John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series is shot full of positive elements. Firstly, the hero’s name is a huge magnet for bee-bop fans of which I am one of many. On top of that Charlie is a very endearing character who gets into the kind of scrapes us crime fiction fans enjoy enormously. Just behind come his equally lovable sidekicks Louis and Angel, the two most dangerous gays on anyone’s block. Add to all that John Connolly’s ability to write like a dream and construct the meanest nightmares, and you should have a successful formula for hugely successful crime fiction. And maybe he has. In its first week of publication this title has already shot into the top ten selling hardbacks.
So why do I demur? The problem I have with John Connolly is his tendency to cross over into the horrific worlds of Stephen King and Thomas Harris where the truly evil nature of the baddies, while testing the strength of one’s bowels, also tests one’s sense of credibility. Thus on the one hand his villains have an olfactory which almost escapes from the pages. On the other you feel they, and the author, has gone a bit too OTP. Thus we meet once more Cambion, and old enemy who is entering the final stages of a life eaten away by leprosy.
Not evil enough for you? So try the latest villain with an interest in despatching Charlie to an early grave. Steiger is a killer employed by Cambion, but on this occasion taking orders directly from the Jigsaw man, a Nazi sympathiser so called because the upper part of his body is covered with quotes from Hitler and SS memorabilia. I’m tempted to represent Steiger in all his nauseating glory. But, no check it out for yourselves. Just a couple of hints. Steiger looks like something out of everyone’s worst nightmares. He has problems with his guts which are being eaten away and, as a result, permanently exudes a sour, curdled odour. Another one to avoid on a dark night.
But from stage right enter the true villains of the peace, the remnants of the Nazis who escaped the fall of the Third Reich and found their way to New England under various guises and personas. Two of these Nazis are now under investigation by US Government agencies and are threatened with extradition to Germany to be tried for their war crimes. But several of their underlings are still at large in and around Boreas, a quiet Maine coastal town, where Charlie has gone to live temporarily while he recovers from the near fatal injuries he suffered in a previous title. Charlie gets involved rather unwillingly in the leftovers of World War 2 and the dreadful legacy of the concentration camps when he befriends a neighbouring Jewish family, Ruth Winter and her six year old daughter Amanda. Ruth’s mother is a holocaust survivor, and one of the last surviving witnesses to the crimes of the Nazis awaiting extradition.
A Nazi watcher who has exposed the true identities of the suspected war criminals is murdered, and his body washes up on the beach not far from Boreas. Shortly after that, Ruth Fisher is murdered by Steiger. Charlie is attacked when he attempts to prevent the killer’s escape and survives only when the sands collapse and bury Steiger. The rest of the story is, as you can probably guess, fraught with danger and drama, and has a final twist that will surprise even the most analytical reader. But there is also a lingering sense of disappointment. When you are contemplating the individuals who launched and perpetrated the evils of the Nazi concentration camps, it is a bit unfortunate that they appear side by side with fictitious villains who are portrayed as even more harmful. That aside, A Song of Shadows, is a must for Charlie Parker fans, current and future.