on 20 May 2008
I'm a big fan of John Connolly's works, the Charlie Parker books in particular. They're not my usual read but after gettingThe Black Angel as a misguided but well meaning present, I found my self hooked and have worked through the whole series.
For my money, Connolly does Raymond Chandler just as well as Raymond Chandler - gritty, well observed, cynically philosophical and packed with beautifully formed one liners. However, I was beginning to find the series a little formulaic (old troubles resurface and combine with seemingly unrelated current events while Charlie Parker lies to the police again about how much he knows prior to the bloody finale in which his nearest and dearest, usually, just barely survive while a freak show assortment of very bad people add to the body count. Old testament spookiness pervades throughout).
The Reapers then is refreshing in that it departs from the formula in some, but by no means all, key ways. Charlie Parker is virtually a cameo while the bulk of the action is viewed through the eyes of staple characters Louis (which I only find out now, after having read two of the other books out loud, is pronounced in the French fashion) and Angel. A third perspective comes from Willie Brewer, the previously un-fleshed out character of the mechanic.
His is perhaps the most welcome voice as he seems to be the only one who is not entirely comfortable with all the horror and mayhem and so his point of view adds a welcome layer of depth to the proceedings. It's nice to be reminded that not everyone can kill a dozen people without batting an eyelid. Its also very interesting to see, through his eyes, the impression that Charlie Parker makes on normal mortals.
The book is also almost entirely free of spooky weirdness.
While I enjoyed the departure from the norm and salute the author for making it, I would also have to say that I really missed both Parker and the weirdness and that without them I found that this was only a four star book.
"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?!
on 16 May 2008
Finally more about Louis and Angel!To say anything about the plot would be to spoil it for the reader, but I will say it's brilliant and a must for anyone who has read the previous books about Charlie Parker. Also, as a stand alone book its fantastic:- you don't have to have read any of his other books as the plot neatly fills in any gaps.
I opened my copy from Amazon Tuesday morning and finished it that night reading all day,I'm re-reading it now!
This is a kind of spin-off from the excellent Charlie 'Bird' Parker series, this time reversing the prominence of roles of the three main players - Parker, Louis and Angel. In this it's mainly about Louis and to a lesser extent Angel, while Parker, for once, provides the back-up. Except he's rarely referred to as Parker; instead he is called The Detective, even though he isn't one, and I found the terminology irritating. Louis however is as cool as always, and it would seem that the main objective of this novel was to spread a little light onto what had until now been a pretty murky history of how Louis came to be a 'Reaper', a member of a killer elite established many years before by his mentor Gabriel, who also features prominently here.
As is often the case with Louis, Angel and Parker, there are really hardly any good guys at all from start to finish. Everyone is a part of an underworld that seems pre-occupied with killing one another. In this story another Reaper from years past, Bliss as he is known, wants retribution for burns he received at the hands of Louis and is happy to take the opportunity of being paid to kill him by an organised crime boss who thinks Louis is also responsible for the murder of his son. Said boss tricks Louis and Angel into killing a rival when in fact it is a plan to lure them into a trap with Bliss insistent on being the one to pull the final trigger.
If there's one thing that is consistent with the Parker series, it's that just about everyone in the story ends up dead. That was always an inevitability and there were no surprises. It's classified as a thriller, but as is so often the case there were few thrills on offer, if any at all. Everything just happens, there is only a modest degree of tension when Louis and Angel are trapped and vulnerable, and there are no twists of any kind worthy of mention and no element of mystery. And I say this as a genuine admirer of Connolly's writing skills. It soon becomes apparent that with Parker's near absence and his associations with the supernatural, this was to be a story told in a different way that is largely devoid of the magical prose for which Connolly has justifiably earned widespread respect. This is a story told in fine detail for the most part but strangely lacking in passion or emotion. The only character the reader is guided into caring for is an aging car mechanic named Willie Brewer, and it is often through his eyes that the reader is drawn to form judgements about the rights and wrongs of the life of a contract killer - if there is any such thing as a right of course. Louis is one of those anti-heroes who basically kills for a living but because he only ever kills people who deserve to be killed, then that's all right and he and Angel are given the reader's permission to carry on their lives like that. Ultimately though, while neither Louis nor Angel come across as dislikeable, it's also difficult to really care about them, and that is a fundamental flaw in my opinion. For a reader to really engage with a novel such as this, there should be a strong feeling of like or dislike (either will do) but when there is neither emotion in place, it makes for a somewhat unmoving experience.
