The work of John Connolly is becoming more and more entrenched as a genre of one. His Charlie Parker novels are at once some of the darkest and most beautifully written books one is likely to encounter. At the same time, Connolly’s haunted private investigator is one of the most interesting and enigmatic figures in crime fiction. Remove the supernatural elements from the Parker books, and they stand quite well as mysteries or thug lit, or whatever you might wish to call them. Remove the crime elements, and there is enough supernatural suspense to scare the living daylights out of you. Some of his books lean this way or that, but for the most part he ladles out the genre staples --- seasoned with his own unique touch --- in equal measure.
"The ending is both satisfying and uncertain, with Parker in perhaps more trouble than he has ever been..."
THE BURNING SOUL, the 10th installment in the series (and don‘t miss “The Reflecting Eye” in the NOCTURNES collection), is not quite his best work --- I’m torn between THE BLACK ANGEL or the non-Parker BAD MEN for that honor --- but it’s close enough to run at the heels of those two novels. This tale of revenge, depravity and rough justice begins when Anna Kore, a girl on the cusp of adolescence, suddenly goes missing from the Maine crossroads town of Pastor’s Bay without a trace, a horrible occurrence that sets two events into motion.
The first directly involves Parker, who is retained by attorney Aimee Price to assist her in her representation of a client named Randall Haight. Parker dislikes Haight at first sight, and his instincts are spot-on. Haight, an accountant in the Pastor’s Bay area, has a hidden history, an entirely different life lived decades before when, at the age of 14, he was arrested and incarcerated for participating in the rape and murder of a young girl. Haight has paid the price demanded of him by the judicial system and has lived as a model citizen under an entirely different identity. Yet someone knows of his past and is taunting him anonymously, hanging the threat of exposure for his past and, by implication, his involvement in Aimee’s disappearance. Haight vehemently denies any involvement in the latter event, but lacks an alibi for the time of her disappearance.
Meanwhile, in nearby Boston, a change in gangland hierarchy is slowly, inexorably and violently being played out as a boss named Tommy Morris finds himself marked for involuntary replacement in the only way in which such things are done. Down to two “soldiers,” Morris knows he is going down, yet Aimee’s disappearance compels him to make one last suicidal run to Pastor’s Bay, even as he pursued by both sides of the law. Parker, faced with a Hobson’s Choice created by his employment situation, plays both ends against the middle even as spirits whisper to him in the night and his own past failures and tragedies continue to haunt him. The ending is both satisfying and uncertain, with Parker in perhaps more trouble than he has ever been, yet still standing, which is more than can be said for most of the cast.
Connolly’s characterization is marvelous and unforgettable, and his plotting first-rate --- think Stephen King and George C. Higgins somehow sitting down and collaborating. But it’s his prose --- so black, so rich, so deep --- that keeps readers coming back. While THE BURNING SOUL does not do much to advance some of the continuing backstory in Parker’s developing mythos, it is not a book that readers will want to miss under any circumstance.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 8, 2011