Bad Men by John Connolly

Badmenbadmenbadmen...
John Connolly is a lovely man. In the couple or so interactions I've had with him as bookseller and bookshop manager-type person, he has never been anything other than polite, respectful and very willing to put in a shift when it came to signing his backlist and meeting the general public. In addition, and I choose to consider this not to be an author sucking up to the people who are responsible for moving units but rather as further evidence to support my opening statement, he is genuinely nice about booksellers. Indeed, booksellers get a nod in the acknowledgements of Bad Men, and, to my surprise as I'd not remembered him doing it, he wrote a very pleasing dedication in my copy referring to me as a bookseller as someone with a proper job (and not, as it might be interpreted, as possibly one of a marginal group of people living in Cardiff in full time employment). I don't know if it's a trait of genial Dublin-born Irishmen, if his parents had something to do with it, or if it's a conscious decision to hoodwink or swindle the purchasers and purveyors of supernatural thrillers; whichever, it works in his favour, as you'll probably realise when you notice the deliberately positive spin I give to this novel, which does have its flaws, but about which you'll not hear from me.

Necessary spoilers follow. In a departure (although not a major deviation as Parker haunts the lives of a few integral characters) from the Charlie Parker supernatural detective novels that have rightfully won him acclaim from peers and reviewers, Bad Men brings us an archetypal bad dude, the biblically named Edward Moloch, and his entourage of ne'er do-wells, as they plot revenge for a betrayal by Moloch's wife and object of scorn and cold, spiteful injury, Marian(ne). She has pinched a wad of cash from the shed, bought herself and her infant son new identities, and legged it after shopping Moloch and his gang to the authorities, leading to a short and abruptly interrupted incarceration for Edward. It all sounds like a tasty, suspenseful thriller, with a girl on the run and a determined posse of crims out for blood, needing only the intervention of a Quixotic knight errant to stand and fight on her behalf. Fittingly, up steps Melancholy Joe Dupree, giant and lawman, and heir to the forbidden secrets of the fictional Dutch Island (or Sanctuary), outlier in the chain of islands in Casco Bay, Maine. These secrets include historical massacres, murders, and the supernatural peace-keeping performed by those disturbed souls who watch over the island, and wait for the return of the one deviant who got away from them. And odds are on Edward Moloch to fulfil the role of prodigal island son, especially given he's having former-life flashbacks, particularly vivid ones, where he kills his island-settler wife over and over again. Naughty boy. And guess which unholy island serves as wifey's bolt-hole...


*Raises quizzical eyebrow*
I'm surprised I've still got a job with that hair.
What Connolly does really very well, as the equally lovely Mark Billingham points out on the front cover in one of those industry standard associative tag-lines that cause me no small amount of angst, is write a compelling page-turner, where the reader is actively engaged in the lives of the people who, normally, are there to dampen the sharp edges of various weaponry, which straddles the literary fiction genre and also pulls in other genre fiction fans. He has a broad appeal, which might put off literature snobs like myself, had he not been such a lovely man. A lovely man. Inherently believable*, readable and intelligent, Bad Men is a quality supernatural thriller, a classic good versus evil narrative, and just one of over a dozen such written by Connolly. Crass comparisons to Neil Himself and Stephen King might be appropriate, but I shan't be doing that. I prefer to consider Connolly a market-leader in this sort of thing, and shall work on re-stocking my diminished library with his backlist as soon as the lottery win is in the bank.

* Thanks in no small measure to his impeccable research, the fruits of which are gently folded into the mix rather than info-dumped as is occasionally the standard method of arriving at a justification for things and stuff.

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