Book review: The Woman in the Woods by John Connolly (Charlie Parker #16)

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I’m afraid that this is going to a rather dull book review. There are only so many variations on “It’s a really good book” before it all becomes trite and pedantic. So, suffice it to say that John Connolly’s sixteenth Charlie Parker mystery, The Woman in the Woods, is a great read, full of his customary good writing, interesting characters and nefarious goings-on.

The Woman in the Woods sees PI and avenging angel (metaphorically if not literally, but let’s see) Charlie Parker try to solve the mystery behind the body of a woman found in the Maine woods as a favour to his lawyer. In the process of discovering her identity, Parker discovers someone else – a man named Quayle, eager to put together a map that may or may not end the world…

For the first couple of novels, Connolly’s Parker series was more or less straightforward thriller fair with some mystery elements slithering around in the woodwork. But as the novels have progressed, the mystery has become more pronounced, and nowadays Parker’s sleuthing typically uncovers things that go bump in the night. I always thought The Black Angel was the first hinge – it was a decisive step away from genre fiction playing coy, to something spookier. The Woman in the Woods (and perhaps its predecessor, A Game of Ghosts) is another such hinge, and I’m really interested to see where Connolly will take (and end) the series.

Prior to its release, Connolly released a few paragraphs of the novel in response to the growing white nationalism in the United States (a white nationalist forms part of the subplot and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of his character at some point), so the novel feels pretty contemporary. I also noticed that parts of the novel feel like Connolly apologising for his previous lackluster treatment of female characters, by way of Parker acknowledging just how shitty men can be towards women. Which is great, but I hope it will be followed up by some sort of female character who isn’t a romantic interest or a bit player.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: The Woman in the Woods
Author: John Connolly
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (2018)
Rating: 5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.59/5)
The best feature of the book: The main cast of characters, as usual. The Fulcis as comic relief.
The worst feature of the book: I’d like more spooky details, but that’s just me. Also, the whole “when a woman is a mother” thing. The problem with treating motherhood as such a virtue is that it easily becomes women’s only saving grace. No.
Trigger warnings: Murder, torture, belated Catholicism.
You’ll like this if… You’re a fan of mysteries, thrillers, detective novels, banter, or tall black assassins who set racists’ cars on fire.

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Book review: A Game of Ghosts by John Connolly

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Since the late nineties, Irish author John Connolly has been writing about American ex-cop turned PI Charlie Parker, a charming, dry, danger-loving, knuckle-tough bleeding heart who has good friends, does terribly with women and harbours a dark, blood-tinged past that constantly splashes onto his present endeavours. I was hooked from the first book I read (The Black Angel, fifth in the series) and I’ve been an avid fan since.

The latest instalment – A Game of Ghosts – came out last month, and I think it’s fair to say I inhaled it. Connolly is a gifted writer, effortlessly weaving mystery, intrigue and a diverse cast of characters into an absorbing story that, twists, turns and profligate characters despite remains intense. The writing itself casts its spell without suffocating you in words, functional and hypnotic in turn. It’s lovely.

A Game of Ghosts picks up Parker’s story as he tries to find a missing PI for the FBI, leading him to a group of people who may or may not have struck a deal to keep them from damnation (for Charlie Parker, these things happen). At the same time, he’s faced with trying to figure out what’s going on with his young daughter Sam – and dealing with his increasingly distant ex, Rachel, and a looming custody battle. All while trying to suss out more followers of the Buried God…

A Game of Ghosts is the fifteenth Charlie Parker novel. After fourteen books of essentially the same core characters you’d think Parker’s story would be running out of traction, right? But no. Connolly is often compared to Stephen King (especially to American audiences), but I think Connolly is ten books past that comparison. He’s a great author in his own right, managing the macabre, the menacing and the mundane quite nicely – enough to keep you coming back, book after book, as fast as he can write them (and he generally manages a Parker novel a year).


So, what’s the verdict?

Title: A Game of Ghosts
Author: John Connolly, lover of South African wine
My rating: 5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.52)
The best feature of the book: Intrigue. Angel and Louis.
The worst feature of the book: Rachel.
Trigger warnings: The damned. Reluctant psychics. Ex-in laws from (not literally) hell. Death. Possible dread disease.
You’ll like this if… You like mysteries and the mysterious both.