I will continue to call myself a Connolly fan however, despite this being a rather forgettable read. I learned that Louis is pronounced 'Loo-ee' and not 'Lewis' but after more than five years I can't rid myself of what I had thought was the correct pronunciation. I learned a little about his formation into a highly efficient hit-man but I knew how good he was anyway and this story didn't really change anything. So just as when Connolly took time out from this series with BAD MEN with a standalone, I found myself half-enjoying what I was reading but all the while wanting to return to normal service when Louis and Angel are supporting characters to Connolly's primary creation, Charlie Parker. If you have never read Connolly before, give this one a miss. If you're a fan, and there are many of you out there, then of course you've got to read this out of loyalty. But to be honest, it isn't anything special and you would lose nothing by skipping this one and waiting for his next novel THE LOVERS. I've ordered my copy of that one, no question.
on 17 May 2010
How do you categorise John Connolly, crime writer - yes certainly. Supernatural writer - well yes most of his crime novels have had a supernatural overtone so supernatural crime writer then. What about his book of horror short stories, Nocturnes - so that makes him a supernatural, crime, horror writer. Then there is his fantasy/fairy tale The Book Of Lost Things - so he is definitely a supernatural, crime, horror, fantasy writer. And then there is The Gates, damn it.....tell you what, lets just describe Connolly as one of the finest genre writers working today and lets hope The Gates is the book that lets everyone see the breadth of that talent.
Samuel Johnson and his dog Boswell (ha,ha) decide to get a head start on Halloween by trick or treating a few days early. Among the surprised neighbours to find a small boy dressed as a ghost on their doorstep are the Abernathys. The only problem is this quiet unassuming couple have invited some friends round and intend to open the Gates of hell. Only Samuel, Boswell a couple of friends and a demon called Nurd can prevent this catastrophe.
Quite unlike anything Connolly has written before, although there were hints with The Book Of Lost Things, The Gates is a laugh out loud fantasy. The problem with most comedy fantasy is that it's either not very funny (recent Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals excepted) or it's funny but with a convoluted i.e. not very good plot (are you listening Mr Rankin). Douglas Adams was one of the few writers who could consistently pull off humorous writing. John Connolly is a naturally funny guy, at a recent reading he had the audience in stitches with his observations on the Da Vinci code etc. and thankfully this has come through well in this story.
John Connolly has drawn on recent worries about the Large Hadron Collider and the completely bizarre world of particle physics to create a plot which whilst simple is also clever and well constructed. The footnotes throughout again reminded me of Adams, taking a sideways look at particle physics and explaining concepts in simple and often hilarious ways. The clever nods to horror writers of the past which are scattered throughout are also nice. John Connolly is a man who understands the horror genre.
This is a book aimed largely at the young adult market but one which could be enjoyed by all. At times genuinely emotionally engaging the characters are all interesting and well drawn. The characterisation can be compared with Gaiman's The Graveyard Book and although The Gates has a much lighter tone there are many similarities between the two novels.
My biggest complaint is only that when the book was announced I felt sure we were finally going to get the full blown horror epic that John Connolly is surely destined to write. This isn't it but hopefully the widespread appeal of this book will raise John Connolly's profile and maybe, just maybe that great horror novel is still coming.
I loved The Book of Lost Things and expected this to be much the same... How wrong I was.
