The Furies, by John Connolly*****

The Furies is #20 in the Charlie Parker detective series, by John Connolly. Several entries ago, Connolly began introducing supernatural elements so that each novel now is either a detective story laced with elements of horror, or else a true hybrid. Friends, nobody does this better than Connolly. Nobody.

My thanks go to Atria Books and Net Galley for the review copy. This book is for sale now.

This particular book is singular in that it is a pair of novellas in one volume, but they share the same characters, and flow so smoothly that I forget, at times, that it’s two different stories. Each of them has women that are either at risk of death or grave bodily harm, or that appear to be. The characters are brilliantly crafted; some are old favorites that Connolly’s faithful readers will recognize. We have Angel and Louis, not much, but enough to satisfy; the Fulci Brothers return, and these guys make me laugh out loud. (Notice that I don’t say that Connolly makes me laugh. I believe the characters enough that most of the time, my readerly relationship isn’t with the author, but with the characters themselves.) And we have some brand new baddies as well.

I won’t even tell you about all of the ne’er-do-wells that frequent these pages, because there are a host of them, but the most memorable and salient are Raum Buker, a career criminal, and Bobby Wadlin, an opportunistic slumlord who runs a boardinghouse for the formerly incarcerated. Let’s take a look at Raum:

“There are men who are born into this world blighted, men who are blighted by the world, and men who are intent upon blighting themselves and the world along with them. Raum Buker somehow contrived to be all three in one person, like a toxic, inverted deity….Raum became his own worst enemy by election, and decided by extension to become the worst enemy of a lot of other people, too….Gradually, like fecal matter flowing down a drain, gravity brought Raum to Portland. He kept company with men whom others avoided, and women who were too foolish, desperate, or worn down by abuse to make better life choices.”

Unfortunately for Raum, he has obtained, extralegally, of course, a rare coin that is also a supernatural talisman. It’s a bit like the ring that Bilbo Baggins and Gollum vie for in The Hobbit, but the coin is loose in modern society among humans during the pandemic.

Bobby Wadlin runs The Braycott Arms where Raum lives, along with some other questionable people. Wadlin is too lazy to be truly evil; he inherited this pile from his late daddy, and he rents rooms to former convicts because they are the least likely to make a fuss over repairs and such that most people expect from their rental lodgings. Wadlin sits behind the front desk during most of his waking hours and sometimes other hours, too, watching endless Westerns on his little television. When things start to go sideways, he turns to an herbal product that is named in the book, and as I read, I became sold on its anti-anxiety attributes and bought some for myself. It works, too! As long as it doesn’t turn me into Bobby Wadlin, I’ll be okay.

There are small but important ways in which Connolly’s skill sets him apart from other writers. An essential component is his timing. Less experienced and analytical authors might create an amusing character or situation, and it’s funny, and then it’s over. For others, they know they’ve struck gold, so then they beat it to death to where it’s stale and loses its magic. Connolly seems to know precisely at what point to bring back the humorous bits for maximum effect. He lets us forget all about that hysterical situation or person back there, earlier in the novel, and so when he brings it out again, the hilarity hits us right in the funny bone. There’s never a wasted word, with everything carefully measured and edited down for maximum effect.

If there is one area in which this author might improve, it’s in the way he writes female characters. When I finish a Parker novel, it’s always the men that I remember. Connolly demonstrates tremendous respect for women, but he doesn’t fully develop any of them. There it is, a challenge.

Nonetheless, The Furies is brilliant and entertaining, and I recommend it enthusiastically to you.  

Violeta, by Isabel Allende*****

Violeta is an epic tale that spans, along with its protagonist, a century-long period that begins during the Spanish Flu and ends with our modern day pandemic. Technically, then, it is part of the growing body of pandemic literature, but as is always true for Allende’s novels, it is so much more.

I received a review copy, courtesy of Net Galley and Random House Ballantine, but had I not, I’d have found a way to read this glorious story anyway. It’s available to the public now.

Violeta is born to wealth and privilege, the only daughter in a large family. Schooled at home by a nanny, sequestered in a mansion with servants to do her bidding, she is unaware that her luxurious standard of living comes at a tremendous cost to others. Then the market drops, and her father, who has overextended himself with unwise investments, is ruined. Most of her brothers are already grown and gone, but one brother, Jose Antonio, had remained at home, groomed by their father to take over the business one day. “He was the model son, and he was sick of it.” After their father’s abrupt departure, Jose Antonio finds himself responsible for the family; with the local populace in a state of near insurrection, the only thing left to do is to take his family—including Violeta—and leave town. They remove themselves to a distant farm owned by poor but generous friends, and they learn to make do as they’ve never done before.

We follow Violeta through her early marriage to a German immigrant who was “so bland and boring that he inspired instant trust,” and then through a long, tempestuous relationship with a handsome thug named Julian, who makes his fortune in dark, horrible ways involving illegal substances, the CIA, and the Mafia. And here, Allende’s startling sense of humor is in full brilliant flower, as she describes his retrieval of ill gotten funds from the septic tank of their Florida home:

He pulled a filthy bag from the hole, dragged it to the kitchen and poured the contents out on the floor; rolls of wet bills covered in poop. Gagging, I saw that Julian planned to clean the money in our washing machine. “No! Don’t even think about it!” I shouted hysterically. He must’ve understood that I was willing to draw blood to stop him, because I’d instinctively grabbed the largest knife in the kitchen. “Okay, Violeta, calm down,” he begged, frightened for the first time in his life. He made a call, and a short while later we had two mafia goons at our disposal. We went to a laundromat and the gangsters paid everyone to leave. Then the men stood guard as Julian washed the poop-covered bills. After that he had to dry them and pack them in a bag. He brought me along because he had no idea how to operate the machines. “Now I understand what money laundering is…”

As with all or most of Allende’s protagonists, Violeta becomes a strong woman that can stand on her own, and who picks and chooses the men she wants to be with. She is beautiful, intelligent, and ends up with piles of her own money that she has earned in an ethical manner. And here is my one, very small issue with this book; just once I would like to see an Allende main character that doesn’t get rich, but is fine anyway.

I am late in reviewing this book, but it’s important not to try to rush through a story such as this one, because the literary alchemy Allende creates is the sort that must be appreciated at one’s leisure. Her novels are not page turners; they don’t try to be. Instead, Violeta is the sort of book you take with you on a spa date, or to your very own bathtub with bubbles, candles, and your favorite beverage.

Highly recommended to feminist readers that enjoy top quality literary fiction.