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Holler in the Dark

  Dark Hollow
John Connolly
Simon & Schuster, 2001
Rating: 4.1

Posted: October 13, 2001

By Kevin Forest Moreau

John Connolly's first novel, Every Dead Thing, was an astonishingly terse, densely-layered thriller that immediately marked the Dublin-born writer as a talent worth watching. In that book, former New York City police detective Charlie "Bird" Parker tracked down a twisted serial killer known as the Traveling Man -- a killer who'd inexplicably murdered Parker's own wife and child. As Bird's quest took him from New York into the swamps of Louisiana, Connolly displayed a keen natural's eye for characterization that blended elements of The Silence Of The Lambs and James Patterson's popular (if appallingly poorly-written) Alex Cross novels with the knife-edge prose of Dennis Lehane.

With Dark Hollow, the highly-anticipated sequel to Every Dead Thing, Connolly doesn't top his astonishing debut. But he does manage to spin further gold from the same loom, masterfully sketching a fully-realized world for his emotionally fragile P.I. to inhabit. Connolly has crafted what looks to be a winningly detailed and fleshed-out series from a novel so distinguished it seemed of necessity to be of a compact piece.

After the events of Every Dead Thing, Bird retreats to his less-than-bucolic hometown in woodsy Maine, where he begins rebuilding his revered grandfather's house as a way to heal his still-fresh wounds. But Bird doesn't get much downtime in which to repair the house and himself; soon he's caught up in a complex web involving Billy Purdue, a sullen, violent loser whose own estranged wife and son are found murdered just as Billy goes missing. Turns out that Tony Celli, a particularly violent Boston mobster, is after Billy, who's run off with a pile of cash that Celli needs to buy his way back into the good graces of the mob hierarchy.

But a couple of gruesome serial killers are also on Purdue's trail, and Bird, who had a run-in with Billy just before he disappeared, is soon in their sights. Soon Bird is joined by his unlikely comrades-in-arms: Louis, a stealthy contract killer, and his lover and companion Angel, a philosophical burglar who owes Bird his life. As the trio attempts to track down Purdue, they find themselves at odds with a mysterious killer who seems to be the living incarnation of an allegedly allegorical boogeyman named Caleb Kyle.

Along the way, Bird seeks out gifted psychological profiler Rachel Wolfe, who also helped track down the Traveling Man and bears physical and emotional scars of her own from the encounter. Connolly's handling of this strained relationship is affectingly moving, as is Bird's reunion with Lorna Jennings, the wife of the local sheriff, with whom a younger Bird carried out a brief, intense affair many years ago. Although Connolly's introduction of this plot thread feels a bit contrived, Lorna's wistful fragility is rendered with precise, controlled strokes.

Indeed, Connolly's characterization, particularly in regards to Bird and his two hardened allies, is richly detailed throughout. Likewise, the unfolding of the plot, while not quite up to the taut, bone-chilling pace of the previous book, is likewise deftly handled, as Connolly skillfully weaves together his disparate threads. And the writer's handling of Parker's "I see dead people" ability to briefly commune with the spirits of the recently deceased is especially well-executed, floating in the vague space between dreamlike foreshadowing and hokey sci-fi deus ex machina. This gift, bestowed during the events of Every Dead Thing, underlines the brutal and tragic nature of the killings by linking them to Bird's own very fresh pain, and he undertakes to bring Caleb Kyle to justice in part out of a sense of responsibility to act as avenger for those murdered in so traumatic a fashion.

There are some lags in the text -- the killer's seemingly supernatural bearing is a bit forced, and the final confrontation between Bird and Kyle strangely undercuts the book's heretofore stomach-tightening pull. Also, the revelations surrounding the killer lack the punch of the unmasking of the Traveling Man, whose connection to Bird made Every Dead Thing all the more haunting. Quite simply, there's no real emotional link between Bird and Kyle, the lack of which somehow drags the book down to the level of a merely very competent serial killer thriller. Still, although it never quite reaches the same heights, Dark Hollow is nevertheless a superb, expertly-written and effectively compelling thriller that succeeds in building on its predecessor's primeval power and tension.

Recommended Reading
Mystery and thriller fans who enjoyed The Silence Of The Lambs should seek out Every Dead Thing before tackling Dark Hollow. Likewise, those taken with Connolly's visceral prose should seek out the similarly dark and textured works of Dennis Lehane, most notably Darkness, Take My Hand and Gone, Baby, Gone.


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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A masterwork
 4.0-4.9: Great read
 3.0-3.9: Well done
 2.0-2.9: Ordinary
 1.1-1.9: Sub par
 0.0-1.0: Horrendous

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