The Burning Soul – John Connolly

Setting: Pastor’s Bay, Maine, USA.

Story: There is this teenage killer of a young girl who, after serving his time, and protected by his new identity and name, works as an accountant in a small town in Maine, living as a semi-recluse.  Then a neighbor’s child goes missing, and this ex-killer, Randall Haight, starts receiving hate mail that connects him with his past crime. He turns to his lawyer for help. If the local police find out, he will surely be a suspect, and he has no alibi. But he swears his innocence. His lawyer, in turn, hires private Detective Charlie Parker to find out more. Parker arrives in Pastor’s Bay, the investigation begins, and the layers of many lives are peeled back to reveal a different reality. For example, somewhere in the background there is a big city mafia power struggle going on, and that fight spills over into Parker’s investigation.

Good Stuff: The author writes well, and his trademark inclusion of some things that ‘go bump in the night’ continues to inject something special, something almost spiritual in the seedy work and stories that his hero becomes involved in. Parker is a fine character; believable, strong without being invincible, and human without being a defective detective (as I call it). The plot is all over the place – in the sense of having many seemingly unrelated strands to it – but Connolly does a reasonable job of getting the strands to eventually make sense and come together.

Not So Good Stuff: Connolly has some stock supporting characters for Charlie Parker in the shape of the Fulci brothers (brawns, no brains) and Angel and Louis (brawns and brain). These chaps do bad things to bad people, leaving Parker with clean hands. Their involvement in this story seemed forced. This may be related to one of the author’s stated goals of avoiding formulaic plots. He achieves the goal, but in this case the price is that the book sometimes loses power and the reader’s interest. It’s a good read, but not every page demands to be turned.

Score: 7/10.