We are barely into the first days of 2013, and I believe that I have already read what is sure to be one of the best books to be published this year: THE WRATH OF ANGELS by John Connolly.
In case you have never had the pleasure of acquaintance, Connolly is popular among fans of genre fiction, particularly those who favor horror and thriller novels. However, he should be a household name, known well to those who have read his books or otherwise, on the order of a King or Patterson or Rowling or anyone you might name, including another excellent author named “Connelly” with whom John is often confused. While not every one of his books consistently hits the mark, most do, and all have something to recommend. I can still recall passages from EVERY DEAD THING, Connolly’s first novel and the start of the Charlie Parker series, and BAD MEN, a nominally stand-alone work.
"We are barely into the first days of 2013, and I believe that I have already read what is sure to be one of the best books to be published this year: THE WRATH OF ANGELS by John Connolly.... Read this with the lights on and the doors locked."
THE WRATH OF ANGELS is the 11th installment in the dark and frightening Charlie Parker mythos, one that in its way marks an ending to some things and a beginning to others. Parker, as he has in the past, finds himself caught between what might well be fallen angels and those who would combat them. Set against the primitive backdrop of rural northern Maine (a place that neither gives up its secrets nor suffers fools easily), the book begins in a manner somewhat reminiscent of another novel: A SIMPLE PLAN by Scott Smith. Decades ago, two hunters in pursuit of a wounded buck find themselves in an isolated and forbidding corner of a forest where directions mean little and logic means less; there, they discover the wreckage of an airplane. No bodies are on board, though the hunters find a duffel bag full of cash --- more than either of them has ever seen in one place --- and a list.
It is that list, and the revelation of the knowledge of it, that sparks the deadly and horrific pursuit that forms the core of the book. It purports to be a list of those who have consorted with the dark side --- struck a deal with the devil, if you will --- and the information that it contains is sought by two opposing forces that are more alike than either might like to admit. One is an evil that has wandered the earth since its creation and has crossed paths with Parker in violent and tragic ways on several occasions. The other stands in opposition to the evil, though calling it “good” might be a stretch. Parker, who has stood tall with the “good” side in the past, finds that the seeds of mistrust have been sewn against him, even as an old adversary --- one taken off the board by Parker some time ago --- is back, in an unforgettable and chilling new form. And that forest contains all sorts of secrets, ones that you’re better off not knowing, no matter what your level of curiosity might be.
Is THE WRATH OF ANGELS a perfect narrative? No; it will drive you crazy in spots. It jumps back and forth in time, as this or that character will spin a yarn concerning something that happened several months or years or even eons ago. One can practically hear the “ayah’s” echoing in the background as the story is urged on. However, the looseness of association that occasionally occurs is part of the novel’s charm (Irish author plus Maine setting equals anything but a linear story). Connolly also has a penchant for occasionally straining to interject political diatribes into the story, ones that are at best distracting and at worst insulting. But both of these quibbles are motes in the overall eye of the story, which in balance is wondrously, imaginatively and beautifully told, even as its dark and violent subject matter (tempered occasionally with hilariously rough humor) will render you afraid to leave home during the day (seriously) while disturbing your sleep at night.
As for Charlie Parker, while THE WRATH OF ANGELS is complete in itself, it hints that his problems, as manifested over the course of 11 novels, are just beginning. Read this with the lights on and the doors locked.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 4, 2013