In this stand-alone novel Connolly has adapted or taken extracts from a number of classical fairy tales to create one story, which in common with The Chronicles of Narnia takes place in Second World War England and involves a secret portal to a magical mystery land with battles of its own being fought and involving half-human, half-animal hybrids. While on the one hand it's tempting to suggest that this is purely an indulgence on the author's part, there's no denying that it's well written and the imagery and atmosphere he creates - so often a Connolly strength - is probably his best to date because he has given himself free rein to fantasise as much as he wants to.
In my own paperback copy, an unusual supplement to an already unusual book includes an `interview' with Connolly in which he is asked such questions as why he wrote the tale at all. I won't spoil things here, but I do find it curious that the novelist finds a need to justify the writing of a story and to publish those reasons in the book itself. Not that it matters, it takes a little while adjusting to the nature of the story after the very different style of the Charlie `Bird' Parker series but once the reader becomes familiar with it, it makes for entertaining reading. Despite its fairy-tale underpinnings, however, this is not a story for young children; there is no bad language at any time but some of the violence, while pretty tame compared to traditional Connolly fare, would make for an uncomfortable bedtime story for your seven-year-old daughter! But at least Connolly has eradicated the gun from one of his novels as a means of killing; he has always delved into the supernatural world even when writing modern day crime fiction, but in the past even some of the ghosts he created killed with pistols or rifles, which I found at odds with the theme. Not in this book, though. Central character David has nothing more sophisticated than a sword at his side and this is perfectly in keeping with the strange world he inhabits for much of this tale.
Another frequent idiosyncrasy throughout several of Connolly's novels is to give the bad guy a title of some kind, in TBOLT he's The Crooked Man who is very loosely adapted from the Brothers Grimm's dwarf creation Rumpelstiltskin. And with central character David having a conversation with a woman who turns out to be dead, we are reminded once again that there are more similarities to the Bird series than initially meets the eye. Still left-field by most reckonings, and certainly not crime fiction, it's an adult fairy tale that will satisfy existing Connolly fans and for those of you lucky enough not to know, there's a wonderful series of novels by the same author that you really should try if you want a credible mixture of contemporary fiction and the supernatural.