The Charlie Parker chronicles have become one of the more distinctive crime series of recent years for their chilling examination of the resilience and reactions of humanity in the face of psychological and physical damage and their dalliance with the supernatural, which pervades John Connolly's books with a threatening, malodorous presence. There is a lot of darkness in these books, and very little light.
One particularly threatening presence in these books has been Louis, an avenging shadow who through his relationship with (life and business) partner Angel, has become a protector of sorts for Parker. A hired gun from the Big City, wreaking havoc in rural Maine.
The Reapers is Louis' tale, a back story that traces his difficult upbringng in the deep south, where the violent death of his mother provokes the boy into the revenge killing of her murdered in an act so meticulously planned and so coldly carried out that his talents attract the attention of a shadowy firm who control "The Reapers", deadliest of hired killers. And so Louis is launched upon a murderous path.
And so in The Reapers, Charlie Parker is a peripheral figure, as Connolly focuses on recounting Louis' history and then building a typically edgy, dangerous story about his past finally catching up with him, in this case the killer Bliss, a man Louis crossed ín his past and who is now pulling the strings of others to orchestrate a final reckoning.
So Louis finds himself under attack both at home and in some of his businesses, and while he clearly sees the hand of Bliss, he is lured into action by a millionaire recluse who convinces him they share an enemy, another reclusive millionaire living in the Adirondacks in northern New York. Louis and Angel head north to a bloody fight-to-the-death with Bliss.
Ditching Parker as the central protagonist in place of Louis is a brave move for Connolly. His formula has to this point worked incredibly well, making him a top ten novelist, and the Maine detective's tortured soul and unerring nose for trouble has been the heart of all the books.
But it works well here. Louis' story is fascinating and compelling, and the device of making Parker a bystander, albeit one who gradually edges towards centre stage as the narrative unfolds, is clever. Aside from allowing readers a welcome insight into the killer Louis, we also get a fascinating view of Parker as others see him: a deeply troubled man who is a danger as much to others as to himself.
Overall the story is well told and pacey and the sense of trouble rises uneasily throughout. Connolly steps up the series characterisation process several notches here, and future installments will be all the better for it. For three quarters of the book, I wondered if this was not perhaps the best of the series. But the grisly, explosive ending seemed a little too contrived and over-dramatic. It was almost cinematic, a set piece finale as imagined by a middle-of-the-road Hollywood director and not entirely convincing and therefore something of an anti-climax.
Nonetheless a fine piece of work from Connolly, a tier one mystery writer somewhere near the height of his powers.