I make no bones about it – I am a fan of the Charlie Parker series by John Connolly. I came to the series exceptionally late, I believe after seeing a tweet about what was, by then, the 13th book in the series A Song of Shadows. Yes – I know – I was that far behind. Clearly being the conscientious and balanced individual that I am (?) I didn’t buy book 13, but I was suitably intrigued by the sound of the series that I went straight to Amazon and purchased book 1 – Every Dead Thing.
Now in another of those ‘what were you doing when you first read this book’ moments, the opening to said book left such a mark on me that I can tell you – 100% no question – that at the time of reading I was sat on an exercise bike in my front room, trying hard to focus on keeping my legs moving while simultaneously becoming more engrossed in what I was reading, to a point where I could probably have fallen off the bike and not noticed.I will admit it – I didn’t immediately like Charlie Parker. There is much in his character in those early moments that takes time to warm up to, but by the end of the book I was hooked. I read Every Dead Thing in April 2015. By the following April I had read every single book in the Charlie Parker series – all 13 and they are not short books – and was waiting patiently for book 14. I was all blithering idiot (nothing unusual) when my local library won the chance to host an evening with John Connolly as part of his promotional book tour, and duly went along for what was a highly entertaining event, where, after a huge amount of personal motivation to find the balls to actually talk to another human being, the extent of my conversation with him was to say that I loved the book. (I’d managed to read it in a day – it was so good!). In fact A Time Of Torment was the first book I ever ordered as a signed 1st edition (love Gutter Bookshops in Dublin!) quickly followed by pretty much every Charlie Parker book I could lay my hands on. My collection now looks a bit like this …
What does this waffle have to do with The Woman In The Woods? Well – the fact is that I just love this series and each new book (which always feels too long a wait for) is highly prized. So I was delighted when this finally landed in my mailbox and I could sit and read one of my most anticipated and awaited books of 2018. Did it live up to expectation? (you’ll be hoping so after all this build up …) We’ll see in a moment after I’ve shown you what it’s all about.
About the Book
The new thrilling instalment of John Connolly’s popular Charlie Parker series.
It is spring, and the semi-preserved body of a young Jewish woman is discovered buried in the Maine woods. It is clear that she gave birth shortly before her death.
But there is no sign of a baby.
Private detective Charlie Parker is engaged by the lawyer Moxie Castin to shadow the police investigation and find the infant, but Parker is not the only searcher. Someone else is following the trail left by the woman, someone with an interest in more than a missing child, someone prepared to leave bodies in his wake.
And in a house by the woods, a toy telephone begins to ring.
For a young boy is about to receive a call from a dead woman . . .
Ah. Ah-hahahahaha. Oh yes. I loved this book. I’m going to have to say that this is most definitely one of the best yet and completely ticked all the boxes for me. Well – all but one but more on that later. Maybe.
The Woman In The Woods really is the perfect combination of everything I have come to love about this series. The wonderfully complex investigation which provides the basis for each story, one which our dear hero, Charlie Parker, feels often honour bound to partake in, and the presence of the supernatural or otherworldly – not in a Ghostbusters kind of way – more spiritual in a fighting for your soul and to prevent the damnation of the world and the ending of our entire existence kind of way. In that respect this series is unapologetically biased towards that which cannot be easily explained, and will entertain and disturb, bringing forth both the macabre and mysterious in the most delectable melding of genres – the kind of thing that would happen if Horror and Crime started dating, breeding and having book babies. It is not gratuitous, although possibly still capable of turning your stomach if you are of a delicate disposition. It is, however, quite marvellous.
On a very basic level – as there is always a very basic level in every book – this is the story of a young woman whose body has been discovered buried in the woods in a remote part of northern Maine – hence the title. There is every likelihood there is some connection between the woman and the Jewish faith and so in a fit of conscience, and it doesn’t happen often, Parker’s friend and sometime employer, Moxie Castin, asks Parker to try and identify the woman and what happened to the child she appears to have been carrying just prior to her burial. On a wider level … oh it is so much more than that but I am not going to tell you how much more as the fun in this book is in the reading and gradual reveal of a most complicated and disturbing story. It links in beautifully with the ongoing narrative behind the series and sets Parker against a new and wholly disturbing foe – Quayle.
