- 09 Jul 21
Another year, another riveting thriller from Connolly, one of the world’s greatest genre writers, who just happens to be Irish, and if the bus into town was even half as reliable, I'd save a fortune on shoe leather and umbrellas. Connolly has taken several steps away from the Übernovel in his writing career - if you haven't read his marvellous He, to offer just one example, then you really should, for as a novel about male friendship, it has few equals - and he takes another slight detour here. We're still in Detective Charlie Parker's universe, a man broken down and then reformed by personal tragedy, driven to restore some sort of balance to the world and defend it against enemies domestic and very foreign indeed, but, like last year's The Dirty South, a tough western which showed Parker before he became Parker, we're outside the long-running, saving-the-world-from-supernatural-evil narrative.
That being said, The Nameless Ones does follow on from 2019’s epic A Book Of Bones – you don’t have to have read it, but it wouldn’t do you any harm - as the events that set this novel in motion arise out of actions taken in that one. A particularly gruesome act of revenge brings Parker's associate hitmen, Angel and Louis, back to Europe to seek vengeance of their own. One of the great strengths of Connolly's writing is his supporting cast of characters, and these likeable - in as far as a brace of deadly assassins can be likeable - chaps are more than able to carry a book on their own, as already proven by The Reapers, which shone a bit of light on Louis's past. He could probably squeeze a book out of some of his other characters too, like shady FBI man SAC Ross or the dense but dangerous Fulci brothers, and the good news is that they all turn up here. It's probably safe to tell you that Parker shows his face as well, briefly, which should at least guarantee a few extra exchanges at the bookshop till.
The other great attribute that Connolly's Parker novels have always had are truly despicable, and often quite unnerving, bad guys, whether it be The Travelling Man from all the way back in his debut novel, Every Dead Thing, Caleb Kyle, Mr Pudd, and many others, but this time out, just as he did with the last book, Connolly keeps the supernatural elements to a minimum. Which isn't to say he turns his back on them completely; Zorya's a witch, or at least the characters around her believe her to be a witch, and she encounters the spirit of Parker's dead daughter on a trip to the other side, or believes she does at least.
She's not the main villain, however. That honour falls to a couple of very bad Serbian gangster brothers, and it is their violent dispatching of the assassins’ friend, De Jaager, that gets the ball rolling in and then out of Amsterdam in the first place. The Vuksan brothers are trying to return to their homeland, on the run from both Louis and Angel and a middle eastern contingent after a botched people smuggling operation, and the people back home don't want them either. Using Radovan and Spiridon Vuksan's shared history as a jumping off point, Connolly details the brutal conflicts that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia in the early nineties, real life stories that are far more horrific than anything he or anyone else could imagine, and it doesn't take long to realise that these men are just as bad as - if not worse than - any of his previous rogue's gallery of bastards.
If The Dirty South was indeed designed as a western, then this is a breathless international chase thriller and, as Connolly's legion of fans already know, you will gladly go without sleep in order to finish it. I look forward to what happens next, when the author returns to his greatest creation proper, but this marvellous bit of work will more than do to be going along with.