The supernatural detective tale is a tricky hybrid that requires a delicate authorial touch. Too much magic can feel like a cheat in a crime thriller, while too little begs the question of why the author brought up the occult in the first place.

Few authors mix horror and crime as skillfully as John Connolly, the Dublin author of “A Time of Torment,” “A Song of Shadows” and more than a dozen other volumes in the Maine-based series of mystery novels featuring unlicensed private investigator Charlie Parker. The latest installment, “A Game of Ghosts,” explores new narrative territory while providing plenty of the elements that keep enthusiastic readers coming back for more.

“A Game of Ghosts” opens with Parker in the grips of a frigid Portland February. His long history of physical trauma leaves him feeling especially vulnerable to the subzero temperatures: “Parker could feel it in his bones, and in his wounds. His left hand curled into a ball of hurt in his pocket, and the scars on his back felt tight and uncomfortable.”

Connolly goes on to list more of Parker’s old and recent wounds, and it is the specificity of this mix of physical and mental strengths and weakness that makes the detective so compelling. Parker has been through a lot, but he’s willing to endure more pain for the right cause.

He works on a sub rosa basis for Edgar Ross, a rogue agent of the FBI, running off-the-books investigations that Ross’ superiors aren’t supposed to know about. This time, Parker’s task is to find a fellow PI named Jaycob Eklund, who also worked for Ross but who has disappeared without a trace. Eklund operated out of Providence, Rhode Island, so Parker sets off on a road trip with his best friends, the extremely loyal and dangerous criminal operatives Louis and Angel.

John Connolly Photo by Ivan Gimenez Costa

Their presence in Rhode Island accelerates the gathering storm of conflicting interests surrounding the missing Eklund. Parker and crew break into his house and discover a basement room devoted to an investigation of a series of killings and hauntings. A map studded with pins hints at an epic saga of bloody mayhem: “Every cluster contained details of murders and disappearances dating back from the present day to the nineteenth century: individual killings, mass slaughters, kidnappings, unexplained vanishings.”

Eklund’s interest in homicidal parapsychology leads Parker and his companions into a web of intrigue that involves, for starters, a clan of killers known as the Brethren, a discount furniture salesman who suffers from psychic visions, and a Providence crime family in decline. It’s a rich mix of outrageous elements, but Connolly somehow makes them work in sync. His evocative but controlled prose plays a large role in making the incredible believable.

Although each of the Parker books can be read as a stand-alone, the series benefits from plot strands that trace back to Connolly’s first novel, “Every Dead Thing.” One of the most compelling storylines involves Parker’s relationship with his two daughters: Jennifer, who was viciously murdered by a serial killer, and Sam, who seems to be developing ominous psychic powers, including the ability to converse with her deceased half-sister. Connolly has been teasing out their motivations across many books, and it may be past time to unveil whatever plot twist he has been hinting at.

The supporting characters – villains and heroes alike – reward the reader’s interest as Connolly shifts the point of view with each chapter. If Parker himself seems a bit removed from the center of the narrative’s action this time, with some pivotal events happening without his influence or presence, that’s OK.

“A Game of Ghosts” is a solid thriller: well paced, suspenseful, frequently funny and often genuinely surprising. It is not a run-of-the-mill summer read, but it’s perfect for readers who don’t mind a hint of supernatural chill at the beach.

Berkeley writer Michael Berry is a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, native who has contributed to Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, New Hampshire Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books and many other publications. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: mlberry