Saturday, March 8, 2014
By FRANK O SMITH
John Connolly's new Charlie Parker thriller/mystery, "The Wrath of Angels," is much like the corner of the Great North Woods of Maine, where the central tension of the story is spawned.
"THE WRATH OF ANGELS." By John Connolly. Atria Books. 471 pages. $26.
There are many "paths" for the book's characters to enter these woods, but once they do, a haunting wraps itself around them, disorienting them and any compass they might have brought along.
Connolly richly depicts this in an early scene where two hunters, old friends, plod deeper and deeper into territory that local lore cautions against entering. The hunters can't seem to help themselves -- much like most people who read this story.
Connolly, and through him, a ghost-like apparition of a child seen in the forest, beckons all to disavow caution if you want to know what lies hidden here.
A downed plane that the earth is swallowing awaits. The plane is empty except for a bag of money and a list of names.
So begins the unfolding of a tangled story that turns on the question: Who had been on the plane -- and why? Who are the people on the list -- and for what reason? And why are so many malevolent forces seeking to lay hold of the list?
The plane and its surroundings are infested with "majigek" (wicked spirits) in this spellbinding supernatural thriller.
Parker, a retired policeman, is but one of many who are drawn to find the plane and the list -- Parker partially because his name is on the list.
Also drawn is a rogue's gallery of fallen angels at war with one another and the world. These demon angels, serving one god or another but mostly their own dark passions, include "The Collector," or Kushiel, hell's jailer; Brightwell, whom Parker earlier killed but has been "reborn" to reap vengeance; and the mysterious one known as Malphus, "Lord of Crows," the great prince of hell.
"The Wrath of Angels" is a story of good and evil on a grand scale. The book is a complex, deeply textured story, but Connolly is a patient, skilled craftsman, giving space to properly set up each of the multifarious story lines. He teases and invites with one, then shifts to focus on another.
Soon enough, he has a dozen or so being played like lines drawn taut with powerful fish at the end, each working to free itself, using the shifting currents of the story to avoid being reeled in, going deep -- then bursting to the surface to thrash madly in the light.
Allegiances and alliances tangle many of these storylines until it is a challenge to easily follow them. Some characters who are fallen angels have forgotten their true nature and purpose, while other characters -- like Parker himself -- wonder if they have an embodied demon spirit buried within them. All are at risk of bad endings should they get called to answer for their sins.
An award-winning New York Times best-selling author, Connolly divides his time between his native Ireland and his adopted home, Maine. His Parker series is a delight to Mainers for his interweaving of local venues, from Flatbread Co. to The Great Lost Bear and Beals Ice Cream in Portland, and from increasingly further afield locales such as Scarborough and Ferry Beach in southern Maine to the Great North Woods and the County, which sprawl across the top of the state.
Good and evil writ large is a theme that clearly enchants Connolly, one he has explored in multiple literary forms. "The Wrath of Angels" richly embraces the theme in a thoroughly engaging and entertaining tale.
The story is so wondrously complex that you may feel you need a map to find your way. But then again, any compass heading you might follow will surely fool you sooner or later, as they do the two hunters who spark the story's unfolding.
Frank O Smith is a Maine writer whose novel, "Dream Singer," was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize.