Book review: The Lovers, by John Connolly

July 4, 2009 by
Filed under: Book reviews 

lovers_uk_150My world stops for a John Connolly book.

Everything else is put aside as the latest developments in the dark world of Charlie  Parker unfold in beautifully plotted suspense. The Lovers is the seventh Charlie Parker book in what can be called a series to date, and the ninth to feature him; so that’s about sixteen waking days of my life given over to this man, and he’s worth every damned minute of my time.

Charlie Parker is a Maine-based private investigator who seems to attract evil. That evil may be a curse that Parker is destined to combat throughout his life, possibly in retribution for things he has done in the past – for Parker is a man who thrives on his own guilt. His veiled background influences everything that occurs in this tight, sad story, and it’s almost impossible to review The Lovers without paying courtesy to preceeding events.

Parker’s a man haunted. Haunted by his wife and child who were brutally murdered by a serial killer known as The Travelling Man. (I am in awe of the serial killers Connolly consistently creates). Haunted by those he’s crossed and those he’s killed, deserving and undeserving. In The Lovers, he’s haunted by his father’s apparent suicide after killing two seemingly innocent teenagers, and the absence of his girlfriend, Rachel and her young daughter, Sam, who have relocated to Vermont, unable to put up with his unsavoury lifestyle and the characters it brings with it.

Recovering from the events of the previous novel, The Unquiet, Parker is working in a bar, deprived of his badge and unable to take on any cases. Intrigued by the teasing words of the mysterious Collector (again from The Unquiet) he decides to look into his father’s last days, and in the process discovers facts about himself and his parentage that most people would be unable to handle, so fantastic are the implications. But, this is Charlie Parker, and he knows how to handle destructive self-revelation more than most. If there’s one thing that can be said of Parker, it’s that he has an open mind.

Parker’s investigations lead him to cross paths with a girl, Emily Kindler, who is seemingly on the run from her own past, rather than racing to confront it head on Parker-style; and a hack-biographer, Mickey Wallace, who has had his eye on Parker for a while, unable to understand how he ends up in so much trouble, so regularly, and getting away with it. As Parker traces his father’s now retired work colleagues, Mickey dogs him every step of the way, opening up other paths of inquiry and letting other darker and deadlier memories leech through into the daylight… the eponymous lovers.

In the latest Black Static, Peter Tennant speculates on the current state of the Horror fiction market, some pundits declaring that ‘it has gone underground, insinuated itself into other genres…’ Since the first Parker title, Every Dead Thing, was published back in 1999, Connolly has been delivering what this reviewer considers to be the absolute pinnacle in atmospheric detective fiction with a difference – the very difference, or esssence, that Tennant has spotted slyly manifesting on the bookshelves: ‘…there are times when I stand in the Crime/Thriller section of a big bookshop and scan all these portentous titles with their minatory cover art, read back cover blurbs that tell of serial killers and their atrocities, it seems to me as if, while eschewing the H word, this younger, hipper genre has reinvented and repackaged itself with all the trappings of its older more illustrious predecessor’.

Tennant is actually writing the introduction to a review of Bad Things by Michael Marshall, quite justifiably referring to the author as a ‘master of ‘stealth fiction’, of mixing and matching genres, constantly blurring the boundaries, presenting the reader with one thing that eventually turns out to be another…’ And it’s to this currently small band of stealth fiction writers that Connolly belongs, if not leads, as over the last ten years or so he has fearlessly and increasingly introduced hints and suggestions of another world that surrounds this one, and that of Parker. Whilst previous titles may have left such phenomena and cirumstance open to intepretation (although certainly not in my eyes), in The Lovers, Connolly removes the ambiguity once and for all, and the book is stronger, kindlier and more poignant as a result.

The Charlie Parker stories have laid down their shadow-strata over each other across the years since Every Dead Thing, marking each tale that’s gone before with ghosts, memories and emotions, with all that it is to be a father, husband, lover and killer. Connolly’s prose seeps with Maine’s atmosphere, with threat and with empathy. Parker knows the dead do not forget, and so he does not forget.

Never have I read a series of books that so depend on the past of one man to determine his future and that of those around him, both friend and foe. Parker has a fascinating and terrible history that I am confident will continue to unravel seamlessly, just as his unsettled present and unpredictable future will play out in one way or another. (The next Parker novel, The Whisperers is due next year).

Readers new to John Connolly beware: before sitting down with The Lovers, you must go back into Parker’s past yourself, starting with Every Dead Thing.

As Rachel and Sam have discovered, living with Charlie Parker is not easy. For the reader, however, living with him, killing with him, loving with him is a monstrously dark, horrific (with a capital ‘H’), sad and wonderful experience.


2 Comments on Book review: The Lovers, by John Connolly

  1. Highlander on Sun, 9th Aug 2009 9:24 am
  2. Loved The Lovers, thought it brought together all the subtly mystique of the previous Parker books into a great supernatural whole. Not sure the name does the book justice though and wondered if it might put your average horror fan off?

  3. Mathew F. Riley on Sun, 9th Aug 2009 11:28 am
  4. Hi Higlander – am in agreement with you completely with regards the title – athough it’s a nice catch-all for the various relationships being explored within the story, it’s not spooky enough by any means!

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