Tuesday, November 14, 2017


A GAME OF GHOSTS by John Connolly (Atria, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

It is deep winter. The darkness is unending. The private detective named Jaycob Eklund has vanished, and Charlie Parker is dispatched to track him down. Parker's employer, Edgar Ross, an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has his own reasons for wanting Eklund found.

Eklund is no ordinary investigator. He is obsessively tracking a series of homicides and disappearances, each linked to reports of hauntings. Now Parker will be drawn into Eklund's world, a realm in which the monstrous Mother rules a crumbling criminal empire, in which men strike bargains with angels, and in which the innocent and guilty alike are pawns in a game of ghosts ...

Traditionally crime fiction was about reason, rationality, and logic - detectives using their acute minds and observation skills to deduce who was responsible for (usually) a murder. Even as the genre has expanded far beyond the strictures of Holmesian or Golden Age puzzling whodunnits, nowadays most crime fiction is still firmly grounded in 'the real world'.

Few crime writers dare to blend the supernatural or paranormal into their mix, but among those that do, Irishman John Connolly is the platinum standard. His Charlie Parker series is simply superb, and Connolly is one of the very best crime writers, of any sub-genre, on the planet. A poet of the genre.

This fifteenth instalment in the award-winning series ramps up the paranormal elements even further; it feels like the mythology Connolly has been stoking novel by novel is bubbling to a furious boil.

Parker is roped in by a shady FBI agent to try and hunt down what's happened to an unconventional private eye who was delving into hauntings with a deadly edge. Meanwhile his home life is in disarray: he's battling his ex Rachel over custody to their daughter Sam. Rachel blames Parker and his crime fighting life for putting Sam in danger, unaware that there may be far darker dangers lurking.

A Game of Ghosts is a tricky book to review. Connolly is both a fine prose stylist and excellent storyteller. There's depth and intelligence to his tales. He regularly pens five-star reads that challenge best-of-the-year lists (or should), and I'd expect to see A Game of Ghosts on a few this year too.

But for me, I wonder if this instalment might not be the best one to start with if you're a new reader to the Charlie Parker series. Although it can stand on its own, and is another superlative tale, I kind of feel like you might be better off to have read at least a couple of prior Parker books to fully appreciate all that's going on. Not from an understanding or plot perspective, but just in terms of getting extra resonance and satisfaction when it comes to the character arcs and supernatural elements. .

Connolly turns the paranormal dial up high; there are various ghostly or demonic figures lurking as Parker hunts for the truth of Eklund's disappearance. This book crackles with malice and threat.

There's a palpable sense of evil throughout the Parker books. The 'bad guys' are really, really bad - true grotesques in the gothic tradition. Layer in Connolly's literary stylings, and you have something unique and quite special in the crime writing field. Highly recommended - whether to dive into straight away, or put by the bedside table as you work your way through some of the backlist.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features and reviews for a range of magazines and newspapers in several countries. In recent years he's interviewed almost 200 mystery writers and discussed crime writing onstage at festivals on three continents, and on national radio and top podcasts. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards (Australia), the McIlvanney Prize (Scotland), and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards (New Zealand). You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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