A Game of Ghosts

A Game of Ghosts, John ConnollyWritten by John Connolly – Charlie Parker is back. He is hired by the FBI’s Special Agent-in-Charge Edgar Ross to find the private investigator Jaycob Eklund. Ross is a slippery fish and neither man trusts each other. Eklund is in the wind but Ross is playing it cagey with Parker and won’t give up his reasons for chasing him. Parker investigates and is pulled into the orbit of the Mother’s murky world. She is a silver haired ‘squat black spider’ of a woman with control over a shadowy criminal empire and an oily untrustworthy son Philip lurking with malignant intent.

We’re back in the frozen bleakness of Maine for the 15th book in the Charlie Parker series. Crime with a paranormal edge hasn’t been on my radar so I approached this with a frisson of tension. Something new. Something exciting. A change from another psychological thriller with girl in the title. If you are wavering then be convinced. I am wondering how I have missed this superlative series.

As well as Mother this story hangs around the Brethren. They have been hiding in the shadows for generations. Their murderous past can be traced back through the ages to the Capstead Martyrs of history. Parker soon works out that the PI, Eklund, has been tracking the group, linking them to murders and to the paranormal. He’d been joining the dots, and getting closer. Little does he know what he has exposed. Parker is soon following in Eklund’s footsteps.

Parker has his colleagues Louis and Angel by his side. They tick all the boxes for hardboiled wise-cracking archetypes but every character in this book is drawn in three dimensions. Connolly knows that each person is the hero in their own story. All the characters live, breathe and exist as fully fleshed out individuals – even those that technically don’t do any of those on a mortal plane. It’s a remarkable feat of writing and it is irresistible. We’re pulled into the story, immersed in Connolly’s world.

Characters such as the repulsive, murderous Donn Routh, ‘the Cousin’ as he is known amongst the Brethren, are fully realised. Other Brethren are equally colourful. We learn about incestuous brother and sister Kirk and Sally Buckner who are living anonymous lives as man and wife in a small community. Biding their time, waiting to strike. Even their nosy neighbour is drawn in bold strokes. The Collector puts in an appearance as well. The ghostly elements to the story are plainly shown but they are not deployed to rescue a flagging plot. They only deepen our immersion in the story and add emotional resonance.

What can be said about Connolly that hasn’t already been noted? He is a consummate story teller. The writing is a literary triumph full of poetic imagery and gothic malice. The dialogue spits and fizzles with humour alongside the pathos. Perhaps I could have lived without some of the detail on the occult that is layered into the story but it feels churlish to make any complaint. This book is firmly in the category of unputdownable.

I had no difficult falling into Parker’s world and this works as a standalone. You can check out the full Crime Fiction Lover guide to all the Charlie Parker books here. Those already in the know will surely love this new addition to the series. Buy this book, tuck yourself up on a gloomy evening and immerse yourself in Parker’s universe. The only downside is the wait for the next one. So savour this. Meantime I have the glorious problem of Connolly’s back catalogue to tackle. The best book I’ve read in 2017. Not just that, the best book I’ve read in years.

Hodder & Stoughton

CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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  1. Jason Billing Reply

    Just wait till you get to book 3 ‘The Killing Kind’. The most terrifying villain you will ever encounter.

    I wish I could discover the Parker catalogue all over again. Can’t wait to get my copy

    1. Mal McEwan Reply

      Thanks Jason – there is a lot to look forward to with the series. It has been a long time since I that the feeling of excitement you get when you discover a new author with lots of books waiting to be read… ace.

  2. Mary Martin Reply

    I have just finished reading the Charlie Parker series for the second time. I find that I get a new book in the CP series and read it in breakneck time and miss a lot of the detail – re-reading has been a truly wonderful experience. I live in fear that each book will be the last and I spend the time between releases exploring the Maine maps and history as well as researching the mythology and the Apocrypha introduced in every book. This is a fabulous blend of supernatural, police procedural and relationship challenges – John Connolly is a lyrical, sensitive poet delving into a clever stylised version of riveting crime fiction.

    1. Mal McEwan Reply

      Wow. You really are quite a fan – and I’m not surprised. Such a high quality series there is an incredible amount to appreciate here. You’ve nailed it with that last sentence there – a “lyrical, sensitive poet delving into a clever stylised version of riveting crime fiction”. It is remarkable the range that the crime genre can accommodate.

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