"Blood will flow," promises the cover of John Connolly's latest novel, The Reapers, and flow it certainly does. And spurt. And gush. And drip. Yes, after the none-more-dark subject matter and sombre tone of his previous, relatively bloodless, novel The Unquiet, The Reapers finds Connolly in a more playful mood, setting the scene for action and then delivering it big time.
Now to make one thing clear from the start, Connolly is, of course, best known for his outstanding series of novels following the exploits of, the increasingly beleaguered, P.I. Charlie Parker. Now, although Parker is in this book, he is sidelined to almost a peripheral role (he is barely even name checked but mostly referred to as "the Detective" throughout).
In The Reapers, centre stage is given to the Parker series' much loved supporting characters, Louis and, his partner, Angel. So, if anything, this should looked upon as a companion piece to the Parker series rather than an official entry.
Not to give too much away, the plot finds Louis and Angel (a deadly hitman and "home entry specialist", respectively, (their quarrelsome relationship often providing comic relief from Parker's brooding darkness) becoming the target of a lethal fellow hitman named Bliss from Louis's murky past. The Reapers of the title were the elite of the elite of hitmen, with Louis and Bliss at the top of their rank. The reasons behind Bliss' vendetta are both deeply personal and business related and it soon transpires that other parties are heavily involved in this most deadly game of cat and mouse.
Connolly expertly sets all this up during the first half of the book and then pulls out all the stops for an epic and blistering second half where it feels that anything could happen and anyone could die...
Though the book is riveting from the get go, with plenty of incidents, plot turns and action, it's at roundabout the halfway stage where it truly becomes unputdownable. Always the mark of a successful thriller!
Interestingly, Connolly seems to have pared down his usual lyrical, super-descriptive style for a more direct, hard boiled style. Obviously this was a very deliberate move which complements both the story and the characters and fits the tone perfectly.
Of course, one of Connolly's great strengths as an author is his remarkable way with words, his descriptive passages (often drawn from painstaking research) and ability to conjure vivid imagery are second to none. He is an extremely gifted writer of rare ability and I'm sure his next "proper" Parker novel "The Lovers" will see a return to the sort of rich prose his fans have become accustomed to.
Of course, there are many interesting differences in this one. For a start, we finally get a proper glimpse of the deeply troubled, enigmatic Parker as others see him, physical description and all. Naturally, being the main characters, we are afforded a slightly deeper peek than usual into the lives of Louis and Angel - though not, perhaps, quite as much background as some fans seem to be expecting. We get enough, but not so much as to interfere with the flow of the story.
As in The Unquiet, the supernatural element usually present is not so much put on the back burner as completely removed from the stove. No spooky happenings this time around!
Perhaps most surprising is the narrative device of using a very minor character, the aging mechanic Willie Brew, from earlier Parker novels as the vessel through which much of the action is viewed.
As you may gather, Connolly certainly seems to have had fun experimenting and deviating from his usual form. Fortunately, it was a gamble that paid off brilliantly and he has delivered a superb, fast paced thriller which will please both die hard fans of the Parker series and newcomers - for whom it also serves as an excellent introduction to the dangerous world of Parker and the myriad of characters within.
The Reapers is a perfectly substantial feast to satisfy fans hungry for the next Parker novel. Fast paced, action-packed, brilliantly written excitement. What more could you possibly ask for?!