A Book Of Bones by John Connolly
Charlies Parker is a private investigator based in Maine. But run-of-the-mill cases do not form the main part of Parker’s work. Following the savage murder of both his wife and young daughter, the former NYPD cop has been thrust into a world were demons and their human acolytes roam and kill.
Over a number of episodes, Parker and his two closest friends, gay lovers Louis and Angel, have fought and destroyed a number of enemies, human and not. Most recently, they encountered the strange lawyer (aren’t they all?), Quayle, and his crazed psychopathic accomplice and sometimes sexual partner, Mors. Quayle is searching for the remaining pieces of a fabled manuscript which, when fully assembled, will bring about the end of life as we know it, which is a bit like the election of Donald Trump if you think about it. Louis, a renowned contract killer, got shot in that adventure as did Mors, but both of the serial killers escaped. Now the FBI, who have employed the services of Parker on a retainer, have received confirmation of a dead body who may or may not be the wounded female lunatic. Parker is sent for.
There are spoilers from here on.
In Arizona, the Maine investigator looks upon a corpse that closely resembles that of Mors, but is not her. Parker, and his FBI handler, Edgar Ross, both quickly realise that the body has been planted. Mors was there, if only to oversee the set-up, but has long-since departed for different climes. They conclude that she was merely providing them with a temporary distraction. But to what end?
Parker’s queries eventually take him to Amsterdam in the company of both Louis and Angel, the latter in the process of recovering from his fight with cancer. Louis has unfinished business with Mors and takes exception to those who shoot him. Presumably Mors isn’t too enamoured with Louis either. They meet with a local gent of the criminal fraternity, a man who still believes in concepts such as honour and principle. Through this contact, they hear of and then meet the book dealer, Gruner, a notoriously miserly and secretive individual, Gruner has been working on behalf of Quayle, hunting for the missing pages of the legendary Atlas, a dangerous business. With the approach of both Louis and Parker, Gruner’s life expectancy just got a whole lot shorter.
Meanwhile, in a secondary thread, dead bodies are turning up in England, each being found at a site of sacred importance. One is found close to the ruins of a church belonging to a cult that worshipped the Green Man, a pagan deity of great antiquity. Parker previously encountered the congregation of that society, the Familists, when he and his colleagues destroyed their transported church in New England, a tale recounted in another book in the series, The Wolf In Winter. They also succeeded in eliminating quite a few of the congregation. Parker don’t do prisoners.
As it happens, the Green Man has his followers in the old country, one of whom is Holmsby, and another, Sellars. These men don’t care about an Atlas, but they do care about feeding the needs of their god. Their aims happen to coincide with those of Quayle and so a dangerous alliance is formed. The morally vacuous solicitor needs blood sacrifices to strengthen the rituals to bring the prophecy of the Atlas to fruition. Sellars needs his god awakened again. England is screwed. Perhaps Connolly should have written in the Green Man as the god of Brexit, as nice and timely a connection to the ultimate destruction of the UK as you will find – up the Irish Republic!
As the English police begin to close the net on Holmsby and Sellars, Parker and his friends have found what they have been looking for in Amsterdam. It seems that all roads lead to London, where Quayle is believed to be hiding. A Boston bookseller, Bob Johnson, who does research for Parker on occasion, is already in the English capital surreptitiously looking for clues that will bring the team to Quayle, a creature with a family name and occupation that has been around a long time. Questions are being asked as to exactly how old Quayle really is. But how safe is Johnson? Quayle has survived many dangers because he’s remarkably clever and very ruthless. Ole Bob may be in mortal danger as he naively pokes through dusty books in London.
One other thread that runs through this book is that of a previous keeper of the Atlas, Couvret. We are transported back to the late 16th century when the French exile was gifted the accursed book. Couvret soon realises the evil inherent in the ancient tome and gives it to a friend for safekeeping. A Quayle, perhaps the same one, is on the trail of the book even then. It’s as the lawyer’s search takes a more sinister turn that Couvret decides to take the Atlas to pieces and insert the separate pages into other books which are then randomly distributed over the bulging city. It’s for this reason that Quayle of the 21st century is forced to search the globe for them. Boy but he really doesn’t like Couvret.
