APRIL 2000 | VOL. 4, NO. 4
Irish-born John Connolly's books are big on the bookshelves in the UK, largely as the result of a couple of marketing gimmicks attached to them. With the paperback version of Every Dead Thing the reader can win a Cadillac, and the blurb promises a book as good as one by Thomas Harris (Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal) -- if you don't think it is, you can e-mail your views in. I hope they have ISDN to handle the traffic.
Every Dead Thing is a huge, sprawling tale which cleverly winds two stories together. It has its dark, macabre side, and I am not sure that the details of mutilations of children's bodies were entirely necessary to the plot. The main character -- hard to call him a hero -- is Charlie "Bird" Parker, whose wife and child are murdered and mutilated by a serial killer, and the book chronicles his attempts to track down the man responsible and bring him to some kind of justice, not necessarily of the strictly legal kind. The book is peopled by a range of characters who are strongly drawn, though very numerous, and it takes some effort on the reader's part to recall where someone fits in when he suddenly reappears three or four chapters later.
If a mystery's worth is measured by its ability to keep its secret right to the bitter end, this one fails by around 200 pages. In truth, the identity of the killer seemed fairly plain to this reader, but we were still left with the question of proving the point and trapping him safely. The book seems as if it were written with a film treatment in mind, and there is a lot of descriptive detail which slows the story to a crawl just when it should be steaming ahead.
Connolly does have an ear for dialogue, and there are some sharp and quotable lines, particularly in the by-play between Angel and Louis. If these are not especially likeable characters, they are clearly defined and play a key role in the development of the plot. Indeed, without them it is hard to see how Bird would stay alive long enough to complete his task.
And here lies one of the faults of both this book and Connolly's follow-up Dark Hollow. Everyone needs a bit of luck, but Bird leads a charmed life. The number of people who shoot at him, without effect, is quite astonishing. Even professional hitmen miss him, whereas Louis -- who just happens to be a professional hitman - scores every time.
Dark Hollow takes up where Every Dead Thing leaves off, with Bird having left the city to refurbish his grandfather's old house in Maine. The plot is clever -- but not clever enough to stop me guessing the relationship that is central to the mystery -- and the dialogue crackles along as before. Connolly writes good descriptive prose, but it jars a little coming from the pen of Bird Parker, whose normal voice is less flowery, though he is plainly well-read and I suppose it is not inconceivable that he might be able to write in this vein.
This time the serial killings are less graphically described, but there are the requisite number of shootouts involving a New York family, Cambodians, and assorted hitmen who seem to have no difficulty obtaining the guns Connolly so lovingly describes.
The inventiveness of the plots, and the complexity with which apparently unconnected stories weave together, are fine features, but I finished the books wishing that Connolly had followed the advice of Dr. Samuel Johnson: "Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out."
GRAHAM BRACK, a pharmacist by day, is the staff book reviewer for Renaissance Online Magazine. He lives in Cornwall, England.