Ecclesiastes informs us that "of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the spirit". John Connolly's writing spirit certainly shows no weariness.
His latest, A Book of Bones, is the 18th in his Charlie Parker series. In 2013, the Crime Fiction Lover website chose Parker as amongst the 12 best fictional private detectives of all time. A Charlie Parker pilot episode is currently being made for television, which Connolly hopes will be turned into a TV series.
Connolly studied English at Trinity College, Dublin and journalism at Dublin City University, before becoming a journalist with The Irish Times during the day and writing fiction "deep into the night". His first novel, Every Dead Thing, was published in 1999, but only, like many other successful authors, after many rejections of the manuscript by publishers.
In 2007, Connolly was awarded the Irish Post Award for Literature. He is the first non-American writer to win the US Shamus award, the first Irish writer to win an Edgar award and the winner of the 2016 British Crime Writers Association Short Story Dagger.
He's also published three other novels for adults, including perhaps his best loved work, 2006's The Book of Lost Things; He, his inspired fictional biography of the great comedian Stan Laurel; two collections of short fiction; the Samuel Johnson young adult trilogy; the Chronicles of the Invaders SF trilogy written with his partner, the South African journalist and author Jennifer Ridyard and three volumes of nonfiction.
Books to Die For. The World's Greatest Mystery Writers on the World's Greatest Mystery Novels, which he edited with Declan Burke, was the winner of the 2013 Anthony, Agatha and Macavity awards for Best Non-Fiction work.
Connolly fans avidly follow the Charlie Parker series, which comes to a conclusion in A Book of Bones. Connolly notes that in the series, he became "increasingly fascinated by the tension between the rational and anti-rational and the literary possibilities offered by it".
In his essay in Books to Die For, he writes that James Lee Burke "taught me that the language of mystery fiction can aspire to the language of the finest literature, that there really should be no distinction between the two. A genre novel is not a poor relative of literature because it is a genre piece. There is only good writing and bad writing". Connolly's Charlie Parker series is full of good writing.
A genre novel is not a poor relative of literature because it is a genre piece. There is only good writing and bad writing.John Connolly
He's also proud of his narrative series arc. "Typically mystery fiction tended to thrive on discrete mysteries. I remember Lee Child once saying that Jack Reacher shouldn't have a memory," he writes.
"It's very much a commercial decision also, in that if you go into the bookstore and book one isn't there, you're happy to pick up book seven. And around the fourth or fifth book I went, why does it have to be that way? In other genres, fantasy or science fiction, or historical fiction, we're quite ready to countenance the idea that readers might be prepared to have a memory, that you can have a sequence of novels."
Connolly has said that his earliest reading was English ghost stories, which imbued him with a love of the supernatural. Later, he was influenced by authors such as Ross MacDonald and James Lee Burke. He has said of MacDonald's detective Lew Archer that he "takes on board the suffering of the world". Similarly, Burke's Dave Robicheaux "pursues justice for the lost and dispossessed, often at great personal expense".
The Charlie Parker series has a background of redemption, which Connolly says stems from his Catholic roots. This partly explains some of the supernatural aspects in the novels, where Connolly explores issues of justice, morality, retribution and redemption.
Connolly has revealed his "fascination with folk horror, the idea of the past being alive in the present. I'm interested in psychogeography, the idea that the landscape retains something of the people who pass through, you will stand in a place and almost hear the echo of voices".
Certainly this plays out in the English historical sites were murders take place in A Book of Bones. It is a rich mix of a novel, almost 700 pages long, infused with English folk mythology and an uncanny feel for landscape and setting. The plotline revolves around Parker's continuing duel with the strange and ruthless lawyer Quayle over the mysterious Fractured Atlas, which could determine the fate of the world.
Connelly, like Terry Pratchett and Jasper Fforde, provides fascinating detail on background issues. In A Book of Bones, these asides range over topics as varied as the Mexican border crisis, stained glass windows, antiquarian book selling and the British Library, which provides an apt concluding location.
The book affirms that Charlie Parker's often long and dark journey ends in in hope.
- John Connolly will be in conversation with Jeff Popple in an ANU/Canberra Times Meet the Author event on September 5, 6.00pm in the PM Molonglo Theatre, JG Crawford Building, ANU. Bookings: anu.edu.au/events or 6125 4144.
- Colin Steele is a Canberra reviewer.