Author of the Month

Name: John Connolly

First Novel: Every Dead Thing

Most Recent Book: The Reapers

'I challenge anyone to be able to put this book down.'

The Reapers were a group of people gathered by Gabriel to kill without question - to never ask the question, ‘Why?’ They were killers who were simply given a job and carried out their orders without a thought as to who they were to kill or what the consequences would be. Louis was once a Reaper and, although he believes that one day one of his actions might come back to haunt him, he didn’t realise it was going to come back with such a vengeance.

Now living with his partner, Angel, both of these killers who have helped out Charlie Parker on several of his cases are now in grave danger. Someone is trying to kill them. As Louis begins to face his past he realises that some ghosts that he thought were dead and buried are very much alive. Soon, with Angel in tow, Louis decides that a head on confrontation with his nemesis is the best course of action. However, they quickly realise that they have been outsmarted and outgunned at every angle. Is this the end of our favourite assassins? Not if Charlie Parker has anything to do with it…

The Reapers brings Louis and Angel to the fore in Connolly’s startlingly original new novel. The usual mix of the supernatural and the Gothic are still present in this novel - even if Charlie Parker is not the driving force. As with all of Connolly’s previous works of fiction, it takes no time at all before we find ourselves racing along at breakneck speed, as Louis begins to feel his dangerous and deadly past begin to breathe down his neck.

With all the panache of a great Thomas Harris novel, Connolly poetically brings this mysterious pair to life and, intriguingly, finally shows us the early beginnings of Louis as a killer. Never fearful of taking risks, Connolly brings in elements of racism and the degradation of the blacks in America to play. It is a subject that may not sit comfortably with some, but the author brings with this unsettling subject a feeling of emancipation.

Soon Louis and Angel are at the mercy of an avenging man; someone from Louis’ past who was once thought dead by his own hand. Here Parker comes to the fore with the help of Jackie and his charges, the uncontrollable and truly wonderful characters, the Fulci brothers, and their mind-boggling concoctions of ‘medications’.

The Reapers is an excellent addition to Connolly’s already high calibre collection of work to feature this team who seem, on the surface at least, so different from one another and yet manage to gel so well. I challenge anyone to be able to put this book down. I am sure you will be as gripped as the fast moving story as I was, and I have no doubt this is one of the best crime novels you are likely to read this year!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) As it slowly evolves and increases in popularity, crime fiction seems to be organically sub-dividing into a number of widely diverse categories. Which genre (or sub-genre, even…) of crime novel would you say you write in?
Someone once described my novels as "detective gothic", which I quite liked. In the end, though, I don't think these subdivisions are very helpful. Overall, I prefer the use of the term "mystery fiction", which is popular with the Americans. I think it's a broad enough description to encompass most types of mystery fiction.
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
I don't read as much mystery fiction as I used to. I think I became a little jaded with it. I still love to read James Lee Burke and George Pelecanos, among others, but I suppose I tend to shy away from series novels more than I once did. Now, I tend to read one work of fiction followed by a work of non-fiction, and of the fiction, one in five might be a crime novel. Funny, I think men in particular, as they get older, begin to read more non-fiction. I'm not sure why...
3) Although your heritage is Irish you base your books in America. How difficult is it to establish the right tone and ensure the accuracy of the details?
Well, the accuracy of the details is a matter of checking them. I spend time in the places about which I write. I interview people. I take photographs, and I still make mistakes. It's the nature of all human endeavor. As for tone, well, that's a matter of trial and error, of listening to rhythms of speech and then not making the error of replicating them exactly, but of giving a sense of them that rings true.
4) Most of your stories include a ‘supernatural’ element. What made you explore this area in your writing?
I wanted Charlie Parker to be haunted, but not haunted in the manner most commonly found in mystery fiction, where ‘haunted’ tends to be a euphemism for ‘brooding’, ‘drinks a bit’, or ‘stares into space a lot’. I wondered what might happen if a man believed himself literally to be haunted. If his own guilt and grief were tormenting him to such a degree that he was unable to determine if the visions of the dead he encountered were real or merely manifestations of his own troubled psyche.

