- 20 Aug 20
The Drowning Pool
It’s a clever move from Dubliner John Connolly, the master of the supernaturally charged thriller, to take his man Charlie Parker back to near the start of his story. Not only does it give readers who might be humming and hawing about joining such a long running series – this is the 18th novel, as well as the odd short story – an easy in, it also serves to remind long time admirers of what it was that they loved about the character in the first place.
It’s telling that when we first encounter Parker here, he’s reading Louis L’Amour’s Education Of A Wandering Man. L’Amour was the wildly-popular author of westerns such as The Tall Stranger, The Broken Gun, and Ride The Dark Trail – any of which could serve as an alternate title for this book – and that’s what The Dirty South is, a western; a mysterious stranger rides into town and get caught up in local goings-on. The other reference point might be the self-contained Jack Reacher novels of Lee Child. The snobby might scoff at that notion, but I intend it as high praise. You try writing the same story over and over and make it entertaining every time.
We’re in 1997. Parker has only recently lost his wife and daughter to a truly horrendous crime that Connolly familiars will already know about. He’s left the NYPD and he’s drifting, with an ear out for reports of similar crimes so that he might track down the perpetrator and tear them apart. He lands in Cargill, Arkansas, drawn there by the deaths of three young black girls, which have been deemed accidental by the authorities. In true western style Parker, after an initially frosty reception that results in a stint behind bars, is deputised to help out the local law. Unfortunately, there’s the possibility of a large influx of corporate cash in the area, which would surely be put in jeopardy if word of an active serial killer got out. Accordingly the Cades, the local big, and unsavoury, cheeses, would prefer that young Charlie desist in his digging.
This version of Parker doesn’t give a damn, his only aim is revenge, and he doesn’t care what anybody might think about that. It will take another few episodes in the timeline before he truly takes the side of the angels and consciously works to protect the innocent from the evil that permeates his world. The black-as-night local lake that seems to swallow light might well represent his character at this point. Or perhaps it alludes to corporate greed which Connolly – and hardly for the first time either - is happy to take shots at.
As with all of his books – even the doorstops, and he’s had a few – I found my fingers turning the pages almost before I finished reading them, anxious and excited to uncover what happened next. Connolly also casually demonstrates that he doesn’t need his usual supernatural elements – as entertaining as they are - to drive a narrative. Have a care if you are new to the series though, as you’ll be clearing your schedule for the rest of the Parker novels once this excellent thriller piques your curiosity. He really does make it look remarkably easy. Offer a silent prayer to the ghost of Conan Doyle that Connolly doesn’t tire of his protagonist anytime soon.