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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

“The Burning Soul” by John Connolly (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “The Burning SoulHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read FBC Review’s of “The Lovers
Read FBC Review’s of “The Whisperers

AUTHOR INFORMATION: John Connolly earned a B.A. in English from Trinity College and a M.A. in Journalism from Dublin City University. His bibliography includes the long-running Charlie Parker thriller series which began with the Shamus Award-winning Every Dead Thing, The Book of Lost Things fantasy novel, various short stories, and YA fiction—The Gates and The Infernals. He is also a regular contributor to The Irish Times and currently lives in Dublin, Ireland.

PLOT SUMMARY: Randall Haight has a secret: when he was a teenager, he and his friend killed a 14-year-old girl.

Randall did his time and built a new life in the small Maine town of Pastor's Bay, but somebody has discovered the truth about Randall. He is being tormented by anonymous messages, haunting reminders of his past crime, and he wants private detective Charlie Parker to make it stop.

But another 14-year-old girl has gone missing, this time from Pastor's Bay, and the missing girl's family has its own secrets to protect. Now Parker must unravel a web of deceit involving the police, the FBI, a doomed mobster named Tommy Morris, and Randall Haight himself.

Because Randall Haight is telling lies . . .

CLASSIFICATION: John Connolly's novels combine the noir quality of thrillers with the mystical aspect of supernatural fiction, to create a sub-genre of their own.

FORMAT/INFO: The Burning Soul is 406 pages long divided over six Parts and forty-one chapters. However, there is no prologue or epilogue which is a first for the Charlie Parker series. Narration is in the first-person via Charlie Parker and in the third-person via Randall Haight, Tommy Morris, Martin Dempsey and Frank Ryan. Like the previous books, the narrative alternates each chapter between Parker and the rest of the cast. The Burning Soul is completely self-contained and can be read as a standalone novel, although there are a few references to the previous books, but nothing major or spoiler-ish. The Burning Soul is the tenth Charlie Parker novel after The Whisperers.

September 6, 2011 marked the North American Hardcover publication of The Burning Soul via Atria Books. The UK edition was published by Hodder & Stoughton on September 1, 2011.

ANALYSIS: I’m a major fan of John Connolly’s Charlie Parker novels, which have become part of my yearly reading routine, and I anxiously await each new release to see where the author takes us next. Last year’s Charlie Parker novel, The Whisperers, while a good book, had something missing in it that made it seem a bit inferior compared to earlier stalwarts such as The Lovers, The Black Angel, et cetera. So I was curious to see how the new Charlie Parker novel would measure up to the rest of the series.

The Burning Soul is a bit different in plot structure from the previous Charlie Parker novels as there is no Prologue. Instead, the tale begins immediately as readers are introduced to the town of Pastor’s Bay where a teenager named Anna Kore has gone missing.  While the state and local police go about their normal routines, it’s obvious there is something different about this case due to the involvement of the FBI. Charlie soon becomes involved himself when Aimee Price, his attorney and some time employer, asks him to help her with a client: Randall Haight, who killed a 14-year-old girl with his friend when they were teenagers. Randall has done his time, accepted his part in the crime and is living peacefully in Pastor’s Bay, but now someone is sending him messages about his past and blackmailing him. On a separate track, readers follow the downward spiral of Boston gangster Tommy Morris who is being hunted by his former associates. Helping Tommy out are Martin Dempsey & Frankie Ryan, two men who will do whatever Tommy asks of them. From here, The Burning Soul follows these two separate threads, providing clues along the way as to how everything might be connected...

Plot-wise, The Burning Soul hearkens back to the earlier mystery-filled plots of the first four Charlie Parker novels. More specifically, the book features a frequently used mystery trope about a missing person in a small town with its own dark secrets. It’s a trope that John Connolly excels at, while giving it his own spin thanks to the Boston gangsters storyline and numerous plot twists that will keep readers on their toes, particularly during the climax. At the same time, The Burning Soul is kind of a throwback to the earlier Charlie Parker thrillers where the supernatural wasn’t as prevalent as it is in the previous few books. That’s not to say the novel is completely devoid of supernatural elements, but the focus of the book is mainly on the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Anna Kore and whether Randall Haight is guilty or not. Humor meanwhile, is more pronounced in this book thanks to the presence of Angel, Louis and the Fulcis.

John Connolly’s writing is once again excellent, highlighted by prose that is dark, descriptive and haunting. Of particular note are these three passages which pertain to the title of the book, life’s terrible truths, and the vagaries of fortune:

“Here is a truth, a truth by which to live: there is hope. There is always hope. If we choose to abandon it, our souls will turn to ash and blow away. But the soul can burn and not be damned. The Soul can burn with a bright fire, and never turn to ash.”

“There are some truths so terrible that they should not be spoken aloud, so appalling that even to acknowledge them is to risk sacrificing a crucial part of one’s humanity, to exist in a colder, crueler world.”

“You have to be careful what lies you tell. You have to be careful in case your lies are heard, and the gods of the underworld mock you by turning them to truths.”

Characterization is another of the author’s strengths. This is best exemplified by scene-stealer Martin Dempsey, a violent man prone to philosophical ramblings, frank observations and both cruelty & loyalty toward his gang mates, which made his chapters fun to read. Then there’s Randall Haight, a man caught between his past and his present, a duality wonderfully captured in his chapters through intimate thoughts and memories that portray a man haunted and partly destroyed by guilt.

Drawbacks are few, but the way The Burning Soul completely sidesteps the plot developments of Charlie Parker’s previous 3-4 books is a major concern. For instance, a possible new partner to Charlie was introduced in The Lovers, but there is no mention of that character in The Burning Soul or its predecessor. A disappointing omission since I was interested to see how that subplot might develop.

CONCLUSION: Apart from a few minor niggles, The Burning Soul is another excellent entry in the Charlie Parker series and will certainly appeal to fans of the private detective, while also acting as a wonderful starting point for readers who have yet to discover why John Connolly is such a popular author on both sides of the Atlantic...

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