Tuesday 5 August 2008

A Wee Review - Every Dead Thing by John Connolly

Screw the zeitgeist; this is my year for discovering stuff everyone else has know about for years. Radiohead’s The Bends, for example, The Charlatans, Futurama and Colin Bateman’s Murphy books. Seems only natural then, that nearly ten years after it wowed critics and Joe Public alike, I’ve finally got round to reading John Connolly’s Every Dead Thing.

In case you didn’t know, Every Dead Thing is the first of the Charlie Parker books – after this there are Dark Hollow, The Killing Kind, The White Road, The Black Angel, The Unquiet and The Reapers. The introduction to Parker’s world is brutal and to the point. The homicide detective returns home after a solitary drinking session, right into a nightmare of Hieronymus Bosch proportions. His wife and daughter have been eviscerated in the kitchen. Their bodies have been ritually flayed and gutted, their eyes put out, their faces removed. You get the picture. If you don’t…well, Connolly paints one for you. We are also introduced to a supernatural element that lurks beneath the surface of Every Dead Thing. Charlie Parker, it seems, is sensitive -- for want of a better expression – to vibrations in the ether.

The narrative then leaps ahead to a alcohol-free Parker residing in New York. He’s an occasional private detective, occasional bounty hunter, intent on tracking down the killer of his family, now known as the Travelling Man. Parker takes on the case of a missing child, which takes him to Haven, Virginia, a town with a past it would rather stay buried. The trail eventually loops back to NY where there is a climactic showdown…on page 350 of the 500 page book.

In a lot of respects, Every Dead Thing drops back into first gear at this point and, as such, it’s my one and only real quibble. A reader could skip pages 150 to 350 and not lose their way. It’s only fair to say, though, that particular reader would miss out on a stunning detour. The Haven sideplot is an absolute blast, so long as you can stomach reading about the fate of children snared by psychotic killers. Be warned, this is not a book that sidesteps distressing themes. But while there is an inevitable bleakness to Every Dead Thing, Connolly approaches scenes of dreadful cruelty from two angles; the clinical and the spiritual. Never does he glory in the splatter-gore that lies in between. It’s artful stuff.

Anyway, from New York the trail leads to New Orleans where Parker -- acting on hunches and supernatural tip-offs as well as good old fashioned police work -- uncovers more bodies, and the plot continues to twist and turn like a twisty turny thing until we finally meet the Travelling Man. This book packs an unbelievable amount between its covers and many of the scenes and characters along the way will imprint themselves indelibly on your mind.

Time and again I was astounded at the depth of Connolly’s knowledge. You could be forgiven for thinking he was American pathologist with a special interest in mediaeval art and a penchant for guns. His descriptions of the American townscapes are so vivid you’d be hard pressed to guess the author was a (then) twenty-something Dubliner working for the Irish Times. Either he spent a lot of time in the States, or he researched his arse off and he has a photographic memory. Whatever, he’s an enormously talented bloke.

Impressive stuff, then. And I’ve got another six books to catch up on. So if you’ll just excuse me . . .

Michael Stone

Michael Stone was born in 1966 in Stoke-on-Trent, England. Since losing most of his eyesight to Usher Syndrome, he has retreated from your world to travel the dark corners of inner space. To put it more prosaically, he daydreams a lot.
Read more about Michael and his fiction here.


Peter Rozovsky said...

I love the first three words of this post. This is my kind of review.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

colman said...

I read this either earlier this year or late last year, and whilst it was gripping and enjoyable I thought there were times when he waffled.........why use 10 words when 50 will do?
At one point Parker has a meal with some guy and his wife and suddenly the book has morphed from a man trying to track down the killer of his wife and child into Ainsley fucking-annoying-toss-wank Harriot and how to prepare cajun gumbo.....cut your four chicken breasts into about sixteen pieces..pour peanut-oil into an iron based pan over a hot flame, add flour, beat it with a whisk.........zzzzzzzz....oops sorry nodded off there for a sec.....while Morphy looked on, I helped her chop the trinity of onion, green pepper and celery and watched as she sweated them in oil....blah fucking blah...yap,yap yap....Christ on a bike......if you wanna write a cookery book, write a cookery book for fuck's sake.

