Many readers typically discuss the darker, arcane side of John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series but – as the 16th book brilliantly demonstrates – there’s a solid private detective story at the core of this convoluted story. So while a dark cabal plots the end of everything and the rise of apocalyptic gods, social issues and the practical plight of credible people form the book’s main focus.
The Woman In The Woods herself is dead, but she gave birth shortly before passing. Charlie has been hired to find that child, and what follows is a good old fashioned gumshoe investigation. It leads him to shelters for abused women and an ‘underground railroad’ for spiriting them to safety. Along the way Connolly sketches a series of supporting characters so convincingly drawn that you can almost feel their honourable intentions and flawed humanity through the ether.
JC has also outdone himself with this book’s gorgeously-drawn multi-dimensional villains. The seemingly-immortal Quayle yearns to bring about the end of days simply to relieve his own ennui, while the brutally murderous Mors is herself broken almost beyond endurance. That pair could easily support a book of their own. The Backers are a little less inventive – in fact they feel quite similar to the shadowy faction of the X-Files, the establishment committee who collaborated with the alien invaders to secure their own personal futures. And, as with the X-Files, you do have to wonder where all these long-term plot threads are heading…
The series has increasingly strolled into the shadowy world of the supernatural and there are several scenes in this book which nudge it beyond ‘thriller’ and into more typical ‘horror’ territory. They’re delicately balanced on the edge of unsettling; grotesque, yes, but not quite gruesome. And Charlie Parker himself experiences both aspects of the unknown: the dread threat of macabre forces… but also the quiet sense of accomplishment which awaits him in the eventual embrace of his own dead daughter.
Back in the real world, Connolly doesn’t flinch from facing down bigotry and anti-black sentiment. He’s brought a sense of sombre reality to the relationship between Louis and Angel in this episode – their playful dialogue is necessarily muted. In consequence, there’s little to lighten the tone of the entire book. Never has the human condition seemed more… fragile.
You could read The Woman In The Woods as a standalone, but you’d do better to pick up one of the cheap anthologies of the Charlie Parker stories and start from the beginning. That way you’ll get the most from what is one of crime fiction’s most accomplished contemporary series.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Woman In The Woods by John Connolly is available in ebook and hardback
Dark, daring and devious: find THE REDEMPTION OF CHARM at Amazon