Without checking, I think I can safely say that John Connolly is the most-mentioned author on this blog. But that’s for a very good reason – he’s one of my all-time favorite authors and people. Plus he’s been kind enough to publish two books per year recently and still finds the time to tour and do interviews to talk about them. So we, in turn, keep reviewing his books and posting his interviews.
Normally I don’t like to review books in a series, unless it’s the first title. I’m the kind of person who has to start a series from the beginning, and unfortunately I often abandon some series because they have too many books and I too little time. This being the 10th Charlie Parker PI novel that Connolly has put out, I can understand that it’s easy for people to feel overwhelmed if they haven’t read any of his previous mystery novels.
Have no fear. You can start the series at the beginning, with Every Dead Thing, and enjoy your way up to the newest installment. But The Burning Soul, more than any of the others in the series, I believe, can be read on its own without the preceding books. Of course, once you’re done, I still recommend spending the next year reading the series from the beginning in anticipation of his next release, but hey – I’m biased.
If you need a quick Charlie Parker cheat sheet, here it is: Parker is a former NYPD detective who lost his wife and young daughter in a brutal attack by a madman. He quit the force, became a PI, and picked up some interesting friends (namely, a burglar and an assassin) to help him track down bad guys, between their good-natured domestic squabbles. He has had another daughter since, but he can’t seem to stay together with her mother for very long. Meanwhile, he’s haunted by his dead wife and child, along with various other victims of violence. He says a lot of funny things and gets into more than his fair share of fights, most of which involve guns. And the bad guys he hunts are truly evil…
There. You’re all caught up.
The Burning Soul is both classic Parker and a bit off the beaten path for him, if that’s possible. It has all the right elements: a young girl is in danger, having gone missing near her home. A man in the area with a shadowy past is being blackmailed, despite his claims not to know anything about the disappearance. The girl’s own family has a dark history, and as the investigation wears on, more of it gets dredged into the light. Parker and his friends, Louis and Angel, stick their noses where they aren’t wanted, often finding themselves in sticky situations as a result. And, as always, the blend of horror and humor is carefully balanced to keep either from overpowering the story.
Unlike other books in the series, however, the bad guys are just men. With a host of truly evil and horrifying villains at his beck and call (and presumably more that we haven’t met yet hiding up his sleeve), Connolly takes a step back from the supernatural element, infusing this story with a more earthly sense of dread. Not to say the supernatural is completely absent from this book – it lingers around the edges, and a pervasive watchfulness from entities unknown can be felt throughout. And there are a few decidedly otherworldly scenes that will chill you to the bone. Overall, however, I would say The Burning Soul brings a more understated violence to the series that is no less terrifying for its corporeal origins.
I recommend this book for newcomers and Charlie Parker fans alike. But beware reading this one at bedtime – I did not get any sleep until I was done, both because I didn’t want to put it down and because I was afraid of what I might see if I closed my eyes.
You’ve been warned.