What I love about these books is the way in which John Connolly weaves such diverse and colourful set of individual threads into what in the end becomes a very rich and beautiful tapestry. There is no doubt about it, these are long books, rich in narrative and deep in terms of language and, on occasion, explanation of history. And yet it never feels as though this is a long journey. If anything it never feels quite long enough. There are so many elements of the story to articulate, so many characters whose lives, at one time or another, seem to intersect with that of Parker and his friends, who inform and redirect the ongoing back story which filters through each preceding and subsequent tale, enriching your understanding of what has gone before and what is yet to come, that you cannot help but find yourself lost within the pages, often for hours at a time. This is a story, much like most of the others, that can be read on its own, but I would question why you would want to as to read them all is to fully understand the beauty of what you are reading.
Parker himself is a very complex character. As I said earlier, I didn’t immediately like him and yet he is someone I have grown increasingly attached too, in literary terms of course, and I am fully invested in his story and his quest to discover his true purpose, as this most surely is a quest. He is flawed, but those flaws make the man, and he will always fight for what is right, no matter the personal risk or cost. His partners in crime, Louis and Angel, are just the perfect antidote to Parker’s occasional melancholy and between them the three possess such a keen sense of humour, sarcastic but astute, that you cannot help but love them. It is largely Louis and Parker in this book, Angel notably absent, which is my only regret (and unticked box) for the book as I do love Angel and I missed his hideous shirts and banter with Louis. His presence is mostly certainly felt in the few scenes in which he appears, his and the Fulci brothers who I am developing a soft spot for too, but with his larger than life persona his absence is also felt and he was greatly missed. Hopefully only a short term departure as I refuse to consider the alternative.
Parker is always given a very dark antagonist to battle and it is no different in this book. I don’t want to say too much about Quayle, but he is English (not British) and despite his vile nature, there are moments of mirth in his interactions with others. They are few but they are there. There is something inherently creepy about this man from the off, and the author excels at making this live upon the page without the character ever having to do anything in particular to make you wince or make your skin crawl. He is not the only person in this book to try to make Parker’s life a living hell, and it is certainly a case of equal opportunities for the sexes in this book, with John Connolly demonstrating that when it comes to exacting pain, the female of the species – whatever species this may be exactly – is most definitely more deadly than the male.
And then – oh that ending. Such promise. Such threat. Such a fantastic way to make me desperate for the next book and no mistake.
Gah. I’m making such a horlicks of this review aren’t I? Well this is for a good reason. I want to tell you how beautiful and lyrical, almost mythical, elements of this book are. There is just something so – I don’t know – poetic maybe about the way Connolly forms his prose that it is so hard to review a book, refrain from spoilers and say all you want to say to do it justice. I know. I have tried so many times before.
So I will just say this – if you love this series – buy this book. You will not be disappointed. If you haven’t read this series – you could still buy this book – it’s very good and can easily be read in isolation – but you will benefit so much more if you read the whole series in order. In each one you will find a puzzle piece and slowly they will fit together and a gradual picture will emerge. I still don’t know yet what that final image will be, I’m not so sure that it matters, because right now the work in progress is pretty flipping fabulous and I’m loving every moment of it.
And I’m giving it one of these – in case you wondered.
If you would like to own your own copy of this wonderful book then you will find it at the following retailers.
About the author
John Connolly is author of the Charlie Parker mysteries, The Book of Lost Things, the Samuel Johnson novels for young adults and, with his partner, Jennifer Ridyard, the co-author of the Chronicles of the Invaders. His debut – EVERY DEAD THING – swiftly launched him right into the front rank of thriller writers, and all his subsequent novels have been Sunday Times bestsellers. He was the first non-American writer to win the US Shamus award, and the first Irish writer to be awarded the Edgar by the Mystery Writers of America.
Now if, like me, you are lucky enough to be in the area on Monday 9th April, John Connolly will be appearing at First Monday Crime at London’s City University. First Monday Crime is a monthly gathering for authors, publicists, agents, editors, students, and avid readers of crime fiction. Each month a new panel of authors is lined up to discuss writing, the world of crime, and their latest novels. This month the panel’s line up consists of John Connolly, Stuart Turton (The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle), Rachel Abbott (Come a Little Closer) and Leigh Russell (Class Murder), all overseen by the expert moderation of Barry Forshaw. You can find out more about First Monday Crime and book your place at the panel here.