Written by: James Keen
“At Sedlec, the border between this world and the next was marked in bone.” – ‘The Black Angel’.
The fifth in the series of Connolly’s ‘Charlie Parker’ novels, this follows the lead set by ‘The White Road’ in that the supernatural elements, rather than being used as subtle background shading for the more ‘realistic’ aspects of Parker’s life as a private detective, are here brought to the fore as Connolly further develops his dark fictional tapestry, moving further away from the grittier, more grounded reality we’ve seen depicted in the previous books. This is no longer the familiar landscape of the haunted private investigator, here we’re plunged into a world peppered with supernatural threats and paranormal violence.
Near the opening of ‘The Black Angel’ we find our hero, Parker, still gripped by morbid thoughts of his murdered wife and daughter while trying to assuage the fears of his current beau Rachel that this obsessive need of his to make sense of his loss is not going to dissolve their current relationship. His baby daughter is about to christened, Rachel’s family is called together for the ceremony as is Parker’s business associates and valued friends, Louis and Angel, who are to act as god-parents. What should be an occasion for celebration and good natured bonding proves to be an entirely less comfortable event. The divide between Parker and Rachel’s antagonistic father widens during the post christening party and the unexpected arrival of Louis’ elderly Aunt brings awful news that threatens to further distance Parker from his beloved family.
‘The Black Angel’ of the title is established at the outset as an object coveted by a sect whose members and activities are revealed as we move through the book with the monstrous Brightwell proving to be one of Connolly’s more abhorrent and disturbing villains. It’s his awful and horrifying methodology that reverberates in the mind long after completing this overly extended tale of good versus evil. Though it is generally a leaden, grim literary journey , there are instances of welcome humour sprinkled throughout and there’s a particularly absorbing side story detailing the exploits of two World War Two army veterans that threatens to steal the spotlight from our beleaguered protagonist – this is a particularly engrossing addition to the book, allowing for some recent historical context for the mysterious titular object and showcases some especially fine writing from the author.
‘The Black Angel’ is an enjoyable and diverting read for the most part but it’s quite often an infuriating experience with Connolly relying on noir cliches and transparently manipulative plot devices in some place, undermining the story with a narrative predictability. To constantly remind the reader that Parker is a tortured soul with a brutal past and horrifying recollections of his ruined family becomes tedious and the sub-plot of the troubled relationship dynamic between him and Rachel is emphasised to point where the reader can be forgiven for repeatedly rolling their eyes in exasperation. Connolly’s repeated underlining of the tenuous nature of their relationship devolves into bland melodrama and serves very little narrative purpose other than to break up the literary pace of the book. There’s a definite sense that the author is padding out the novel, with bloated exposition adding narrative fat to the chapters and one particularly irksome passage dealing with a description of one of the major antagonists, Brightwell, that runs for two agonisingly torpid pages. There’s certainly room for more judicious editing here given the slight nature of the books’ plot; ‘The Black Angel’ grinds to a halt just short of six hundred pages and it’s this reviewers’ contention that at least 1/6th of that could be excised without damaging the scenario and would only strengthen the book’s overall impact.
Order The Black Angel here.