As has been stated a few times over the years, we [at Seattle Mystery Bookshop] all work so closely together that we start to read the same things to the point where we lack the breadth of knowledge and experience and can only recommend a too-narrow slice of the books here from what we all read. Sometimes, I’ve stopped reading I liked because someone else was a big fan and I’ve thought I should go on to other authors someone else hasn’t read.
Back in 1999, I read and enjoyed John Connolly’s first book, Every Dead Thing, the beginning of his series with private eye Charlie Parker. I always meant to get back to the books and continue reading them but first Tammy was a big fan and then Fran joined the circus and has pushed them, so I thought I should read others. But now and then you hear your colleagues talk a certain way about a book and, that’s it, you have to return to the fold.
So I’ve spent the last eight weeks reading my way through all ten books and it was worth every millisecond.
I’d forgotten what a lush writer John is, how well he captures the seasons, the views and the people. Like the finest writers, he will sketch out the character of a character in a single line. “His face creased, wrinkling like a ball of paper that had just been squeezed hard, and even in repose, Earle’s face already resembled the last walnut in the bowl a week after Thanksgiving. “ He’ll slip in a sly social comment, too, like a thin blade between the ribs: “You could still order a Miller High Life at the Sailmaker, and PBR was drunk without a shot of irony on the side.” And like the finest writers, no one is two-dimensional, no one is 100% “good,” though many of the bad guys are 100% evil.
Before the series begins, Parker has lost his wife and young daughter to a sadistic killer. Part of the story of the first book is his search for the Traveling Man. There are things about Charlie and his past that are alluded to– his father’s death, his problematic relationship with his mother– that give Parker both mystery and pathos. And that’s just the beginning.
As the series goes on, it starts to become evident that there is something else going on. Charlie is not only emotionally haunted by the death of his family, he seems to be physically haunted as well. Is this real or is it just in Charlie’s head? There are intimations that the evil in one book is connected to the next, that killers from before have been in touch with new killers, even that there is a larger, wider form of evil that knows about Charlie. He refers to it as the “honeycomb” underworld.
What is most fascinating, and what I’d love to talk to John about, is how he returns to bits of stories and themes from past books and develops them further, making them into broad undercurrents that alter and deepen the series. How far in advance has he been planning to develop this or that storyline? Did he know he’d return to this character or that event? Was it luck that he had left himself enough room and vagueness to be able to return to fragments left from earlier books, or is just that awe-inspiringly talented? For instance, in the 8th book in the series, he returns to the puzzling death of Parker’s father from the first book, and the series opens up to an all-new level, where Parker is but one little piece of what is going on. And it is creepy. There is no small bit of the supernatural in these books, but it is balanced by a fine black humor and questions of beliefs and sanity…
Years ago, I used to talk about James Lee Burke as the only author who dealt with personal and societal evil in an honest and humane way. I realized that I had to broaden that statement to include Dennis Lehane a few years later. Now that must be a trio by the addition of John Connolly.
Start with the Shamus winner Every Dead Thing and don’t stop reading John Connolly until you’re done. Really.
–JB Dickey, owner of Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Seattle, WA