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Dark Hollow

John Connolly

Simon & Schuster

US Hardcover First

ISBN: 0-743-20332-1

Publication Date: 07-15-2001

448 Pages; $25.00

Date Reviewed: 06-09-03

Reviewed By: Terry D'Auray © 2003



Mystery, Horror


I long ago developed my own shorthand to describe books like John Connolly's 'Dark Hollow', the second in his Charlie Parker series. I call them BCBs - Body Count Books. You know the kind. Those formulaic books where the number of deaths approaches the number of pages, the hero careens from gunfight to fistfight to shootout, glass shatters and metal twists, and most any character with a name, however minor or innocent, will die. Which death, of course, must be avenged. And so it goes, death, retribution, death, and retribution. The BCB two-step.

I generally avoid BCBs, not because they have too much violence, but because they have too little of anything else. Dust jacket blurbs that talk of "heart-stopping action", "page-turning thriller" or anything to do with mobsters send me packing. And blurbs that mention serial killers send me packing even faster. John Connolly's Charlie Parker series are BCBs with mobsters and serial killers, but they're a little meatier than most.

Charlie Parker (Bird), Connolly's hero, debuted in the Shamus Award winning 'Every Dead Thing' in 1999. While he's raising pints at the local pub, Parker's wife and daughter are tortured, brutally murdered and mutilated in their home by a sinister serial killer. Plagued with guilt and disgruntled with the police's failure to solve the crime, Parker, a cop himself, quits the force and begins a personal quest for the killer. 'Every Dead Thing' could easily have become a yet another serial killer BCB, with yet another guilt-laden, violent avenger pursuing his duty to the dead had not Connolly broken a few rules, rules he breaks again in 'Dark Hollow'.

In 'Dark Hollow', Parker has moved from New York to Maine, back to his grandfather's house, to heal and renew. Hired by Rita to reclaim child support from her violent ex-husband, Charlie finds himself involved with nasty mobsters from Boston, also eager to reclaim money from the ex. True to BCB form, Rita is killed, along with her son, and as Charlie sets out to learn by whom and why, he discovers a trail of family brutality and bloodshed with roots dating back to his grandfather's time. Layer in another story line, the disappearance of the daughter of Charlie's former police force mentor, since estranged, and you have enough plot threads to keep the pages turning.

Connolly does the BCB two-step skillfully and with style. He tells complex, intriguing, multi-threaded stories, zigzagging instead of straight lining, to scenes of violence and mutilation. These books are action-packed to be sure, but the pacing is well tuned, with high-voltage violence followed by moments of calm, soul-searching reflection. Connolly tells stories-within-stories, often from the past, which flesh-out or foretell the action in the present. There's real atmosphere here, a sense of place and history, an appreciation of nature, that's missing from the run-of-the-mill BCB. (Action junkies can skip those parts).

The stories are unique, dipping into the occult, filled with visions, premonitions and murky locales that lift them from the standard. Connolly's bad guys are truly grim - they look bad, act bad, and smell bad. The Traveling Man in 'Every Dead Thing' and Caleb Kyle in 'Dark Hollow' are uniquely evil, no small achievement when the good guy is often so bad himself.

Bird is not your average one-dimensional avenger. He's tortured by the tragedy of his past, bruised and battered, psychically and most certainly physically, but he's also reflective, respectful and, in the second book, showing faint glimmers of soul. While he can shoot it out with the best, survive bullet wounds, stab wounds, beatings and butchery, he can also make a keen observation or two and converse with wit and humor. Part way through 'Dark Hollow' Parker has the opportunity to kill a persistent bad guy and he doesn't take it. Interesting, I thought. Maybe he's maturing. Turns out though, he was just saving that particular bad guy for later.

Make no mistake, both 'Every Dead Thing' and 'Dark Hollow' are violent BCBs. In each, the death toll is huge and the third act is non-stop action as Charlie lurches from carnage to slaughter, wounded and bloody, avenging death after vividly described death. To condemn them for excessive violence is like criticizing a comedy for excessive funniness. Violence is what these books are all about. And as BCBs go, both are better than most.