel. The two characters – killers and fixers with a collective heart of…if not gold then certainly melted copper – who are often a welcome supporting presence in the adventures of Charlie Parker, had moved firmly centre-stage in a story that felt more like La Carre’s inner circle than Dante’s Inferno. Connolly, always a master of words, gave us a thrilling story set against the turbulence states and background players of Europe, but the tribal travelog and Serbian soldiering might not have been what many of his fans were expecting.

With The Furies, we’re back on shifting but at least familiar ground (great to be drinking in the real location of the Great Lost Bear bar again) and the even better news is that the release actually embraces two back-to-back stories. The Sisters Strange is actually an extension of a project that Connolly worked on during the heights (or maybe depths) of the COVID pandemic, exercising those fingers in a regular stream of writtenchapters released onto the internet. As he notes in the acknowledgements, that was a different way of writing and one that created a result that was fresh and flowing but altered pace and editing options. The expanded The Sisters Strange takes those original writings, adjusts them slightly and expands upon them to give a wider picture and include more detail.

Parker is asked to intercede when a man named Will Quinn becomes worried that his fiancĂ©e is in danger. The woman, Dolors Strange, seems to be under the influence of a previous love named Raum Buker, though love might not be he correct term. Buker is an abusive thug with an eye on making money and who has, apparently, been sharing his ‘affections’ with Dolors’ sister Ambar. Quinn has every right to be concerned, but so does Buker. His latest money-making scheme has seen him handling the robbery of rare coins from a collector, but the financial side of things could be the least of the problems. The original owner of one of the coins, a man called Kepler and who is far older than even his decrepit frame suggests, has spent a lot of resources in tracking the stolen property, passing as it has through many sticky fingers. Now he’s very close to getting the coin back – and if he has to commit more murders to do so, then Buker and the Sisters Strange could be in far more trouble than any of them realised. Parker himself begins to understand just how high the stakes are when Kepler decides to curtail the private investigator’s interest in his matters.

The second story, The Furies of the main title, returns us to the Braycott Arms, the ‘Mos Eisley’ of the Connollyverse which also features briefly in the first entry and in which no shortage or dark forces and reprobate tenants seem to crouch before shambling towards Bethlehem or whatever fate awaits them en route. Two of those involved in n’er-do-well activities are Pantuff and Veale, each a despicable killer and unapologetic sadist in their own ways. The’ve decided to make some money by – and it’s easy to share the same disgust as Charlie Parker in the reaction – stealing the buried body of a young child and blackmailing the mother for the return of those sacred bones. The woman in question is named Sarah Abelli and she was married to a gangland boss who apparently ripped off his own organisation and paid the price. The money was never found and it appears that Pantuff and Veale might not be the only people who believe that Sarah has far more money at her disposal than first appears. But Abelli claims she doesn’t and Parker becomes even more intrigued when it appears that the bones have carried something else with them… perhaps an echo of something that used to be a child but is now far more vengeful.

The qualities of Connolly’s best-selling writing are consistent and speak for themselves. The Charlie Parker saga, with its mix of traditional procedure and supernatural vengeance, is tinged with both sorrow and snark, but in an adult way that feels rich and rewarding but not as opportunistically commercial as the way that some titles on the shelf can settle. The dirt and grime gets under your finger-nails as you turn each page and while there are delightful asides and sarcasm between characters, it never feels in the service of a punchline. You may not like every outcome and may need a shower after greeting some of the grotesques that haunt the margins, but you also don’t know what will happen until you get there and that’s surely the signature mark of a great read.

The only mild niggles are the usual and entirely subjective. Connolly has such an alchemy with words and enjoys their power so much that some of his characters seem to speak far more eloquently than you’d expect, and that levelling of dialogue can also mean they’re sometimes less distinct. The author presents a multitude of characters and also gives many of them – even the day/night-players – so much backstory, equal weight and cadence that it can become a slight distraction to the core story. In the second tale, we’re given a lot of flashbacks and examples of mafia treachery but in a tale that runs to only around 200 pages, it can feel like a significant diversion from the main material – fascinating in its own right but perhaps just a little indulgent for the page count. Ironically, of the two tales, one can imagine this being the one expanded and explored in greater detail if it was a separate release.

But all in all, this is yet another quality entry (or two) from an author at the master of his game and ably flitting between worlds just outside your window and those just over the horizon. Haunting and hallowed, Connolly’s world remains one worth visiting time and time again, though tread carefully less ye track some of its sacred earth over your threshold… because it will stay with you long after.

The Furies, by John Connolly, is released in the UK on 4th August by Hodder and Stoughton.