- 05 Aug 22
Charlie Parker Double-Feature
On one of the occasions I was fortunate enough to interview the handsome and erudite John Connolly, he told me that the thing about genre fiction is "a lot of people's affections are tied up with character... give them a period of time with that character each year." It helps if you have a character as deserving of the reader's affections as Charlie Parker, the hard-bitten private detective at the centre of Connolly's long-running, wildly successful and consistently marvellous series of books. The author went on to say that when people take a character to their hearts "they'll forgive the odd bad book." I've been on board since a mate passed me Every Dead Thing back in 1999; if there's been a "bad book" since then, I must have missed it.
Good news then if you, like me, have been waiting all year to spend time with Parker because here are two episodes in a single volume. I suppose, for accuracy’s sake, we should refer to them as novellas, but there's a substantial amount of eating and drinking to be had here. Admirers may already be somewhat familiar with 'The Sisters Strange' which Connolly serialised on the web during the pandemic to keep us all going. Now expanded into a director’s cut, it’s ostensibly a tale of small time crooks doing over a numismatist but, true to form, there are more sinister forces at work, driven by a possibly possessed Celtic coin that may add years to the life of the bearer. The caper revolves around the seemingly ancient coin collector Kepler, a character capable of haunting the dreams of the waitress who’s serving him breakfast and scaring people into accepting a dollar for goods that are worth roughly a couple of hundred thousand times as much.
The titular sisters - christened Dolors and Ambar, spellcheck being unavailable at the time - are involved in a love triangle with one Raum Buker, a man foolhardy enough to have once tried to extort money from a friend of the mother of the Fulci Brothers. Suffice to say, if you’re new to the Parkerverse, that the fabulously furious Fulcis are the kind of hard men that Chuck Norris would think twice about crossing. They previously ‘persuaded’ Buker to leave town, but he’s back, after a spell inside. What’s with that tattoo he seems intent on scraping off his arm? Why do strange symbols keep showing up on mirrors? And why don’t the local authorities shut down The Braycott Arms, an establishment you can smell trouble off a block away?
As Portland readies itself for COVID lockdown, 'The Furies' drags Parker in when a mob window hires him to recover the precious keepsakes of her deceased daughter, which have been stolen by a right couple of ne’er-do-wells; Veale, a man who appears to have no emotional connection with the world at all, and the sexually violent Pantuff. And all this after said widow has been tied up, assaulted, and had to suffer the threat of having her daughter’s body fed to the pigs by her dead husband’s associates.
The would-be extortionists are holed up in – you guessed it – The Braycott Arms where Veale is convinced a child is running loose. It would seem the daughter’s spirit has not yet departed this realm. Concurrently to all that is a domestic violence case which proves that Parker does get at least the odd bit of work in the real world.
While they are separate stories, they're linked by the familiar setting of Parker's Portland, as well as welcome cameos from recurring characters the Fulcis and Charlie’s assassin pals Louis and Angel, and the aforementioned hotel run by Bonny Waldin, although the reader might wonder why Parker has never had cause to make inquiries in such a den of iniquity before.
Despite, or perhaps because of, being set slightly outside the narrative he's been building for a couple of decades, The Furies is as unputdownable as a beloved pet, but then you simply cannot go wrong with Connolly, a master of pace, dialogue and action. He also manages yet again to introduce those otherworldly elements - "something foul" that "infests" his characters - without resorting to the sort of blatant "Look Over There!" pointing that blights the work of lesser talents. In one of those interviews, he intimated that he already knows how the Parker series is going to end. Let’s hope that’s a long way off just yet.