The Cut is both a place and its insular inhabitants. It’s an isolated rural community, feared and avoided by the normal folk who live on its borders. People go missing near The Cut. People get hurt by The Cut. It’s the very essence of backwoods noir; the nasty place deep in the hills where strong men rule with their fists and obey the bidding of an ancient evil. The Cut extends its violent tendrils into the modern world only when its people want to wrench something from society: money, possessions, vulnerable women. Then one of the The Cut’s victims begs investigator Charlie Parker for help – and the once-dead once-detective turns his vengeful attention towards the bad men in the hills…
Hang on, isn’t this pretty much the plot of the last-but-one Charlie Parker outing, The Wolf In Winter? There certainly are overlapping themes – the insular Maine community of Prosperous in The Wolf were sustained by an ancient evil which lurked in the ground, and the townsfolk protected their nasty secret over generations until the righteous man brought brutal justice to their doors. All of which sounds a bit biblical, and indeed this series has taken on epic scope. In ‘Torment’ Charlie isn’t a PI any more, he’s a certified federal investigator. Louis and Angel, his killer companions, have some kind of amnesty and freedom to walk at his side. Even The Collector, (a very bad man who occasionally acts for good, unlike Charlie who is a good man who occasionally does bad things) gets a pass.
Similarly, the supernatural aspects of Parker’s family and his own role in the struggle between light and dark have become more certain, less ambiguous. Previously, Parker’s visions of his dead wife and daughter could’ve been purely psychological – there was a pleasing sense of uncertainty about it all. He could’ve been crazy, or the ghosts could’ve been real. Or both. Now these scenes are presented unequivocally; perhaps the only thing more scary than Parker himself is the powerful, possibly spiteful spirit of his dead daughter.
Connolly’s craft is beyond dispute. His characters, the sheer scope of his plots and the depth of their detail, his knack for balancing blatant atrocity with unanticipated absurdity – all indicate his mastery of this form. And if anyone else had written this book then it would rate the full five-stars, no doubt about it. However… as enthralling and entertaining as ‘Torment’ turned out to be, it did feel like a re-tread of previous Parker episodes. And while I thoroughly enjoy the familiarity of the usual suspects doing their usual (bad) things, I found myself hoping for either greater revelations in the ongoing background narrative or a more original scenario for the central story. I know this is a big ask after 14 previous books, and I also know that many people will want to read the next book which is much like the last book.
That’s what you get when you create a truly great series. People like me just ain’t satisfied with ‘excellent’. We want ‘outstanding.’ Here’s hoping that next time out, Charlie Parker delivers something a little different.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
A Time Of Torment by John Connolly is available in various formats