Newest Review: ... supernatural or fantasy based, enough so that reality is suspended, there are some which really drive an idea home and make you wonder. I... more
Spooky short stories and some familiar faces
Nocturnes - John Connolly
Member Name: pmcds
Nocturnes - John Connolly
Advantages: Connolly's wider range of tales; character driven; memorable
Disadvantages: A couple of short stories I wasn't so keen on
John Connolly is best known for his series of books featuring private detective Charlie Parker, which are still going strong to date. Between two of these novels, though, Connolly was asked to write a collection of short stories for radio, and he had them published in this book, entitled Nocturnes. It's a collection of seemingly unlinked supernatural/horror short stories sandwiched between two novellas, the first a stand alone one and the second featuring Parker. Various editions, including the one I have, also contain three bonus tales at the end, which were not in the original lineup for this publication.
The Cancer Cowboy Rides
Connolly doesn't pull any punches, and perhaps the first indication of this is the content of the first novella, opening this collection: The Cancer Cowboy Rides. It takes a somewhat horrifying approach to cancer, treating it as a being that inhabits and spreads at the slightest touch, and while this piece is only just over 70 pages or so, it has enough depth in character to give you a good mental image of everything going on. One thing I've noticed about Connolly is his ability to bring characters to life in your mind, and this is a prime example. It reminded me somewhat of Stephen King's Under The Dome in terms of its characterisation, particularly how some of the developed characters (albeit briefly due to the 70 page length) are well described as if we have all the time in the world, even if they are bumped off! Powerful writing, and a clever way of dealing with something which is prevalent all around us and is never an easy or nice thing to deal with, and often doesn't go away no matter how hard you try.
The opening novella certainly paves the way for some more gruesome and horror driven short stories, and while the vast majority of them are supernatural or fantasy based, enough so that reality is suspended, there are some which really drive an idea home and make you wonder. I sometimes think this is one of the skills associated with horror and supernatural writers, to find that link between reality and belief and defining what supports one and what fulfills another. If Connolly's portrayal of cancer as a person working his way through a town and spreading the disease is brutal and effective, then his dealing with religion and children in the subsequent short stories is equally so, for the most part.
It's always hard to be perfect every step of the way, and each of the 13 stories is unique. Themes of religion and children, albeit separately, run through them, and for each there is a hero. The perspective changes from the first person to a third person, as do his novels, with Parker taking the first person and others filling the third. There's no surprise here that this is what is presented, but it's good that there is this variety. Some of the tales are just a bit freaky, and I think that the ones where there are no visible enemies from the characters' perspectives are the most horrific. It starts off well with Mr Pettinger's Daemon, dark and desolate with religion and remoteness and a mystery to solve, and then tracks quickly onto the three or four where there are fantasy elements that involve children. I get the feeling that Connolly was unwilling to write tales involving children unless there was a clear way to suspend belief through the means of fantasy, not just through horror and monsters, of which there are plenty in this collection.
The fifth tale, The Furnace Room, sort of sends a message about punishment for sins, and is quite a reflective tale in that it makes you think about what the message is, while the vampirical nature of The Inkpot Nature is more clever than scary, showing the imaginative capabilities Connolly possesses, not that fans of his would ever doubt this. Religion returns with The Shifting of the Sands, before a couple more with children; while the closing short story, The Wakeford Abyss, is a languid opening that hides a monstrosity that may play to a more common fear that many possess.
All in all, this series of short stories in here is very readable. There's nothing particularly special about the majority of them, but then it is very hard to master all the elements of a top novel in such short offerings - each is just over 10 pages or thereabouts, with the exception of The Underbury Witches which is longer. Overall, Connolly manages to provide effective and memorable stories, even if there were a few that weren't really my cup of tea. I do think this is to be expected though, as when you're providing more than a dozen tales, you're bound to come across some that aren't your thing. I'm glad I enjoyed the vast majority of them.
The Reflecting Eye
The novella to end the original publication with is, as I mentioned before, a Charlie Parker one - The Reflecting Eye. Connolly surprisingly sets the scene at a similar pace to his books, taking his time before then introducing the main players, including a villain known as The Collector. Connolly is quick to state in general that you don't need to have read Nocturnes (and therefore this novella) in order to continue with the Parker books. Indeed, this is what I did. I have recently read The Burning Soul, a good few books on from this, and havign come back and read this, the Parker element didn't have any negative impact, reading it out of turn.
As an original collection of short stories sandwiched by the two novellas, this publication is very good, but the edition I have also contains three subsequent 'extras' at the end, three more short stories Connolly hadn't originally included in the collection. They were originally set as a companion to Nocturnes and only available on Connolly's website, but in this edition they have been printed as well. There's nothing particularly special about them either, although they are effective. I think the third of these, The Inn at Shillingford, has the most strength in memory, although the other two are decent.
The thing that I liked about this publication was how Connolly was able to flex his creative muscles a little more than his usual publications. We get to see a number of the sort of ideas that float around his head, whereas usually he's limited to the constraints he has placed upon himself through Charlie Parker and his back story. This often happens with authors who focus on one main character for a series of books, and it's nice to see familiar writing style with a bit more wild imagination that can centre around a variety of things from tale to tale. The presentation is standard for the most part, bu one nice touch is that there is an image at the beginning of each short story. Each image is very simple and usually contains one thing, but this is always the key part of the tale itself. I particularly liked looking at the title and the image and trying to work out what the tale was going to be about. Sometimes I was near the mark, others way off, but never exact and most of the time there was a bit of a surprise.
I was impressed with this collection. It has its moments where I was keen to finish that particular short story and progress to the next, but for the most part I was riveted and marvelled in the writing style. Another hit from Connolly, an author I would strongly urge anyone with an interest in the fantasy, supernatural, horror or thriller fiction to pick up and work your way through. Highly recommended, if not perfect.
Summary: John Connolly flexes his literary muscles with some short stories