Bibliofemme Bookclub An Irish Bookclub

January 10, 2012

Nocturnes by John Connolly

Filed under: Book Reviews,Irish,Thriller — The DJ @ 12:55 pm
Nocturnes Book Cover Nocturnes
John Connolly
Thriller, Irish
Hodder Paperbacks

John Connolly is an Irish Times journalist turned crime-writer whose books are bestsellers and have won him legions of fans. So these same fans might be surprised to learn that his new book Nocturnes turns (mainly) away from crime to focus on horror. Connolly himself has pointed out that in the US, crime books are termed ‘mystery’ books and for the purposes of this collection, the term is more applicable here than to any of his previous work.

This collection draw on elements of the supernatural but Connolly reinvents and re-imagines them with skill. ‘Mr Pettinger’s Daemon’ deals with a demon that digs feverishly beneath a church making his slowly from hell back to earth. ‘The Erlking’ – a mythical creature made of tree branches – lurks in the forest, awaiting children retrieving a lost football or who wander off the path. There’s nothing new about things that live in dark places or demons that hide in cellars but they work, because they’re universal and because Connolly makes them so genuinely frightening. The subject matter, and the tales themselves read like good old-fashioned ghost stories pitched somewhere between Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King and Alfred Hitchcock collections like Bar The Doors. Nocturnes doesn’t just deal in bogeymen and ghosts; many of the themes here relate to the every day. In ‘The New Daughter’, a single father feels he is losing his young daughter, who is obsessed by a local fairy fort. In becoming more distant to her father, she is actually becoming a woman and moving away from the father/daughter relationship of her childhood. Connolly dispenses with the gender stereotypes of horror where women are usually victims or sirens.

‘The Underbury Witches’ is quite a feminist tale of women vengeful of domestic abuse. The book is not without humour and another atypical female is ‘Miss Froom, Vampire’. On the surface she is a kindly spinster with a formidable rose garden but in reality she cons naïve young men into giving her all their blood. The desire for blood continues in ‘The Inkpot Monkey’, one of the best stories in the book. Autobiographical or not, it’s a cautionary tale of the things writers do to avoid writer’s block.

The collection is book-ended by two novellas. The first, ‘The Cancer Cowboy Rides’ tells the story of Buddy, a nomadic cowboy who travels the country spreading cancer by touching people. He doesn’t know where this unfortunate skill came from, but he has no problem passing it on. This – even more than the traditionally supernatural tales in the book – taps into a peculiarly modern kind of fear. Everyone fears illness and death and the idea that you can get cancer from a handshake is as terrifyingly unrealistic as other things that spook us. The novella that closes the book will delight fans of Charlie Parker, Connolly’s PI protagonist from his novels. In ‘The Reflecting Eye’, Parker has a new girlfriend who is expecting his child and he takes on a case involving an abandoned house where children were killed by a child-murderer. It’s a gripping page-turner and Connolly knows how to reel in the reader, keeping them poised on the precipice of suspense. Parker fans won’t be disappointed, as the story seems to link the past and what’s to come in the future.

The stories, and particularly the novellas are very filmic (‘The Cancer Cowboy Rides’ reads like an episode of The X-Files), and it’s this visual execution that makes the stories so readable – and so good. I used to read this kind of stuff when I first discovered books and for no particular reason I haven’t read anything in this genre for a long time. John Connolly has managed to reawaken my interest in it and in the run up to Halloween I’ll be stocking up on spooky tales. The DJ


October 2004


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