This gargantuan beast of a book concludes a story arc which began some six volumes ago in The Wolf In Winter. Far from being bare bones, A Book Of Bones is an extended, immersive and intense reading experience which delightfully disrupts commercial publishing conventions. For one thing, this is a 700 page epic – a size which is likely to discourage casual readers. For another, the story is deeply interwoven into the ongoing narrative of the Charlie Parker saga, so substantial segments of it would be mostly mystifying to newcomers.
But for aficionados of the series this is boxset heaven; grab that duvet, order the pizza, and silence all devices. Author John Connolly has been telling this story for two decades and here he rewards his most dedicated readers by concluding several significant character narratives. The good guys – Charlie himself, the lethal Louis, and an Angel feeling far too mortal – take on the personification of ancient evil, the sinister, seemingly-immortal Quayle and Mors, his barely-tamed butcher.
At stake? Only the end of the world.
Alongside this story, Connolly has cleverly constructed an entire British police procedural, populated with convincingly realised characters. He’s blended what could so easily have been an entire, standalone novel – a series of weird killings with religious implications, being investigated by an orthodox crime squad – into the core of Charlie’s continuing quest. The action moves from the USA to the tangled backstreets of old London, the wild, windswept Northumberland moors, and to grimly accurate, decaying ex-council estates in estuary England. We meet dedicated, ambitious detectives, lowlife thieves and blaggers, struggling survivors: victims, killers and investigators.
But that’s not all – there are extended interludes from historical manuscripts which finally fill the gaps in the saga of the Fragmented Atlas. A secret European society which guards the past and surveils suspicious individuals. More insights into the strange relationship between Charlie and his dead daughter, and a revealing glimpse into Louis’ personal history. No wonder this book is a whopper.
Yet none of it is unnecessary. There’s plenty of what appear to be deviation but it’s all an investment, one which pays off handsomely at the end. And because John Connolly is such a good storyteller, you tend to forget that he’s also an excellent writer. His free-flowing prose and the relentless pull of the plot means that that pages fly by without you necessarily noticing the little gems of literary craft scattered about proceedings. Take time to enjoy, for example, his description of the hidden house, overshadowed by modern skyscrapers of glass and steel. And when it really matters, the writing is pithy, punchy and entirely to the point.
As with Neil Gaiman’s long-running mythic series, I can see that many readers of conventional short-form crime novels won’t enjoy the gothic overtones and apparently rambling meanderings that form the twisted skeleton of this story. If you’re a cut to the chase kinda guy, then this isn’t for you.
For us fans of long-form storytelling who relish delayed gratification, this is just the Charlie Parker book we’ve been waiting for.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
A Book Of Bones by John Connolly is available at Amazon