People often ask if I have a 'favourite' author. And the truth is that I don't. It is also true, however, that the new Charlie Parker novel from Irish writer John Connolly has become my most eagerly anticipated book of the year.
Over the course of 14 books - after today's publication of A Time of Torment - and 17 years Connolly has developed one of crime fictions most enduring characters in Parker, and with him a series that stays fresh, exciting and fascinating.
Parker has changed over the years, and A Time of Torment was of particular interest because it promised to reveal the evolution of the Maine detective following the violent trauma described in A Wolf in Winter. This was hinted at in last year's outing A Song of Shadows, which I described as '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'.
So if A Time Of Torment is not quite The Return of the Maine Jedi, - for one thing this is no way inferior to the preceding episode! - there is no question that it finds Parker on the new track promised. Parker has always been something of a force of nature, but now that force is focused with a single-minded, irresistible determination to wreak havoc on those preying on the weak and needy. There is also a clear sense of purpose about Parker's chosen prey, even if Connolly - the master of telling half of every story - does not reveal exactly what it is, although clearly related to a list of people you wouldn't want your daughter to marry that was retrieved from a crashed plane in a previous novel.
Parker, with Louis and Angel at his back, is hired by a man recently released from prison on child pornography offences to help clear his name. The man, Jerome Burnel, is convinced he was set up and equally certain that he is about to be killed by those who did it. Parker doesn't need to delve into the case too long before finding links from Burnel to other violent crimes in the Maine area, all of which appear to point to a reclusive settle in rural West Virginia known as the Cut. Those familiar with Connolly's novels will know that this presages no good news for the inhabitants of the settlement as Parker embarks on the case apparently driven by a combination of a desire for justice and a need for vengeance.
The supernatural element in Connolly's writing, ever closer to the surface, is provided by the folks in the Cut and their apparent fealty to the mysterious Dead King.
It's brilliant stuff, as usual. The long, slow development of Parker's character is a work of art in and of itself, and this novel moves the arc on beautifully. Louis and Angel are comfortably the two most interesting hero/villains in crime fiction. The story itself is a combination of slow burn narrative and explosive action and violence.
The only downside? No more for another year.
Reviews of previous Charlie Parker novels:
A Song of Shadows 2015
The Wolf in Winter 2014
The Whisperers 2010
The Lovers 2009
The Reapers 2008