This is basically a simple tale about a boy and his dog who discovers that the neighbours are up to demonic things in the basement and that they have triggered a potential 'End of the World' when all manner of demons and devils spill out.
Then there's the demon 'Nurd' - who is just the best comic Demon with feelings.
At times this is Pratchett meets Python, others it's Blackadder meets...well, you get the idea.
Some of the humour had me laughing out loud on the train into work, and yes, some of this is old in terms of comedy, but hey - it's damned funny and well worth an investment... Especially if you're wondereing just might what happen when the Hadron Collider actually starts to do it's thing - read this book and you'll see what I'm going on about.
I loved it - it's a glorious romp, a simple read and one that I will re-visit during the dark journeys to work in Winter.
What does a devilish summoning ritual, a sleepy little British town and the Hadron collider all have to in common?
Well, according to John Connolly's first book for kids, they're all going to contribute to the impending end of the world, aka the invasion of demon armies from Hell. "The Gates: A Novel" aims to be a quirky fantasy story with Porsche-driving demons, an evil undead bishop and a likably eccentric preteen hero, but Connolly is hampered by a tendency to talk down to his readers.
The Abernathys and their buddies the Renfields decide (out of boredom) to try a demonic summoning ritual in the basement (which is fairly inevitable if you live at 666 Crowley Road). Meanwhile in Switzerland, a weird blue particle appears in the Hadron collider and vanishes.
Apparently these two events just happen to coincide, and succeed in opening a doorway to Hell and allowing some demons to come through and possess the bodies of the Abernathys and Renfields. As if this weren't bad enough, the only person who knows about this is eleven-year-old Samuel and his faithful dog Boswell -- and of course, nobody's going to believe him when he says that Mrs. Abernathy is a tentacled servant of the Great Malevolence (aka Satan) and is planning to destroy the world.
And because of what he knows, Mrs. Abernathy is planning to dispose of Samuel to keep him from interfering -- but she hasn't reckoned either with the boy's determination or ingenuity. Samuel and his little band of friends must somehow stop Mrs. Abernathy's plan to bring the Malevolence into our world, even as their town is infested with flying skulls, lizard-women, gargoyles, horned devils, and the evil undead rising from the grave (including an evil bishop who likes to do unspeakable things with pokers). Can they stop the Gates from opening?
I get the impression that in "The Gates," John Connolly was aiming for a sort of Terry-Pratchett-with-a-dash-of-Douglas-Adams vibe. So unsurprisingly, he spins out the entire story with his tongue planted in cheek, with plenty of hilarious dialogue ("Barry! Christopher says the demonic horde are in your rose garden") and some rather unthreatening minor demons who seem to have trouble with basic assignments (they get drunk, hit by trucks, flushed down the toilet, et cetera).
And Connolly tries out a very different style from his previous books, embracing a sort of quirky, twee British style that you usually associate with classic authors like C.S. Lewis or early J.K. Rowling. Despite the mellow humor spread throughout the book, Connolly does conjure some moments of chilling horror when the major demons start arriving ("pale nightmarish visions consisting of little more than legs and bone and teeth"), and the demonic Mrs. Abernathy has a genuinely evil vibe.
"The Gates'" biggest handicap is that Connolly seems uncomfortably aware that he's writing for kids, and ends up sounding very condescending -- he gives definitions of words like "Malevolence," "deity" and "nefarious," as well as a number of painfully precious, pat-on-the-head lectures. These become less common as the book becomes more exciting, but it's very distracting in the first half.
But I'll give Connolly credit -- he does create a very likable little band of preteen heroes. Samuel is an enjoyably odd kid with a tendency to ask impossible questions of his elders, and a a never-say-die determination to stop the evil Mrs. Abernathy. And Connolly clearly had fun with some of the demonic characters, such as the rather downtrodden, car-loving Nurd (also known as the Scourge of Five Deities), or the elephant-eared blob who can't scare anyone.
John Connolly's first fantasy book for a young adult audience is hampered by a tendency to be condescending. But "The Gates" still manages to be a fun little dark fantasy with a distinctly warped sense of humor.
on 9 February 2009
Firstly I imagine a number of people reading this were disappointed at the relative lack of Charlie Parker's presence in this book. Whilst he is mentioned early on, it is not until much later on in the book that his character actually comes into play and even then there is little of him. Personally this did not detract from the book at all for me and I am a great fan of Bird. For those who have read all the previous books within this "story" I think Bird is, even largely absent, somewhere within the fabric of the story.
This book focuses on Louis' route to becoming one of the Reapers of the title. It tells of his earlier childhood in greater detail, his passage towards the darker side and his continued exploration of this. Connolly's other books are usually full of mysticism and redemption, with supernatural hints and darkness, and there is little of that in this book. We get hints of it with Louis' grandmother and the instinctual wariness others have of the young Louis but the narrative in this book is far more straightforward. Yet Louis gains greater depth because of it and the complications within his character are admirably revealed, particularly through those who inhabit other corners of his life, notably Willie Brewer, a mechanic who owes both his livelihood and only notable relationship to Louis' early interference.
This book can be read without having read any of Connolly's earlier works. It has the blood and thrills of his other books although they are less twisted and dark here. That is no bad thing although I would not want Connolly to depart from his earlier style. Some of his earlier books, from the initial "Every Dead Thing" to "The Unquiet" can make uncomfortable reading at times. They stay with you on the whole.
If you are already a fan of Connolly, Louis, Angel and Bird then you should read this anyway, even if you don't enjoy it as much as some of the others. If you are new to his work then this is a great stand alone book which will introduce you to some fascinating characters and then give you the opportunity to go back and start at the beginning. I envy you!
on 1 November 2008
First up, I'm not an avid reader of John Connolly and it's been a while since I read a Charlie Parker novel. I like his work and greatly respect him for The Book of Lost Things in particular. (He is also a brilliant entertainer and storyteller and I saw him once speak at a signing, first class).
However to me this book falls short on a number of counts. It's basically Connolly writing for his fans and using a story to explain more about Louis' past, and in turn give Parker a rest. But this book misses Parker for without him there's no great mystery, the essence of what the characters hang upon. Parker does appear fleetingly and when I look back on that it was a mistake for Parker's motivation is never really explained, for those who would be new to the series. To me this feels like a thriller type short story, with little flesh on it.
The story is dotted throughout with flashback to Louis' past and how he was once a Reaper, a hit man and how this past is now coming back to haunt him. One more assignment puts Louis and Angel in danger and the book does build up to a thrilling ending. For that and the fact that Connolly always injects some great pose, I give it 2 stars.
But then I am not an avid Connolly fan but I can appreciate how fans of the series will find this an intriguing aside from the main plot of Parker, Louis and Angel. This won't stop me however getting back into the Parker books where I left off a few years ago.
I had never heard of John Connolly, but this books sounded a bit like something that Christopher Moore would write so I though I'd give it ago!
The basic story is as follows. Samuel Johnson decides to go trick or treating a few days early and finds one of the families who live down the road (at 666 Crowley Avenue) are not too impressed by his visit. After being shooed away he cathes his neighbour dressing in magical garb and he sees then enact a magical spell that opens a gateway to hell, the original energy for this comes from the Large Hadron Collider which opens a worm hole between there and here! From there we get a wonderfully tall tale about demons trying to take over the world and Samuel and his friends trying to stop them. It's all firmly tongue in cheek and is good clean fun. It is probably aimed at children 10+ but as the father of a 9 year old I also enjoyed it. There are a few scarey moments, but nothing that takes it into the realms of being a young adult book.
It really did remind me of a Chris Moore book (but with the adult scarey bits removed), if you are a bit older you may also enjoy the following books Practical Demonkeeping (Pine Cove Series) and The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror which run on similar themes but with more mayhem.