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Bad Men

John Connolly

Hodder & Stoughton General

UK Hardcover First

ISBN: 0-340-82617-7

416 Pages; £14.99

Publication Date: June 9, 2003

Date Reviewed: November 11, 2003

Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2003



Horror, Mystery


Each author has his unique signature, his individual combination of style, thematic and narrative thrust - his unique shtick. Connolly's shtick is the muscular pairing of violence and action on the one hand, with the supernatural and the occult on the other. While 'Bad Men' is a stand-alone novel, not part of the four-book Charley "Bird" Parker series (although Parker makes a cameo appearance here, one that's wholly gratuitous), it is pure, revved up Connolly shtick. In 'Bad Men' Connolly cashed in his humor and introspection chips and bought horror and malevolence in a two-for-one deal.

'Bad Men' is about an island called Sanctuary or Dutch off the coast of Portland, Maine, with a particularly nasty history of slaughter and betrayal in the late 1600s. In contemporary times, it's a calm, peaceful place, policed by a solitary local cop, a melancholy giant named Joe Dupree, and one police officer borrowed from the mainland (or Maineland), a probationary rookie, Sharon Macy. Macy knows little of the island's violent past; Dupree knows all its secrets and its entire haunted history.

In a parallel story, Moloch, a violent thief and killer, escapes from prison and along with a gang of individually evil compatriots, begins his search for his wife, who left him, taking his son and all his money. His wife, seeking a new life in a calm, off-the-beaten-track, has moved to - well, you can guess. Both stories converge on Sanctuary, as Moloch attempts to exact his revenge and its inhabitants, and the island's ghosts, unleash a rabid and ghoulish defense.

'Bad Men' is vintage Connolly - the killing arrives early and stays late. It would take a calculator to keep track of the body count, I realized, as he killed off an entire historical Sanctuary settlement by the middle of page 9. His sprawling cast of characters, most of them cold-blooded villains, travel broad swaths of the country - Texas, New Orleans, Virginia, Pennsylvania - killing or maiming countless innocents, to converge on the anointed place - to kill and maim some more. Men, women, and children, gay or straight, black or white, Connolly plays no favorites; everyone's got an equal chance of being raped, tortured and killed in a Connolly novel.

There is a consistent pattern to Connolly's novels. He constructs a particularly feral psychopathic killer who is smart and calculating, who slowly and brutally winds his way toward his one true prey. He then creates several characters of dimension and humanity, characters you grow to care about, tosses in a little enriching history and a double dose of the supernatural, and throws them all together in a third act fight-to-the-finish. The good guys always win, but by then, winning doesn't look all that good to them.

Connolly is unquestionably a skilled writer. He can paint a scene, capture an illusive insight, and set a mood. He can also create characters of substance, some real and touching, some stereotypical but with enough flair to be interesting. And he can certainly manufacture wicked villains aplenty. Most are just screwed up thugs, but, in each book, he cooks up one villain who approaches Hannibal Lector caliber. His stories are well plotted and sufficiently complex to sustain interest...even if, like me, you skip the particularly gory parts.

Despite the violence, 'Bad Men' hooked me with its unusual pairing of ghostly history and a savage, serial killing villain. It's more horror than mystery, more page-turner than consciousness raiser. But if you're prepared to handle the violence and gore, the pages turn fast, the action pumps hard, and you won't feel like taking a shower at the end.