Thursday 14 December 2017

Lock the doors, put on the lights for Connolly's Game of Ghosts

Thriller: A Game of Ghosts, John Connolly, Hodder & Stoughton, €20.99

Author John Connolly
Author John Connolly
A Game of Ghosts by John Conolly

Anne Marie Scanlon

A Game of Ghosts is Connolly's 15th novel about the detective Charlie "Bird" Parker. Regular readers will know that Parker is no ordinary detective, that his numerous enemies don't necessarily all reside in the world of the living.

Generally fictional detectives and police officers progress from one "procedural" to another, in that a crime occurs, (often a murder), suspects are presented to the reader and eventually the case is solved.

Whether the setting is a gritty modern city or the cosy country house of Agatha Christie, the basic premise is the same.

Parker's world isn't like this and I can imagine that it is sometimes a struggle for Connolly to keep imagining the unimaginable to keep his creation busy. In this outing Parker is engaged by Agent Ross of the FBI to track down another PI, Jaycob Eklund. Ross refuses to explain his interest in the missing man (he and Parker have an adversarial relationship).

Parker calls in his regular cohorts Louis and Angel, the latter getting to use his exemplary lock-picking skills. The trio soon discovers that Eklund was on a quest of his own, investigating a series of seemingly unconnected disappearances and homicides.

Eklund was convinced that all these events were connected to the Brethren - the ghostly remains of the Capstead Martyrs and their living descendants.

Connolly has created some truly frightening monsters and supernatural entities (not always one and the same thing) in his time and while the Brethren are creepy and disturbing they're fairly mild by Connolly standards.

The author has been consistently, and rightly, praised for his sinister characters but his observations of real life, the things that motivate ordinary people, and his ear for dialogue are unrivalled.

What makes the Parker books so gripping and unnerving is that, despite being primarily set in the US (Parker lives in Maine) they present a reality that is familiar to readers everywhere. It is the clash between this humdrum ordinariness and the supernatural that gives Connolly's work its edge over the competition.

An ordinary man sets out to murder someone and as he drives, "Sumner didn't have time for that talk radio sh*t… If he wanted to hear folk agreeing with their own opinions for hours on end, he could just stay at home and listen to his wife."

A Game of Ghosts is different in tone from other books in the Charlie Parker series. Some of the recurring characters are killed off and I got the sense that Connolly is impatient to get to Parker's relationship with his daughter Samantha - a child who has very special powers and who Parker finally admits to himself, scares him.

Very few writers could merge real life and the unreal as seamlessly as Connolly and even fewer could throw in jokes without upsetting the overall atmosphere as when two police officers visit a used car lot. "That car stinks," said one. "It's a Firenza," said the other. "My sister used to have one. Piece of sh*t." "No, it stinks." The smell is, unsurprisingly, that of a body.

Set in winter, Connolly's various descriptions of the arctic conditions in A Game of Ghosts will make readers shiver. But then, as his fans already know, Connolly is good at giving the chills. Just make sure you read this with the doors locked and the lights on.

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