Book review: A Book of Bones by John Connolly
If you've been reading John Connolly's Charlie Parker series you'll have noticed a pattern forming around the different forms of evil that the private investigator has had to deal with over the course of the last sixteen books. With A Book of Bones, the seventeenth book in an exceptional and consistently brilliant series, events finally seem to be moving towards and coalescing around an apocalyptic conclusion, and it looks like everything is in place to bring about the total destruction of the world.
So far you would have to say that Parker has always come out on top in his various encounters with evil entities, but it's often been at a great personal cost and there have been serious consequences for Parker's friends and family. There's always remains a sense of unfinished business along the way however, and some of that carries over from the previous Charlie Parker book The Woman in the Woods into A Book of Bones. On his way to testify at a trial in Houston, Texas, Parker is diverted to Phoenix, Arizona by FBI Agent Ross to examine a body that looks like or has been made to look like Pallida Mors, a rather unpleasant individual wounded by Louis, one of Parker's associates, in the previous book. Evidently it's not Mors, but Parker knows that it won't be long before he runs into this dangerous figure again, along with her associate Quayle, a mysterious lawyer with an interest in occult matters.
Those occult matters relate to the Fractured Atlas or the Atlas of Unknown Realms, a fabled book with missing pages that when restored will bring the world to an end, or at least destroy the fabric between this reality and the next with potentially even more devastating consequences. Parker has already experienced some of this breakdown between realities and it looks like it has been the restoration of this book that has been behind many of the horrors Parker has encountered in his time, permitting old gods and evil entities to bleed through from one world into this one. Having researched and collecting rare books over several lifetimes through foul means, Quayle now has the final two pages in his possession, but somehow the Atlas remains incomplete.
That's how Parker knows he will meet Quayle again, but rather than sit back and wait for it to happen, Parker with his associates Angel and Louis, travel to Europe, to Amsterdam and London, finding along the way connections to previous investigations. Meanwhile in England, on Hexamshire Moors, a woman's body has been found that suggests the actions of a serial killer. While the police investigate and try to makes sense of the seeds of destruction and confusion that the agents of Mors and Quayle are sowing, Parker has his eye on the bigger picture, on the connection to the Familists and an ancient god that their descendants are attempting to reawaken. Inevitably it's going to come at the cost of even more deaths.
Connolly has clearly been working towards a bigger picture in his Charlie Parker books and there's no faulting his ambition in attempting to tie much of it together in A Book of Bones. Serial killers, race tensions, occult matters, archaeology unearthing evil, ghosts slipping through gaps in reality, dangerous cults worshipping ancient gods and resurrecting demons, a history of evil taking different forms down through the ages; all of those themes come together in the reassembly of the Fractured Atlas. More than just drawing everything together, Connolly also keeps a serial killer narrative going here and delves back into historical archives that even include the Jack the Ripper killings, so as well as the promise of moving closer to a resolution, there's plenty of new material here to keep things interesting and tense.
A Book of Bones is consequently a big book, this one stretching to almost 700 pages, but I don't think any fan would begrudge having plenty more Charlie Parker to read, especially as it feels like we are moving towards some kind of conclusion. The narrative is not overly complex if you've been keeping up with development of the series so far, but there's a lot to take in here and there are areas in the middle of the book where it feels like there is just too much detail and recapping. What is ambitious about this book though, and perhaps the series as a whole, is how Connolly is not just writing some detective horror fantasy about supernatural evil, but his attempts to relate it to manifestations of evil in the world today in the rise of far-right extremism and terrorism gives it very much a real-world context. More than that, in Parker we have the hope that evil, whether it is in supernatural or human form, can be combatted if perhaps never entirely defeated.