John Connolly’s THE KILLING KIND is the work of a master in his prime. Connolly weaves a complex story without making it so complicated the reader can’t appreciate the characters and quality of writing. For that, Connolly deserves our thanks. The characters and writing are what’s worth reading here.
Not that the plot’s bad; far from it. A young woman commits suicide while researching her Masters thesis on the mysterious disappearance of a small band of religious zealots that disappeared without a trace in the Sixties. A rich man with a guilty conscience hires detective Charlie Parker to make sure suicide isn’t just an uncomplicated way for the police to close the case. Parker’s investigation inexorably takes him from a two-bit grifter turned faith healer to the sinister machinations of a church for whom all imperfect life, being damned, is without value.
Parker once again has his inner demons pitted against formidable forces that seem almost otherworldly in their menace. The treat is watching him fight both without bathos. He faces up to his dark side as well as he can, imperfectly, letting us identify with him while rejoicing because nothing like this ever happens to us. Parker takes his situation and relationships seriously, making it doubly important to the reader that things work out for him.
Parker’s not in it alone. Louis, his alter ego, could easily be a not-so-pale imitation of Spenser’s Hawk. Connolly won’t have it. Louis, Hawk-like in his controlled menace, serves a distinct purpose as Parker’s sidekick, understanding and helping to define his friend’s needs and internal struggles. The depth of their friendship is more evolved than Spenser’s with Hawk, who understand each other well enough to relate in the traditional manner of quiet bonding. Each knows the other is there for him; their mutual feelings are conveyed in the subtext of their banter. Parker and Louis are more open. They pick open each other’s psychic scabs to discuss things about which Spenser and Hawk will only smile knowingly. (Note to the reader: This is written by a Spenser devotee, and is no faint praise.)
Louis’ partner Angel is a perfect foil, lacking their level of menace and injecting a lighter side without becoming comic relief. Rachel is a woman meant for a man like Parker, strong enough to both stand up to him and to let him do what he has to.
It’s a good thing. Rare is a cast of villains found to match those in THE KILLING KIND. From Mr. Pudd’s spiders and his mute female companion through the spectral Golem, the undercurrent of evil is always touched by the malevolent offstage presence of a master unseen until the end.
Connolly’s writing is reminiscent in some ways of early Robert B. Parker in more than the relationship between Charlie Parker and Louis. The descriptions, the pace and flow of the language, and the easy and genuinely amusing banter between friends are all Parker trademarks, here made distinctly Connolly’s own. The humour is particularly effective. Characters are only intentionally funny when they’re relaxing. The humour that erupts in dangerous situations is the unintentional levity of men under stress, or building their courage by whistling through the graveyard.
Connolly excels at letting the reader in on things at his own pace and in his own way. He uses excerpts from Grace Peltier’s unfinished thesis to foreshadow events, letting you peek far enough ahead to guess at a few things without giving them away. Exercise some discipline. THE KILLING KIND will make you want to turn every page, but not too quickly. Skipping over anything here means you’ll miss something more than plot: good writing. And that’s worth lingering over. – Dana King
This review was first published at New Mystery Reader.
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.