There were some literary influences at work here, particularly the early twentieth century ghost stories of English writers like M.R. James. It’s possible, too, that something of the Irish anti-rationalist tradition had also crept in. Then, of course, there are my own Catholic origins, which seemed to find an echo in the themes of reparation and redemption that are so much a part of the mystery fiction I love.

For me, the supernatural serves a number of functions in my novels. To begin with, it suggests a deeper understanding of the word ‘mystery’ and its religious origins - a mystery as the Greeks would have understood it, or as the writers of the medieval mystery plays, which were versions of Bible stories, would have interpreted it. The curious thing about mystery novels is that, generally, they are not very mysterious at all. What seems beyond understanding at the start is usually capable of being explained in quite simple terms by the end: the butler did it. I hoped to restore something of that older sense of mystery to my work, and the supernatural touches suggested a means of doing so. They also work as indicators of a larger moral universe, and in that sense they are as much metaphysical as supernatural.
5) Your characters – like Jackie Garner and the Fulci brothers - leave a powerful impression. Are they based on real characters or entirely drawn from your imagination?
No, they're drawn entirely from my imagination. That's the pleasure of doing what I do: creating characters and situations from scratch. I'm not really influenced by people or current events for the major elements of the books, although some social commentary does creep in occasionally.
6) The Reapers offers more background information on the assassin, Louis, and his partner, Angel. Why did you choose a gay relationship for these key characters?
Well, there are a lot of characters in my books, and the odds are that at least some of them would be gay. I think, when I began writing, I didn't feel obligated to abide by any rules, and I could write what I wanted without any concerns about what might sell or appeal, because I didn't think I'd ever be published. It just seemed apt, in that first novel, which is a novel about defying expectations, to a degree, that the only functioning relationship should be one between two gay killers. The thing about them is that their sexuality is largely inconsequential in a way. They're not defined by it. They just happen to be gay. And they're not tormented by it, either. A guy from a gay book club once pointed that out to me. He said they made a pleasant change from reading about miserable gay men...
7) Will we see a resolution to the appearances of the spirits of Charlie Parker’s dead wife and child? Will Charlie ever get back together with Rachel?
I don't think the first question can ever really be resolved and, in the current draft of The Reapers, it seems that they are still around him, although in a slightly different incarnation. They are his ghosts. He carries them with him. As for Rachel, the books have also examined the difficulty of starting a new relationship amid the guilt and wreckage and trauma associated with the old one, particularly for someone like Charlie Parker who has an urge to strike out that's incompatible with a certain type of domesticity. You'll have to wait and see, I guess.
8) In The Unquiet Charlie lost his license to be a Private Investigator. Will he get this back in future or will he tread a different path?
That was coming for a long time, but it is allowing me to do something slightly different with The Lovers, the next book. After that, it's a matter of seeing how that book ends. I don't plan very far ahead, and I'm not even sure about the ending of The Lovers at the moment. I still want to write more about Parker, but at the same time I do have a larger ending in mind. I'm just not certain as to when that might occur.
9) Without giving away the plot, which book - yours or by another author - included your favourite plot twist of all time?
The Chill by Ross Macdonald. In general, I don't approve of twists, as they can be a bit gimmicky, but the one in this book is both jaw-dropping and perfectly logical.
10) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
Hmmm. There would be a couple. I think crime novels appear much easier to adapt than they actually are, and the more depth and introspection they have, the harder they are to make into deep and instrospective movies, because it's difficult to transfer that to the screen. The Godfather is a fine adaptation of a not-terribly-good novel. LA Confidential is very good, but it's not the book. Overall, for adaptations that have been both faithful and good, I'd go for Manhunter, Michael Mann's version of Red Dragon, and The Silence of the Lambs. Harris was well served by both of those.
11) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
I've been formed by it, and I write it, so I remain a fan, even if I don't read it as much as before. James Lee Burke, for his poetry; Ross Macdonald, for his empathy; George Pelecanos, for his social conscience; Laura Lippman, for refusing to take the easy route and always being willing to experiment; Declan Hughes, for writing decent Irish crime novels without pretension; Michael Connelly, for Harry Bosch...
12) What is your favourite crime read of all time?
I think it would have to be The Chill. It's a near-perfect crime novel. I do have a soft spot for Ed McBain's Let's Hear It For The Deaf Man, though, as that was the first crime novel I ever read. These things are important...