Could there be a more appropriate place for the recuperation of Charlie Parker than a Maine town named for the Greek God of the north wind, Boreas? And where his neighbour on the quiet out-of-season beach goes by the name of (Ruth) Winter? Probably not.
Myths, shadows and residues of other worlds are layered throughout John Connolly's Parker novels and so there's power in the symbolism, in this 13th installment of the series, which begins a new phase of the detective's story.
Boreas is a quiet place before the arrival of Parker, who has come to rehabilitate following the injuries sustained in The Wolf in Winter, which left him astride the threshold between the worlds of the living and the dead. It does not remain quiet for long, although the death and destruction that quickly arrives is incidental to Parker's presence, which is rarely the case.
When the body of a Florida man washes ashore not far from his rented house and that of his apparently frightened and troubled neighbour, Parker begins to take an interest. It is not very long before dark and troublesome presences appear in the town - including his own friends - and Parker links the man's death to a murdered Maine family and another death in Florida. In pushing him away, Ruth Winter shows Parker nothing more than that she is a terrified soul, hiding a dark secret that transpires to be connected to events a Nazi death camp seven decade ago and the old men who wish to keep their own involvement secret.
As with all these novels this story would work well enough as a self-contained mystery novel to satisfy those who are not immersed in the rich and textured world of Charlie Parker. And so if you're looking for a cracking piece of Maine noir with a case of macabre characters and a series of satisfying plot turns but have never heard of Charlie Parker, formerly of the NYPD, this could be for you.
Parker aficionados are looking for a whole lot more from A Song of Shadows. When I interviewed Connolly about this time last year he described the ending of A Wolf in Winter as "a moment of transformation", the ending of Parker's journey, "out of grief and out of hopelessness", where he's been transformed into "something else. Parker's been intensely damaged and is entering a new phase."
The most obvious manifestation of this transformation is that Parker is not presented in the first person, as has been the case in previous books. While I don't believe this has diminished how close the reader is to Parker, I felt that change in style emphasised one key aspect of the change in him: the way he is perceived by others.
Parker had already evolved into a figure that provoked a combination of fear, loathing and apprehension in his enemies. loyalty and devotion from his friends and a mixture of the two from others (including local, state and federal law enforcement). Now, however, it is almost as if Parker holds a mirror up to those he meets, and in him they find their own fears and hopes.
And in large part this comes from the change in Parker himself. While physically broken, mentally he is settled, finally comfortable in his place in the world and aware of his important role in a battle unfolding between good, evil and the many shades within. His friends sense it, his allies in law enforcement sense it and those on the other side of the divide recognise the danger his relentlessness presents them.
A Song of Shadows is a fascinating novel, not as powerful as A Wolf in Winter or as satisfyingly supernatural as what has passed before, but for Parker fans it really marks an exciting new chapter in the detective's development. In some ways it is the Empire Strikes Back of fiction, a link novel in which there's a sense of new storylines being set up and the key pieces being moved into place. Something is very obviously coming, and it won't be pretty.
When these books arrive, and I find myself looking forward to the new Connolly as perhaps the highlight of my fiction year, I want the world to go away. I want a comfy chair, a warm fire, a glass of whisky and the time to savour it all.
Bravo, John Connolly. May the wind be at your back and the new Parker along in good time.
Reviews of previous Charlie Parker novels:
The Wolf in Winter 2014
The Whisperers 2010
The Lovers 2009
The Reapers 2008