Black people could be seen in town, but they were always moving: carrying, delivering, lifting, hauling. Only white people were allowed to stand still. Black people did what they had to do, then left. After nightfall, there were only white folk on the streets [ … ] Justice might be blind, but the law wasn’t. Justice was aspirational, but the law was actual. The law was real. It had uniforms, and weapons. It smelt of sweat and tobacco. It drove a big car with a star on the door. White people had justice. Black folks had the law.Is it too late to call John Connolly an angry young man? Beneath the quietly mannered prose, THE REAPERS seethes. It seethes in a way Jim Thompson did when he was at his best, with a coolly ironic detachment. Louis, whose story THE REAPERS is, could easily have graced one of Thompson’s tales of charming psychopathic killers. Neither would he be out of place in a Highsmith novel, perhaps as Ripley’s perfect foil.
John Connolly, THE REAPERS, pg 70
But Louis, like Parker, is uniquely a John Connolly character. It’s possible to be fascinated and even obsessed with Thompson and Highsmith’s characters, but it is impossible to love them. Louis may not crave your love, but he deserves it.
The reapers of the title are ‘the elite among killers’, of which Louis is one, and the plot revolves around a reckoning in blood facilitated by dying businessman who has good reason to see Louis dead. Parker hardly shows. Instead we get large chunks of Louis’ back-story, including his recruitment as a reaper and the experience that made him a sublime killer; an insight into the dynamics of Louis and Angel’s relationship, which is as much Lou ‘n’ Bud as it is Didi and Gogo; and an extended introduction to one of Angel and Louis’ associates, the blue-collar mechanic Willie Brew, who seems to have sauntered in from an Elmore Leonard novel.
As a result the minimalist plot is very much character-driven. Connolly’s eye for the unusual, his ear for an unworn phrase and the apparently casual accumulation of subtle detail when fleshing out a character takes care of the rest.
It’s a terrific page-turner, a charismatic exercise in the grand old art of storytelling. John Gardner, who was notoriously sniffy about genre fiction in general, and crime and mystery fiction in particular, once said that the novel should be a vivid, continuous dream. There’s more than a hint of a nightmare lurking behind THE REAPERS, and perhaps it’s that nightmare which fuels the deadpan rage between every line, but THE REAPERS is certainly the kind of compelling tale John Gardner had in mind. – Declan Burke