I was delighted to be asked by Liz Mistry to review the latest Parker thriller on behalf of The Crime Warp. When Liz made the request, I almost bit her hand off in anticipation.
Firstly, before I write my review, an admission.
I am a fan of the aforementioned Charlie Parker novels and of John Connolly, the man who brings the private detective to life in his writing. Despite my wholehearted love and appreciation of the series, I hope to be honest in my review. Although, forgive me, if it is, perhaps, flavoured!
Secondly, some facts.
It is twenty years since the first Charlie Parker book hit the shelves in 1999 and “A Book of Bones” is now the seventeenth in the series. And, with the hardcover edition coming in at over 700 pages in length, it is the longest of them to date. Mr Connolly himself has stated that the word count stands at an impressive 205,000. Give or take a few words.
Additionally, the book weighs in at a shade under two-and-a-half pounds on the scales – or, 1039 grammes if you prefer metric – and is around two-and-a-quarter inches in thickness (metric, that equates to 60mm). I know this because my tape measure lays beside my laptop and I have just been in the kitchen to weigh one of my copies.
(One of my copies? I hear you ask. Well, the review copy was given to me but, as a fan of Mr C’s work, I simply had to buy my own copy. Support the artists you love and all that.)
I won’t do all the maths (math?) and work out a cost per page or per word but it suffices to say that, with the experience and skill acquired through twenty years as a professional novelist Mr C has delivered excellent value for money with “A Book of Bones”. The twenty quid you hand over to your chosen bookseller may be the best return you get on your money this year.
So, to the plot. And, it is an epic one. I will attempt to reveal no spoilers!
The ancient lawyer, Quayle, aided by his terrifying companion, Pallida Mors, is closing in on his centuries old hunt for the missing pages of The Fractured Atlas – a book of inconceivable evil which has the power to alter reality and bring absolute terror into being. Parker is determined to hunt Quayle down before the Atlas is made complete and prevent his enemy from changing the world forever.
The body of a young woman is discovered on the moors in the northeast of England. Other bodies are soon found in other parts of the country, in places once used for the burial and sacrifice of innocents.
It is to England that Parker travels as his hunt for his opponent from the previous book, “The Woman in the Woods”, continues. Parker follows the two evil-doers, via Mexico and Amsterdam, to their lair in London.
Age and injuries have taken their toll on Parker and his allies, Angel and Louis. They are all older and slower than before and their enemies are powerful and many. Furthermore, Parker is on unfamiliar ground in England – ground that is tainted by blood and pain, earth that has long been soiled by torture and by sacrifice. But, Quayle knows that Parker is coming. More than that, Quayle wants him to come.
I won’t reveal anymore of the plot, except to say that this on one heck of a read!
What did I think?
Quite simply, “A Book of Bones” is an impressive achievement. Not just for the facts that I playfully referred to earlier but, more, for its sheer scale and depth and for the way in which Mr C continues to skillfully weave his “Honeycombed World” and which continues to delight the reader, keeping us breathtakingly turning each new page.
Whilst this is a long book, it never feels like an overly long or laboured read. Interspersed throughout the book, on subtly different coloured pages and printed in a different typeface, are short tales and histories that allow the reader a chance to pause and take a breather if needed. These little vignettes can be skipped by if one wishes to remain steadfastly on the main Parker plot but they add extra flavour to the novel, providing depth and nuance to the overarching story behind Parker’s honeycomb world.
At a recent date on his current promotional tour (Kendal, April 27 2019), Mr C stated that he could quite easily serve up a formulaic book with each new title. And, as readers and fans, we would eagerly buy them. But, Mr C chooses to expand his craft with every new book he writes, stretching himself and adding to his skillset. This determination to improve on, what is already a pretty darn good read, means that we readers get the new Parker book we long for, filled with all our favourite ingredients, but that each new story comes with a freshness and a little added zest that we didn’t know we wanted but which we adore when we get it.
In “A Book of Bones’, Mr C makes greater use of dialogue than previously. This again provides space within the narrative, making the book a compelling and highly enjoyable read that belies its hefty size.
The writing is crisp and taut and the plot is perfectly paced and devilishly cunning. Mr C knows just how to keep you off-guard and on your toes. There is one chapter in particular that had me reeling with its very last line; for me, it was one of those, “*insert own favoured expletive*, I never saw that coming” moments.
In reading this book, I got a sense of Parker’s unfamiliarity at being in an alien country. Mr Connolly has succesfully conveyed his hero’s unease without relenting on what it is that we read a Parker book for. The book carries all the hallmarks that we look for in a Charlie Parker novel; terrifying and macabre opponents; intriguing plotline; interesting new characters that are fully fleshed, believable and convincing; dialogue that propels the story; snappy conversations and comedic turns from Angel and Louis – two of crime fictions most likable bad (good?) guys!
Truly, who wouldn’t love for Angel and Louis to move in next door? Sure, you’d have to change your locks and improve security, as well as ensure you did nothing at all to annoy your new neighbours, but wouldn’t they be the coolest neighbours to have?
For anyone yet to read a Charlie Parker novel, I’d say this, pick one up – choose any book from the series (“The Killing Kind”, book three, was my first initiation into the series) – and just dive right on in. Whilst, as with most series, you get the most enjoyment from starting at the begining and following the journey, you can start anywhere. Each book in the series, and “A Book of Bones” is no different, can be enjoyed as a “stand-alone”, as sufficient explanation is given to previous events and characters that you never feel adrift or unsure of your place.
So, now that I have finished this terrific book, what next? Well, on Saturday, I discovered that the next Parker novel will be called “The Dirty South”. Now that I know the title of the eigtheenth book in the series I just need to be patient until next April.
That’s gonna be difficult!
Thirdly, and lastly, what three words would I use to describe “A Book of Bones”?
Enjoyable. Tantillising. Immense.