Read of the Week

A Time of Torment

John Connolly

Hodder & Stoughton

Review: Brian Joss

I have been a fan of Connolly’s ever since I read Every Dead Thing, the first of 14 in the Charlie Parker series.

However, I don’t think Parker, who shares his name with jazz maestro, Charlie “Bird” Parker, the famous alto sax, has a musical bent, except when he and his associates, Angel and Louis, a most unlikely couple, and the Fulci Brothers, are beating the hell out of the bad guys.

The PI has psychic abilities, and he often feels the presence of his long-dead wife and daughter, Jennifer, who appear to warn him of impending danger. His other daughter, Samantha “Sam” Wolfe, also communes with Jennifer. The supernatural is a recurring theme in the Connolly thrillers, and A Time of Torment is no exception.

Still recovering after his brushes with death in the Wolf in Winter, which focused on a town called Prosperous, and Song of Shadows, which had the Holocaust as its theme, Parker is back, but he is a changed man, born-again, with a strange gleam in his eyes, as if he’s seen it all. Which he has.

In A Time of Torment the Maine-based detective is determined to help clear the name of Jerome Burnel, an unassuming jewellery salesman who fell from hero to zero.

Burnel, carrying diamonds worth $120 000, was minding his own business at a gas station when two men staged a heist. Burnel killed them and saved the lives of three people and is hailed as a hero. But a few months later he is arrested for possession of child pornography, loses his hero status, his money, his wife and is thrown into jail to serve a five-year term where his torturers, led by the toxic Harpur Griffin, make his life hell.

Released from jail, Burnel is tormented by the events which broke him. He tells Parker he knows he was set up for the child pornography charges and suspects it is tied to the gas station killings. And he appeals to Parker to help him, but the only lead he has for the PI are the words Griffin used when he sodomised him for the last time in prison: “This is for the Dead King.”

The trail leads to a strange cult, led by Oberon and Cassander, whose members live isolated lives in The Cut, Plassey County, near Charleston. Besides murdering people, setting them alight, kidnapping women and raping them for breeding purposes, and the occasional house robbery, members keep to themselves, worshipping the “Dead King” who is kept in a blockhouse. And so the stage is set for the final countdown with The Cut.

Connolly is at the top of his game in A Time of Torment. There are touches of humour, especially when twin brothers Paulie and Tony Fulci confront Griffin in the Porterhouse, a pub in South Portland so poisonous that in the normal course of events even the Fulcis give it a wide berth, and that’s saying something.

Connolly has an uncanny way of making his characters live – from the homeless man, Shakey, who was a key figure in the Wolf in Winter, to the slow-witted Perry Lutter, who witnessed a horrific murder, and young Odell Watson, who keeps an eye on the events at The Cut from the trailer he shares with his mother and grandmother.

A Time of Torment is a gripping read and even though it’s almost 500 pages, you will be hard-pressed to put it down before the twist in the finale.