With The Burning Soul, John Connolly once again takes us into the dark and tortured world of Charlie Parker. For those unfamiliar with the series (and if that applies to you, get hold of a copy of Every Dead Thing as soon as possible and brace yourself), Charlie Parker is a private detective who is haunted both psychologically and supernaturally by the brutal murder of his wife and daughter at the hands of the Traveling Man.
In The Burning Soul, Parker has been hired to help a convicted child killer prove his innocence when local girl Anna Kore goes missing. The plot soon thickens as we get embroiled in all manner of local gossip, gang warfare and general small town disputes as things spiral to a conclusion.
Initially a slow burner, this book builds tension and mystery right to the final few pages but it differs from previous Parker books in a couple of crucial ways. John Connolly has never been afraid to inject his “crime” novels with an adrenaline pumping dose of supernatural horror. In books like The Lovers the supernatural elements were right at the forefront, kicking away the genre boundaries and producing writing that was all the better for it. This book holds back on the supernatural aspects, it’s still there in the ghostly messages and apparitions, but it’s used sparingly and with a light touch.
Secondly, Parker and his redoubtable allies, Angel and Louis have always been complex characters who frequently wear their hearts on their sleeves. This element has been significantly reigned back in this novel. Here the characters are much more matter of fact, there is an expectation that the reader will understand their dark history, the darkness is still there but is explained through actions rather than exposition.
All of which is probably because the plot, or rather the themes of this novel are, and must be, the prime focus. The complex morale issues at play here intertwine among the plot and characters to ask questions of the readers. Can a former child murderer be forgiven? Would you help such a person if your own family had suffered? Can time redeem mistakes carried out by youngsters? These are complex, difficult questions and in asking them John Connolly also relates them to real life cases such as the tragic James Bulger case. Only a writer of Connolly’s skill could pull this off but he does it with aplomb.
The lack of supernatural horror is a disappointment for me, Connolly has the skill to challenge the likes of King and Koontz with his mix of small town characters, engrossing plots and complex issues. This is still an excellent book though, thrilling, emotional and thoughtful, it once again proves that John Connolly is one of the most important genre writers around with whatever genre he chooses.