What are the John Connolly “Charlie Parker” novels about? Should you read them, and where should you start? My answer, based on reading four novels and meeting John Connolly, is an unqualified “read them”.
“They come now, the dark angels, the violent ones, their wings black against the sun, their swords unsheathed.“
Does evil exist independently? To read this quotation from the third of John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series, The Killing Kind, one might think Connolly believed in malice independent of man.
At the Erich Fried literary festival
I had the privilege of interviewing John Connolly at the Erich Fried literary festival in Vienna last month. He is a writer of prodigious output. Recent works include he, a reimagining of the comedian Stan Laurel. Plus A Book of Bones, the 17th in the Charlie Parker series.
Charlie “Bird” Parker
In preparation for interviewing John I read the first novel in the Charlie Parker series, Every Dead Thing, followed by Dark Hollow and The Killing Kind. I found Charlie “Bird” Parker a fine creation: disturbed, vengeful, tough, and with a splendid dry sense of humour. Parker’s one-liners are masterpieces of comic characterisation:
- Beside me, a man ate ham and eggs with the concentrated effort of a bad lover
- Jenny Orbach’s apartment was so retro it should have been wearing flares and a goatee
- The coffee smelled like something had crawled into the pot to die, then spent its final minutes percolating.
Charlie Parker’s humour
In the first three novels, Parker’s humour is contagious and consistent – somewhat different from Lee Child’s Jack Reacher (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site), who I also think is terrific but whose sense of humour, on display at the link, disappears in some books only to reappear in others.
Parker’s sidekicks Angel and Louis are also outstanding: Parker describes Louis as “the only gay, black, Republican criminal I know”.
Signing my Berlin thriller Blood Summit alongside John after the interview. His queue was longer.
Charlie Parker on evil
Charlie Parker often muses on the theme of evil: “St Augustine believed that natural evil could be ascribed to the activity of beings who were free and rational but nonhuman. Nietzsche considered evil to be a source of power independent of the human” (The Killing Kind). Or: “I believe in evil because I have touched it, and it has touched me” (Every Dead Thing).
The Charlie Parker novels also contain a good deal of paranormal activity: Charlie Parker hears voices and sees dead people – his revelations often helping him to solve a case: “Something bubbled in my throat, and I tasted bile and coffee. ‘I see them,’ I said. ‘I see them all.'” Connolly himself declines to be definitive on the subject, saying that “I have never had a supernatural experience”. For me, the combination of reality and mystery works well, adding a dimension of wonder to the well-crafted, haunting stories.
Place and story
Finally, Connolly is interested in the relationship between place and story. He told The Irish Times: “I’m interested in psychogeography, the idea that the landscape retains something of the people who pass through, you will stand in a place and almost hear the echo of voices.” He says of his decision to set parts of The Book of Bones in the UK, rather than the US, that “The ancient nature of some of these structures allowed me to do things that I couldn’t have done in an American setting”. This reminds me of the “Stone Tape theory“, named after the eponymous ghost story released by the BBC on Christmas Day, 1972: that ghosts are recordings of past events made by the natural environment. You can watch The Stone Tape here – although a bit dated, it has stood the test of time well.
Charlie Parker would probably enjoy The Stone Tape. He muses in Dark Hollow, “I sometimes felt that places retained memories – houses, lands, towns, mountains, all holding within themselves the ghosts of past experiences”.
Should you read John Connolly’s Charlie Parker novels?
For me, the answer is an unqualified “yes”. They are intriguing, entertaining and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. A complete list of the novels is here. My only tip would be that although the first book, Every Dead Thing, was a big hit, I found it hard to get into, with an immense amount going on and multiple plot lines. The second book, Dark Hollow, worked better for me; and the third, The Killing Kind, kept me up late to find out what happened next. So if you are a Charlie Parker novice, you may want to consider not starting with the first book in the series. Indeed, if you read Every Dead Thing later, once you’ve become familiar with the protagonist, it will give you the dubious pleasure of learning exactly what ghastly fate befell Parker’s wife and child in the opening chapters of the series.
John Connolly with a copy of my Berlin thriller “Blood Summit“, which he kindly read and described as “hugely entertaining”
Finally, I should record that I found John Connolly a thoroughly decent bloke, excellent company and apparently unaffected by his fame and success. We enjoyed a splendid beer afterwards in the 7th District of Vienna (step forward, the Ungar Grill). John even bought a copy of my Berlin thriller Blood Summit. Now that is class.
P.S. since writing this, I finished reading my fourth John Connolly thriller, The White Road, which is just as good as the others (warning – high body count);
John Connolly on “Blood Summit”
John Connolly kindly described my own thriller Blood Summit as “hugely entertaining”. Is he right? Click on the picture below to see what other readers thought.