The Lovers, By John Connolly

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The Independent Culture

Following the fall-out of his last case, private investigator Charlie Parker finds himself without a licence and stripped of his gun. A lesser man might find this state of affairs catastrophic, but if there's one thing Parker knows about, it's catastrophes. As readers who have encountered John Connolly's heroic hard man before will be aware, Parker has lived through the aftermath of the murder of his wife and daughter, tracked down their killer, forged another relationship only to see it crumble, and spent a fair amount of time clearing the streets of some seriously chilling characters.

So with his career stalled, Parker lies low, gets a job behind a bar and decides to investigate a cold case that is personal rather than professional – the reasons behind the suicide of his father, NYPD policeman Will, and the teenagers he killed hours before his death. As Parker heads back, geographically and emotionally, to the house where he grew up, Connolly describes the downward spiral of the American-Irish suburbs of Parker's youth in heartbreaking detail.

As Parker explores past crimes and the unexplained actions of his parents, modern murders are taking place, linked to two shadowy figures. So far, so gritty crime novel. But Connolly also manipulates the genre. His thrillers contain as much supernatural mystery as criminal intrigue. In The Lovers, there's a change of tone when the ghosts of Parker's wife and child make an unexpected appearance. After that, supernatural elements are woven into the narrative and the identities of the strange lovers and their victims are gradually revealed.

It's not all crooks and spooks; Connolly is far too skilled a writer to create mere schlock-horror. He's at his best getting inside his characters' heads, from the relief of a father who discovers that his dead son had been murdered and not committed suicide to the terror of a teenage girl on the run from a destructive force. Connolly's latest novel is unashamedly gothic, but ultimately manages to be believable and moving too.