Bad men are coming to the island of Sanctuary. Bad men, led by the vicious Moloch, are coming, to seek out and punish Rita, his wife, who before running away to hide from him on the quiet, insular island, stole two important things from Moloch: his son and a substantial amount of cash.
Sanctuary has a bloody history; in 1693 a group of settlers on the island were betrayed to their enemies and slaughtered. Since then, the island has rested in three hundred years of peace. But, now the Bad Men are coming, the Bad Men with their malintent, and strange things are starting to happen on Sanctuary. The inhabitants can sense them, sense the changes. The island is waking once more. It is restless, and it will not tolerate the shedding of blood any longer. And still, the Bad Men are coming.
Clearly, this supernatural novel is a departure from Connolly’s normal work. But is it? Well, actually, not really. His books have always been smattered with supernatural happenings among the violence, ghostly goings-on, and they have worked to brilliant atmospheric effect in his Charlie Parker novels. However, this one is a full-blown supernatural thriller. He takes the horror and mystical elements and puts them all in one book. Obviously it is a risk for any author to depart from their norm. The important question is: does it work? The answer, mostly anyway, is yes.
Without any doubt, Connolly writes with lyrical brilliance, as exemplified marvellously by the opening to this book: “Moloch dreams. In the darkness of a Virginia prison cell, he stirs like an old demon goaded by memories of its lost humanity,” and nothing can take that away from him. Bad Men is a pleasure if only for the ethereal, vivid prose which bathes the descriptions in a sunset-like glow. It is also a pleasure for the presence of Melancholy Joe Dupree, the giant policeman who guards the island. He is a masterpiece of a character: gentle, damaged by the isolation caused by his physical difference, lonely, and yet prepared to go to great lengths of violence to do his duty, he will not be forgotten easily once the book is put down. The other characters, though, are nothing really special. Adequate, oh yes.
The supernatural elements, too, are merely adequate. Personally, sometimes I felt that they actually took away from the power of the story in some instances. In others, though, the horror and supernatural influences do create a brilliant eerie atmosphere and some excellent paths for the story, and the haunting recurring image of those grey moths is not going to leave me for some distinct while.
For those that lament the fact that this isn’t a Parker book, he does make a brief appearance, even though I know that that is no real consolation. He will return. And, I am sure that as Connolly stretches his literary wings in this fashion, he will be back all the better for it. If nothing else, this book will allow Connolly to grow and develop as a writer, which can only be to the benefit of his series. In the meantime, pick up Bad Men and enjoy. It’s not excellent, but it’s adequate, and the electrifying show-down finale is undeniably thrilling reading. Bad Men is just about worth its money.