A Time of Torment, by John Connolly*****

ATimeofTormentI had never read anything by John Connolly before, but this eerie thriller has made a forever-fan of me. Thanks go to Net Galley and Atria books for the invitation to read and review.  Connolly cooks together a hair-raising thriller with a handful of horror, a smidge of fantasy and a dash of magical realism; the resulting brew is one that nobody else could possibly cook up. For those that write, reading this dark redemption tale is likely to produce both admiration and despair, because this novel is born of a talent that no creative writing workshop will ever be able to produce. You may write, and I may write, but nobody else will ever, ever be able to write like Connolly.

Our story is part of the Charlie Parker series, but I have not read any of the others and found I was able to hop into this story as a single read with no difficulty. Connolly provides just enough background to catch us up without dragging us through the book using promotional paragraphs some lesser authors might indulge in. I suspect not enough is repeated here to annoy his faithful readers.

Parker is a private detective that has been through a triple-death experience and come out the other end, but not unchanged. He’s hard enough to confront the ugliest nemesis, and it’s a good thing, because soon a trail of corpses will persuade him to leave his home in Maine for the dark place that is Plassey County, West Virginia.

The people of Plassey County have learned over the years—and centuries—to leave The Cut alone. Evil things are brewing there; it is there that the Dead King waits in an ancient building, and it is there that Oberon and Cassander struggle for dominance of this insular, cult-like community.  After all, “…the Cut looks after its own.”

This is a high voltage, hyperliterate read. Your middle-schoolers can’t read this, and it is so infused with violence that I’m not sure you’d want them to have it. But though I sometimes am put off from gory prose, I found that Connolly measured out these passages in small enough batches that my “ick” threshold, that little voice inside that tells me when a story isn’t fun anymore, wasn’t tripped. Spare but strong spots of irony and humor help lighten things up before they get dark, dark, dark again.

If I were to compare Connolly to any other writer, it would be James Lee Burke. The similarities that exist are a brilliant capacity to craft character, and the use of strongly resonant setting to reinforce character and move the story forward. The small but potent religious references are also similar. I highlighted the characters that were introduced throughout the course of this novel and found more than two dozen of them, and yet at the end of the book I still knew who each of them was without having to go back and reread. Connolly draws characters so real that by the time the book is done, the reader knows them as if they were family; yet thank goodness they aren’t.  This reviewer particularly enjoyed Parker’s assistants, Angel and Louis, as well as side characters Perry Lutter and Odell Watson.

Throughout the story, the pacing is swift and the plot absorbing. There is never a word that could be cut from the text and have the same result. If anything, the spare prose creates a sense of tension not only for that which is said, but also for that which is not.

This creepy tale was released this week, so you can have it to curl up with over the weekend if you’re quick about it. But before you commence, you’ll want to make sure that all the lights in your home are burning, and that all your doors and windows are locked.

Highly recommended.

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