A couple of hundred pages into A Game Of Ghosts Charlie Parker feels, “not for the first time, as though he had wandered into a ghost story”. What, I wondered, could have brought that on? Could it be the Bretheren? Or the spirits of Peter Magus and the Capstead Martyrs? Maybe the Hollow Men? Or The Collector? Or the ghostly apparition of Philip, unacknowledged son of the Providence crime lord Caspar Webb (John Connolly names are always carefully crafted)? Or his Mother? Or Parker's dead daughter Jennifer? Or her very much alive half-sister Sam? This novel is filled with enough characters to require a supernatural scorecard!
But that is only part of what makes it so intriguing. The chess game Parker navigates is multi-dimensional, though the first three dimensions are bad enough. He is commanded by his friendly FBI man Ross to search for a missing private detective named Jaycob Eklund, though Ross won't say why. It doesn't take Parker long to discover Eklund was obsessively on the trail of the Bretheren, and there are other disappeared people along that trail.
Connolly's picture of the Bretheren's world is not only chilling, but totally convincing, a combination of suburban Borgias complete with incestuous couplings and Stepford families concealing their true purpose. It stands in contrast to Parker's own world, since Sam's mother Rachel, still frightened from Sam's kidnapping in the previous Parker novel, wants to limit his access to his daughter. Parker is always a character caught in the middle, sometimes the fulcrum, sometimes the object in the vice getting tightened. But he remains a most steady anchor to humanity.
One of the joys of entering Charlie Parker's world is that Connolly sees things so well and writes so well what he, or rather his characters, see. A Game Of Ghosts is layered with such craft that it is almost a disappointment when things resolve themselves with relative quickness, as if you really don't wish to bid some of these characters behind. Even the most dangerous of them. Of course, in Charlie Parker's world, you never can be sure.
A Game Of Ghosts by John Connolly
Hodder & Stoughton, £14.99 ISBN 9781473641860
NOTE: This review will also appear at Crime Time (www.crimetime.co.uk)