(2015) John Connolly, Hodder and Stoughton, £14.99. hrdbk, 436pp, ISBN 978-1-473-61971-5
John Connelly is no stranger to the supernatural, and over the years his Charlie Parker detective novels have included more and more supernatural elements as Parker travels through Maine solving some very dark cases. Over ten years ago Connelly brought out Nocturnes, a collection of short stories and novella-length fiction that allowed him to flex his supernatural muscles in a collection that was surprisingly 'old school' in its influences and subtlety, unsettling, but horrific where it needed to be and this second volume continues very much in that vein. Connolly is a busy man, and apart from the Parker novels, he writes for children and young adults so it is no surprise that itís taken so long for a second collection of his shorter work to appear, including some which have picked up an award or two.
What Connelly serves up is thirteen tales encompassing a variety of styles and length, from the very short, such as the haunting and creepy 'A Dream of Winter' which is only 300 words long, to the novella length 'The Fractured Atlas Ė Five Fragments' where we encounter an old book and the effect it has on those that own it, if they ever can 'own' such an object. We are clearly back in the old school territory of M. R. James with a good seasoning of Lovecraft blended into the text. In between, and before and after these stories we have tales of children with healing powers, to a woman seeking revenge on her attacker, and in the most fairy tale like of stories, a queen tries to find out where her husband goes every year after seemingly defeating an unstoppable force of darkness. In 'Lazarus' the eponymous lead character has been resurrected from the dead, but how does that change you, and your relationship with others around you? All the way through the story Lazarus struggles to remember what he learned when he was dead. It is a great story with a perfect ending. But itís not all subtlety and creepiness as evidenced in 'Razorshins' where Connelly has created his own backwoods monster which some Maine bootleggers come across, much to their cost. Another favourite of mine was 'On The Anatomization of the Unknown Man (1837) by Frans Mier', a seemingly bland study of an old painting which becomes darker as the details and the inspiration behind the painting are revealed.
Two inter-linked stories are the very first and the very last. In the Edgar Award winning, 'The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository', retired Mr, Berger witnesses something that cannot be, which leads him to said building and the secrets inside, and you can guess from the title of the last story: 'Holmes on the Range' just who might be the characters appearing in this tale. However, while this is the last story in the collection, we are not finished yet as Connolly recounts in an essay called 'I Live Here' an encounter with one of his fans on a signing tour who sought his advance on dealing with a house that had 'gone bad'. This prompts Connelly to delve into his past and what has influenced him to write this sort of 'stuff'. And we are glad that he does.
Recommended and hopefully we will see volume three a lot sooner than this one.
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