Apart from that it was the absolute bollocks

adrian mckinty said...

wait a second, what happens after you put the chicken in the pan? and how much peanut oil?

colman said...

Not too sure to be honest, by the time I'd recovered from my catatonic state I'd sort of lost my appetite.

Can't wait for the second book, apparently there's a smashing little recipe for wholemeal muffins, along with some handy hints on how not to scratch your pots when cleaning......something to do with either lemon juice or vinegar

Gerard Brennan said...

Peter - Thanks for throwing in your tuppence. I'm sure Mike will be well chuffed.

Colman - Please, don't beat about the bush. This is an open forum and all opinions are welcome. No, seriously. Don't hold back.

Adrian - Never mind the peanutty chicken. Get yourself a bacon soda and a good pot of tae.

All - Thanks for weighing in.


adrian mckinty said...

At least I now know how to get into the big time. Recipes. When I was in college I used to dump a can of corn beef and a can of baked beans into the same pot. Heat. Serve. Do you think that one will pull in the lit crowd?

colman said...

You'll need a wee dollop of this and a pinch of that........and your nailed on for a Booker nom

adrian mckinty said...

Ah, but I notice you dont tell me what the dollops are. Very sleekit. Holding out for that Booker yourself no doubt. Well my novel's going to contain baked beans, corned beef and a middleaged man undergoing some kind of existential mid life crisis. The beans are a metaphor for his failed relationships, the corn beef represents his alienation from his children, the pot symbolises his...ah forget it.

Michael Stone said...

Peter, glad you enjoyed the review.

Colman, I know the bit you mean. I kinda boggled as I read that page, wondering where it would all end. Also I thought the history lessons that kicked off some chapters were unnecessary. Our hero pulls up outside a block of flats where he's expecting to find a killer holed up-- Say, did you know these flats were originally warehouses owned by Jethro Hughes in 1876, and were only refurbished after a fire in 1902? And just around the corner is a diner with a pitched roof boasting the original wooden shingles ...zzzzz...

I think we're agreed, though, Every Dead Thing is a superb book, which is why I overlooked the occasional waffle in my review.

Adrian, you're crazier than my namesake, if a whole lot funnier!

colman said...

You mean you're not the legendary Michael " my balls are so big I have to cart them around in a wheelbarrow" Stone - him of the famous/infamous Milltown cemetery gatecrashing? No...if you were I probably wouldn't be joking with you.

Spooky I have some PI novels by a Michael Stone - TOTALLY DEAD, TOKEN OF REMORSE, A LONG REACH......your not that dude either?

How many Michael Stone's are there?

Michael Stone said...

I don't know how many Michael Stones there are, but if I was the other author Michael Stone, I'd write to Fantastic Fiction and get my books removed from this page:
I had to do just that when my story collection showed up on there earlier this year, right under 'And Then There was One' and None Shall Divide us'.

And just for the record, I'm not the drug-addled Michael Stone who bludgeoned Meg and Lin Russel to death, nor am I the famous rock photographer Michael Stone, and I didn't drive round the Streets of San Francisco in the seventies, either.

adrian mckinty said...

The Streets of San Francisco now that was a show. Karl Malden's nose was so big it had its own zip code. Karl Malden's nose was so big the sun went round it. Karl Malden's nose was so big it fell into the grand canyon and got stuck. Karl Malden's nose was so big when they took his profile mugshot it said "to be continued."
I could go on all night.

colman said...

Just to summarise.....CONNOLLY is a bit of a windbag on occasions, Adrian can't cook, Michael is disturbingly normal when compared to his namesakes, I am a surly mean-spirited tosser and Karl Malden has got a fucking big hooter!

Gerard Brennan said...

Colman - Thanks for the summary. Keeps things nice and tidy.

All - Thanks for the laughs.