Written by: Reed Andrus
I’ve grown old along with John Connolly and his character Charlie Parker. We met when his first novel in the Parker series, Every Dead Thing, was published in 1999 and subsequently won a Shamus Award for Best First Novel in 2000. Since that time, I’ve followed the series religiously, reviewing the first seven books for Mystery News, and interviewing the author for the same publication. In those days, there was a minor battle raging among mystery and thriller readers over the use of supernatural elements within a crime story. Connolly’s Parker series was used as evidence for both sides of the argument, those who appreciated a spooky component and those who felt the genre was being subverted. For myself, I’ve never had a problem with hybridization of sub-genres, particularly the way Connolly does it. But I’ve always been firmly against using the term “woo-woo” to describe inclusion of supernatural/paranormal elements in a mystery or thriller. That term was vocalized and commandeered by Daffy Duck long before the (mostly) cozy mystery readers misappropriated it.
A Song of Shadows is the 13th novel in the Parker series, following last year’s The Wolf in Winter, among the most powerful books in the series, and one that contains an extremely frustrating cliff-hanger. Shadows finds Parker more or less hiding out in the economically-disadvantaged seaside town of Boreas, Maine. His whereabouts are monitored by acquaintances in the Maine State Police and FBI, and also by the excellent supporting characters Connolly has used throughout the series – as Spenser had his Hawk, so does Parker have gay hitman Louis, and his lover-thief, Angel. But even these friends and watchers cannot be available all the time, and the quietude of Parker’s enforced vacation is interrupted by the body of a man washed up on the beach, coupled with the arrival of a young mother and daughter who are running in fear of unknown pursuit. Parker being Parker, he has no choice but to get involved.
Connolly maintains reader interest in the series by changing the balance of supernatural and mundane elements. At least two of his novels are relatively straightforward crime stories, with little to no otherworldly activity. Others rely more heavily on the outre. A Song of Shadows leans toward a mundane storyline given away by the cover of the US dustjacket. But careful infusion of supernatural incidents act to set Parker on a new path we will likely see in future books. If there is any criticism to be leveled at the series, it comes with Connolly’s use of info dumps, sometimes narrated by the omniscient author, and sometimes spoken by characters in paragraphs that extend beyond a single page. This particular idiosyncrasy can bring an exciting section down to a slow crawl. If a reader is not familiar with this stylistic quirk, it may throw them out of the book. Perseverance is recommended. The reward is great. The Charlie Parker saga is one of the best, long-running series written today. Under proper administration, it would make a terrific cable TV series.