A Game of Ghosts by John Connolly
This is the latest (2017) in the popular Charlie Parker series, and continues Parker’s battles against the forces of darkness.
Charlie Parker is a former cop turned private eye who lost both his wife and young daughter to a serial killer known as the Travelling Man. As Connolly is Irish, I do hope that this wasn’t an oblique reference to the Irish ethnic group known as the Travellers.
Let me be straight with you. Whilst the Charlie Parker series is a favourite with Rebel Voice, John Connolly is not. There are Irish political reasons for this, and it’s a shame that someone such as Connolly, who is a very talented scribe, should be such a dickhead. But hey, we don’t make the rules, at least not in this universe.
In A Game Of Ghosts, Parker is tasked with finding a missing FBI informant named Jaycob Eklund. Parker, himself, is being paid a retainer by dodgy Feeb agent, Edgar Ross. The payments and expense account also cover the costs of involving Parker’s friends and colleagues, Angel and Louis.
Angel is a short, chubby, shabby, white (ish) dude with a history as a burglar. Louis is a tall, athletic, well-dressed black man with a job description that reads ‘Contract Killer’. They are both lovers and make for an interesting pair. In fact, Connolly’s novels really come to life when Louis and Angel appear, often bringing death in their wake.
Parker’s investigations lead him to the existence of a cult who call themselves The Brethern. This bunch of inbred lunatics have lived a double life in both the light and the shadows, under promise to a demonic entity (or so they believe) that must have its hunger sated.
Delving into this mix we find, yet again, The Collector (Connolly just loves those titles). This creature is both man and supernatural presence of undetermined origin, a bit like Dexter. The Collector follows Parker through the bloody maze left by The Brethern in their efforts to avoid divine retribution. We also get to meet Mother, a strange and reclusive character who might have a greater role to play in future episodes.
Parker’s second daughter, Sam, is the subject of a half-hearted custody battle when her mother, Rachel, fears for her daughter’s safety when in the presence of her hunted and haunted father. Sam, however, has no intention of allowing her mother, whom she loves dearly, to keep her from her father. You see, both Parker and Sam are not all they seem They are both something much more than normal.
The Charlie Parker series is steeped in the supernatural. Although the stories read well enough on a secular level, it is the otherworldly plot-lines that give an added oomph to the installments.
Readers of the series will be aware of the secretive group who search for The Buried God (there, he did it again), with a view to causing some serious hurt to humanity. There are also The Hollow Men to contend with, – the more I list these groups and individuals, the more stretched it seems – who follow The Collector, waiting for the fruits of his bloody labours to reach their ghostly maws. A Game Of Ghosts is notable for the role The Collector plays in it. I was taken by surprize in this one.
As the bodies pile up, The Brethern become spooked, hardly surprizing as there are ghosts all over the shop. Parker closes in on them, as does The Collector with his Hollow Men in tow. The Travelling Man isn’t there, as Parker killed him in an earlier encounter, and The Buried God is still, presumably, buried. All we need is for The Joker, The Penguin and The BG’S to appear and we will have a full house.
There are some passages in this book, especially those involving Parker’s dead daughter, Jennifer, that reminded me (a little) of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. The after-life is portrayed as a desolate place with little colour or hope anywhere. In fact, Parker’s existence seems shrouded in grey. There is little in the way of light apart from the good-natured banter between Angel and Louis. The Charlie Parker series is certainly dark, and I wonder how long it has been since ole Charlie had a solid laugh. Perhaps Louis and Angel should hold him down and tickle him mercilessly. Then again, that would probably invite the wrath of whatever evil entity they happen to have run afoul of, so better not.
Although Rebel Voice may have painted a gloomy picture of this book, I must stress that it is extremely well written. The scenes are painted in vivid hues, albeit in colours drab. The dialogue is punchy and consistent, as are the characters. Parker, his family and friends, and all the villains are engaging. I find the stories hard to leave, and read A Game Of Ghosts over the course of two days.
A Game Of Ghosts is not the best in the Charlie Parker series. But it is a very good read. There are twists aplenty and action abounds with many additions to an increasingly intriguing main plot. If The Buried God turns out to be located in Parker’s vegetable patch, then I’m calling the Feds on Connolly for crimes against literature.
Sult scale rating: 8 out of 10. Recommended, but didn’t make Connolly any more likeable for this Irish reader.