The “Charlie Parker” novels by John Connolly are unique. Find out why you should read them and where you should start.
“They come now, the dark angels, the violent ones, their wings black against the sun, their swords unsheathed.“
Does evil exist independently? To read this quotation from the third of John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series, The Killing Kind, one might think Connolly believed in malice independent of man (if you’re interesting in this kind of thing, do check out my existential category on this blog).
At the Erich Fried literary festival
I had the privilege of interviewing John Connolly at the Erich Fried literary festival in Vienna. He is a writer of prodigious output. His recent work The Nameless Ones, the 19th in the Charlie Parker series, was inspired partly by his visit to Vienna for the festival, in 2019.
You can read my review of The Nameless Ones here.
Charlie “Bird” Parker
In preparation for interviewing John I read the first novel in the Charlie Parker series, Every Dead Thing, followed by Dark Hollow, The Killing Kind and, a little later, The White Road. I found Charlie “Bird” Parker a fine creation: disturbed, vengeful, tough, and with a splendid dry sense of humour. Parker’s one-liners are masterpieces of comic characterisation:
- Beside me, a man ate ham and eggs with the concentrated effort of a bad lover
- Jenny Orbach’s apartment was so retro it should have been wearing flares and a goatee
- The coffee smelled like something had crawled into the pot to die, then spent its final minutes percolating.
Charlie Parker’s humour
In the first three novels, Parker’s humour is contagious and consistent – somewhat different from Lee Child’s Jack Reacher (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site), who I also think is terrific but whose sense of humour, on display at the link, disappears in some books only to reappear in others.
Parker’s sidekicks Angel and Louis are also outstanding: Parker describes Louis as “the only gay, black, Republican criminal I know”. Both play a starring role in The Nameless Ones.
Signing my Berlin thriller Blood Summit alongside John after the interview. His queue was longer.
Charlie Parker on evil
Charlie Parker often muses on the theme of evil: “St Augustine believed that natural evil could be ascribed to the activity of beings who were free and rational but nonhuman. Nietzsche considered evil to be a source of power independent of the human” (The Killing Kind). Or: “I believe in evil because I have touched it, and it has touched me” (Every Dead Thing).
The Charlie Parker novels also contain a good deal of paranormal activity: Charlie Parker hears voices and sees dead people – his revelations often helping him to solve a case: “Something bubbled in my throat, and I tasted bile and coffee. ‘I see them,’ I said. ‘I see them all.'” Connolly himself declines to be definitive on the subject, saying that “I have never had a supernatural experience”. For me, the combination of reality and mystery works well, adding a dimension of wonder to the well-crafted, haunting stories.
Place and story
Finally, Connolly is interested in the relationship between place and story. He told The Irish Times: “I’m interested in psychogeography, the idea that the landscape retains something of the people who pass through, you will stand in a place and almost hear the echo of voices.” He says of his decision to set parts of The Book of Bones in the UK, rather than the US, that “The ancient nature of some of these structures allowed me to do things that I couldn’t have done in an American setting”. This reminds me of the “Stone Tape theory“, named after the eponymous ghost story released by the BBC on Christmas Day, 1972: that ghosts are recordings of past events made by the natural environment. You can watch The Stone Tape here – although a bit dated, it has stood the test of time well.
Charlie Parker would probably enjoy The Stone Tape. He muses in Dark Hollow, “I sometimes felt that places retained memories – houses, lands, towns, mountains, all holding within themselves the ghosts of past experiences”.
Should you read John Connolly’s Charlie Parker novels?
For me, the answer is an unqualified “yes”. They are intriguing, entertaining and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. A complete list of the novels is here. My only tip would be that although the first book, Every Dead Thing, was a big hit, I found it hard to get into, with an immense amount going on and multiple plot lines. The second book, Dark Hollow, worked better for me; and the third, The Killing Kind, kept me up late to find out what happened next. So if you are a Charlie Parker novice, you may want to consider not starting with the first book in the series. Indeed, if you read Every Dead Thing later, once you’ve become familiar with the protagonist, it will give you the dubious pleasure of learning exactly what ghastly fate befell Parker’s wife and child in the opening chapters of the series.
John Connolly himself says he thinks his novels have improved over the years.
John Connolly with a copy of my Berlin thriller “Blood Summit” (since re-published under my own name), which he kindly read and described as “hugely entertaining”
Finally, I should record that I found John Connolly a thoroughly decent bloke, excellent company and apparently unaffected by his fame and success. After the reading in Vienna we enjoyed a splendid beer at the Ungar Grill. I later made a couple of suggestions for sites he might visit in Vienna, one of which he later told me helped inspire The Nameless Ones.
John even bought a copy of my Blood Summit. Now that is class.
John Connolly on “Blood Summit”
John Connolly kindly described my own thriller Blood Summit as “hugely entertaining”. Is he right? Click on the picture below – the latest edition – to find out. John’s comment is on the cover.