A Song of Shadows marks, for me at least, a slight change in the Charlie Parker series. Set a short time after Parker’s near fatal encounter with the delightful Selectmen of the town of Prosperous, it sees the wounded Detective renting a relatively isolated house in the small community of Boreas, in order to be close to the rehabilitation centre that is aiding his recovery, as well as avoiding the eventual return to the home in Scarborough where he nearly breathed his last. His presence in town causes a minor stir, something that would only be natural given the chaos which has been known to trail him like a bad smell. This tale is no different, with a body washing up on shore close to his home, a mysteriously guarded woman and her daughter who move in next door and the seemingly random investigation into the murder of a family and the disappearance of their teenage son. Tied in with all of this is an ongoing hunt for Nazi war criminals in a community of largely German descent, all of which tels you that you are in for one hell of a tale, the familiar elements of otherworldliness taking it beyond your normal thriller novel.
What makes this story different is the voice. It is most definitely inimitably John Connolly’s style, and the interactions between Parker, Louis & Angel the returning cast of characters such as Ross, Walsh and the Fulci Brothers, remain as witty and well observed as always. Being injured has done nothing to alter Parker’s sarcastic and somewhat matter of fact tone, and his contact with the townsfolk of Boreas follows in much the same vane. However, there is a darker turn in Parker’s character, the impact of his experiences in A Wolf In Winter, as well as a few revelations about people who are much closer to home that cause him great concern and a clearer understanding of his place in the unfolding chaos. The biggest change? While normally written in first person point of view, Parker’s scenes in A Song of Shadows, remain third person observations.
For me, this was a genius decision, and I feel that it gives strength to the idea of Parker’s recovery. His body is on the mend and yet still betraying him, and while he would normally be seen throwing himself into the investigation, we are now observing Parker holding back, not strong enough to take the role he would normally instinctively play, and perhaps on some level, no longer certain that he still wants to. The use of third person to follow Parker ultimately leads us, as the reader, on a more objective journey as we watch Parker decide whether or not he has any part left to play in his world as an investigator, whether his heart is still in it.
For a Charlie Parker novel, this stepping back is an unusual feeling, and not since The Reapers have we not really been privvy to his every thought and the progression of an investigation. Parker is in the middle of this mystery and yet he is not. He is using himself as bait, and yet remaining a casual observer on the edge of the action. We do not hear his thoughts directly. It is not I, it is he. Is this a sign of things to come, a hint that Parker is merely a player and not the key to the puzzle? Will he too remain on the periphery or will we be allowed back into his head again? Who knows.
The one thing that is abundantly clear, is that by the end Parker’s mind is back on top form, his intuitive nature and ability to understand on another level fully intact and his desire to right the wrongs of people like the Backers and the Believers as strong as ever. But even at the end, no matter how much Parker thinks he has taken control, we know the truth. That it was never his choice. His future is pre-destined and everything in his life, every choice, both his own and those made for him by people such as The Travelling Man, are leading him down a path that cannot be altered. You know that he won’t go quietly, and his friends will be along for the ride. I will most certainly be joining them as I cannot wait to see where the path leads.