Bad Men was a book that had been sitting on my shelf for a very long time waiting to be read. I don't know what it was, but every time I went to select a new book to start, I kept picking it up, reading the back cover before deciding to put it down and read another instead. Possibly it was the subject matter, possibly the fact that here was an author I had never read before. I've no idea where my reluctance to read it came from, but it was ill-founded, because once I did start to read it, I couldn't put it down.
Bad Men is a multi-stranded book which kicks off with a brutal massacre on a remote Maine island in the 17th century. Fast forward to the present day and we meet some of the main characters...Marianne, a woman on the run from her criminal husband, Joe Dupree, the island cop and Moloch, the man that Marianne running from and who is making every effort to track her down and kill her. Meanwhile, strange occurrences on the island start to make Joe Dupree wonder whether supernatural forces are at work.
In many ways, it was this plot summary that probably kept putting me off. On the face of it, Bad Men sounds like your fairly typical thriller. Once you start to read it, however, you realise it is nothing of the sort. The plotting is a perfect example of how to run multiple, parallel storylines all of which add to the sum of the book. Connelly constantly switches between several different strands which all have a slightly different feel; each one adding in some small, almost indefinable way to the overall quality of the book. Plot one, for example, concerns the efforts of Moloch to track down his wife and reads like a fairly typical thriller, as Moloch tracks down those who know where she is and gradually kills his way towards her. Plot two concerns the efforts of his wife to integrate into the isolated island community, whilst keeping the secrets of her past hidden, whilst Plot three concerns far more supernatural events.
Connelly balances these elements superbly, juggling each of the strands carefully so that one never dominates the other. He has a knack for switching to a different element at just the moment that everything is becoming really interesting... leaving the reader on tenterhooks wondering what is going to happen next. Moreover, this is not done through the clumsy use of cliff-hangers, but using simple, solid plotting so that the sudden switch to something else feels entirely natural. Without ever resorting to cheap tricks, Connolly will suck you into his narrative and not let you go.
Despite its supernatural undercurrent, the plot always feels realistic and never over-the-top or incredible. Whichever plot strand you are reading, Connelly maintains a sense of low-level menace that induces a sense of foreboding and dread in the reader without being overtly scary. Even the supernatural elements are well-handled and realistic feeling within the confines of the plot. There were parts of it that reminded of John Carpenter's film The Fog - that indefinable sense of unease; the knowledge that something is not quite right.
Bad Men is not above springing a few shocks either. A development towards the end proves a real gut punch, one which Connelly has the courage to carry through to its logical conclusion. I kept expecting him to back pedal, to rewrite events to soften the blow, but he doesn't. He knows what makes for a good narrative; he knows what the reader needs (even if that's not the same as what the reader wants!) and he provides it. The conclusion is massively emotional and, like the rest of the book, utterly compelling.
This is all helped by Connolly's excellent writing style, which is highly readable. It's true that he tends to write in very long passages and equally long chapters. This makes it a difficult book to just pick up and read in bite-sized chunks since you never know when the next appropriate stopping point will occur. That said; it's also a book that grabs your attention so much that you will sit down for a quick ten minute read and become so immersed in the perils facing the characters that you will end up reading far more than you intended! I devoured this book in a very short space of time because I was enjoying it so much that I took every opportunity to read "just a few more pages".
To flesh out the satisfying plot, Connelly also provides plenty of background information to flesh out his characters and their history. As with all skilful writers, he slowly drip-feeds this information to the reader, gradually revealing more and more to help them slowly understand why characters behave in the way they do. There is nothing revolutionary: you could probably predict the character arcs of most of the people in the book, but Connolly handles it so well that you would be hard-pressed to criticise him for this. At times, the book is more like a soap opera than a supernatural thriller. You find yourself totally immersed in the lives and worries of these people, wanting to step in and help them, to warn them that events are spiralling out of control and that Bad Men are, indeed, just around the corner. Once again, that's the sign of a good book when a reader is so sucked into the world the author has created that you begin to think of it as "real".
I'm sorry now that it took me so long to pick up Bad Men, as it really is a superb read. It's a book that will appeal to a broad range of people. Whilst traditional horror readers may find the supernatural element somewhat tame, they will nevertheless appreciate the sense of low-grade terror and tension that Connolly builds throughout. Thriller fans will appreciate the "chase" aspect to the plot, whilst almost everyone else will just appreciate a fascinating story, well told.
Next time I own a John Connolly book, I can guarantee it won't take me as long to get round to reading it!
Coronet, new ed. 2004
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012
Being a big fan of John Connolly, I know sometimes it seems like I'm a big fan of every writer I review but thats only because I love so many good quality authors, I picked this novel up second hand not expecting very much at all- at least I can say I wasn't disappointed on that score.
Better known for his Charlie Parker novels, this is the third book Connolly has written which breaks away from his standard series of detective novels with a very dark twist- though this is less of a break than his adult fairy-tale, THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS, or his short story collection, NOCTURNES, the first of which was a bore and the latter of which was surprisingly chilling.
Set on an island known both as Sancturary, it's old name, and now more recently Dutch Island the novel follows the story of a relatitive new-comer to the island who has just as many secrets in her past as the island has itself. When a vicious storm breaks out, seperating the island from the mainland for several hours, both their past histories combine to create an eerie tale of lost legacies, old grudges being settled and restless ghosts being disturbed from their peace.
Marianne Elliot has come to the island fleeing a violent husband now out once again from prison but she is soon to find out her husband, Moloch, isn't done with her yet or her son....
The island has a bad and bloody history full of massacre and death, it's inhabitants think all that is in the past but the island isn't done with them either....
When the two come together what you get is a very macabre chilling tale that, though not as good as his Charlie Parker novels, still manages to be a fairly entertaining read.
I think the main problem with this book for me was that right at the very beginning we are given a cameo appearance by Charlie Parker himself and so, for the rest of the novel, I kept waiting for him to become more involved. This doesn't happen and I felt a bit cheated. It would've been far, far better for me if Parker had been avoided then I wouldn't have got my hopes up that perhaps this book would be better than it actually is. There is a lot of scope here and masses of unused potential but I just felt that too much in this novel was left unexplained, more so than in his other novels where very much the emphasis is often about leaving events up to your own interrpretation.
Don't get me wrong, this isn't a bad read- its not even an awful read which it so easily could have been- it just isn't Charlie Parker and I think this is the main fault I found with the book. If you've not read Connolly before and are coming to him with fresh eyes, no doubt you will enjoy this but for me I think I'll wait for the next novel featuring my favourite of his characters- Parker and his two notorious allies, Angel and Louis.
To tell you anymore of the novel would give away tooo much so let me just summarise by saying that is an okay read but just that and nothing more.
Three hundred years ago, the settlers on the small Maine island of Sanctuary were betrayed by one of their own, and slaughtered. Now a band of killers has returned to Sanctuary to seek revenge on a young woman and her son. When Moloch's team of picked killers seizes a long-awaited opportunity to free him, reunion with his wife is the next priority. Working their way through her friends, relatives and contacts, they leave a chilling trail of death and mutilation. The emotionless assassin Shepherd is bad enough, but irascible Tell has a hair-trigger temper and kills unnecessarily (eg: a bystander talking too loudly on his mobile phone), while the eerily beautiful young man Willard does it lingeringly and for fun. Even Moloch, who coldly and effortlessly dominates this awful crew, is unnerved by Willard.