Back and forth, from past to present, from Parker’s team to that of the English police, we are bounced pleasantly in the search for Quayle. It makes for gripping reading as the lawyer decides that the time is fast approaching when the prophecy will come true. Unfortunately for Green Man adherent Sellars, Parker has visited the site of the original Familist ruin and effectively managed to kill the Green Man (as you do). Sellars is a little bit distraught at this and sets out in pursuit of Parker, determined to eliminate anyone who stands in his way.
The action moves inexorably to St Mary’s Church in Fairford, long famed for the beauty and detail of its stain-glassed windows. It’s in these windows that the final key lies in unlocking the grave potential of the Atlas, and it’s to this church that Quayle goes, preceded by Parker. The conclusion of A Book Of Bones is quick at the end. Mors, Quayle, Parker, Angel, Louis and the two abducted children of Sellars are all present at the end as darkness battles with light for the life of the people of earth.
This is a considerable piece of work – the book that is, not the review which is just OK – in that it runs to 694 pages. It can be described as an epic adventure as the action sweeps from Arizona to New York to Maine to the Netherlands to England. It moves, as stated, from past to present and twists a number of threads together. It’s easily the most ambitious of Connolly’s books in this series and serves as a continuation to The Woman In The Woods and less so to The Wolf In Winter. It does work and works well.
The book is not without its faults, however. John Connolly is from the Irish Free State and, as such, appears to have a serious problem with Irish Republicanism. This is reflected in his rambling anti-Republican attacks and innuendo. He continues this in A Book Of Bones in what is a completely irrelevant backstory for Sellars. It appears as if Connolly wants the reader to believe that the serial killer and cultist, Sellars, has gone down that road because he was caught up in an IRA bomb blast when a child. It’s absolutely unnecessary, unless the point is to have yet another pop at militant Republicans. Connolly is portraying himself as an increasingly embittered and facile proponent of a watery Irish identity, which is likely why he lives in the United States.
Setting aside Connolly’s immature political agenda, Rebel Voice can state that he is a fine writer and the Charlie Parker series is a very good one. Previously, Rebel Voice was of the opinion that the series was running out of steam. In A Book Of Bones, Connolly has outdone himself. He has managed to upgrade the story considerably. By removing the plot from the United States, he has added new depth and interest, injecting it with much-needed change. Kudos to him.
Unfortunately, there are certain plot points that lead to confusion. In The Woman In The Woods, Quayle manages to retrieve the final pages of the Atlas from Parker, minus one page which the detective secretly kept. Quayle returned to London believing the Atlas to be fully intact and was at a loss to understand why it wasn’t fully operational. He continued his search for any additional pages that he may have missed, ruling Parker out of those inquiries.
Yet, in A Book Of Bones, we find that the missing page is seemingly of no consequence as Quayle almost succeeds in fulfilling the work of the Atlas without it, stopped only by Parker and not by an incomplete book. How come? It has the feel of a plot that tied itself into a knot and then decided upon introducing a new element to get out of the bind. A tad messy.
There are other characters who are introduced in this episode but play little role. Perhaps they will be reintroduced in later instalments, but the story has an unfinished feel to it in places. It’s the writing, however, that carries this book. The structure is so good, and the central characters so strong and consistent, that minor failings in the plot can be overlooked on this occasion.
Bad guys come and go in the Charlie Parker series. Quayle is not the first and no doubt won’t be the last evil personality to perish by Parker’s hand. The mysterious Backers are still in the game and will have a strong say in what takes place in the future. Hopefully, the author’s ambition will remain high and he won’t be afraid to explore other locations in the battle between Parker and those who would see demons rule the earth, demons other than rabid Capitalists of course (many of whom closely resemble Free State politicians and industrialists…).
Sult scale rating: 8 out of 10. This is a nice departure for the Charlie Parker series in that it leaves the confines of the USA and moves to Europe. A Book Of Bones is an epic offering with multiple threads in location and chronology that will hold the reader’s attention to the end. Although a relatively long read, it won’t seem that way and the time will fly as you join Parker on this part of his crusade. Rebel Voice can give this book, by a rabid and somewhat pretentious Free State author, no greater compliment than that.