Books: Old Ironside writhes in his wheelchair

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Every Dead Thing

by John Connolly Hodder pounds 10

opens with a bald, forensic detailing of the murder of Detective Charlie "Bird" Parker's wife and daughter. Connolly cuts straight to the chase in Bird's seemingly irrelevant pursuit of a bail-skipper via mob murders, child abduction, mutilation and metaphysical poetry. Whoa! you don't need to be a Special Agent to spot the odd one out there - Donne and Marvell sit somewhat uncomfortably amidst the hard-boiled coppery of Bird's NYPD chums.

By halfway through the novel, Bird has "solved" a particularly nasty sequence of tortures in Virginia and New York without ever seeming to do any actual detection. "There are no coincidences, only patterns we do not see," he reflects in archetypal gumshoe understatement. But there are moments when you almost see little stickers marked "clue" or "next victim", and some of the mob-cop dialogue would make old Ironside writhe in his wheelchair.

Bird then heads for New Orleans in search of a new lead on the elusive Travelling Man, the serial mutilationist responsible for the murder of Bird's family. Connolly's prose accelerates towards the horrible inevitability that the Travelling Man has been reeling Bird in all along. The denouement is handled surprisingly deftly by Connolly but, despite the compulsive, pageturning appeal of this novel, the plotting is cluttered rather than clever and is heavily dependant on extreme unlikelihoods and unexplained leaps of "reasoning". Bird makes a suspiciously cultured and emotionally unresponsive narrator, his grief confused by Connolly with inappropriate, strapped-on erudition. "I stank of mortality," Bird laments, but "in the midst of it all, some lines of verse seemed to float into my head ... some metaphysical poet, I thought."

And why is it that this genre of fiction is obsessed with lists? Bird notes with meticulous detail every item of clothing, firearm spec, car make, drink, snack and brand name - not, as you might reasonably think, for any observational exercise linked to sifting or evaluating evidence, but to avoid other more emotional or nuanced means of description. Apocryphally, Tom Clancy once listed in such detail how to build a terrorist weapon that the Pentagon vetted his novel for possible vulnerabilities. Connolly uses the same technique here, though one wonders with the detail given to (for example) how Bird assists in the preparation of Chicken Gumbo whether Delia Smith will call the book in for close examination.

The publisher claims to be "the most terrifying thriller since Silence of the Lambs" - which is wildly optimistic, despite some obvious points of comparison, such as the flensing of the victims and the evilly unhinged normalcy of the perpetrator. Connolly's novel lacks the psychological tautness of Thomas Harris, but that doesn't make it a bad read. I look forward to the next "Bird" offering, but hope that by then he has graduated from Creole cookery to more subtle dishes.