Book reviews: John Connolly shows again why he’s the best in the crime business
Plus: it’s been worth the wait for Edna O’Brien's The Little Red Chairs and John Williams' cult classic Stoner to make it into audiobook
A Time of Torment
by John Connolly (read by Jeff Harding)
Hodder & Stoughton
I never tire of saying that John Connolly is, to my mind, the best crime writer in the business. His prose offers lessons in how excitement, unease, violence, lyricism, humour and melancholy can mix, all spiced with dashes of horror. Take this early description of Connolly’s latest villain, Roger Ormsby: “But when he closed his front door behind him the artificial light in his eyes was suffocated, and the face of the Gray Man was pendent like a dead moon in the blackness of his pupils.” Connolly’s bad men tend to be bad-evil or evil-lurking-within-seeming-good. If Ormsby is the latter in its nastiest form, his counterpart, Jerome Burnel, offers a more illusory version: a man accused of the worst crimes who stubbornly protests his innocence. This understandably attracts Charlie Parker, Connolly’s increasingly daunting hero, who treads his own fine line between guilt and innocence. There is still plenty of humour, thanks to Parker’s bickering sidekicks, Angel and Louis, but the mood is darkening: his quest to solve his family’s murder; the presence of his daughter’s ghost. The only downside is the wait for Parker episode 15. Extras: a limited edition version with accompanying music compilation.
The Little Red Chairs
by Edna O’Brien (read by Juliet Stevenson)
Whole Story Audiobooks
It’s taken a little while for Edna O’Brien’s The Little Red Chairs, her first novel in a decade, to make it to audiobook, but it has been worth the wait. Not only is the story a reminder of a pulsating talent, but the narrator is Juliet Stevenson, the fine English actress and more than accomplished audiobook narrator. The set-up challenges if not quite beggars belief. Vladimir Dragan is a self-anointed healer who settles in rural Ireland. Having marketed himself as a sex therapist, Dragan turns out to be one of the world’s most wanted war criminals. Mind-bendingly, O’Brien is working from life: sex therapist was the exact disguise assumed by Radovan Karadzic when he was arrested in 2008. The wolfish, Rasputin-like Dragan charms and seduces the community, but can’t erase suspicions about him. His unmasking is wonderfully done, but is only the beginning for those in the Irish village. The horrific weight falls on Fidelma, a startling creation perfect for Stevenson’s quiet confidentiality which grows ever more unsettling as her fate unravels. It’s worth downloading just to hear Stevenson wrap her larynx around lines like: “From the slenderest twigs of the overhanging trees in the Folk Park, the melting ice drips, with the soft, susurrus sound …” Superb.
by John Williams (read by Alfred Molina )
Random House Audiobooks
If it’s felt like a long time for O’Brien’s The Little Red Chairs to make it to audiobook, it has taken something like eternity for John Williams’ Stoner to be ready for download. One could argue this is par for the course. Stoner’s long-brewing success story began on its first publication all the way back in 1965. Despite strong reviews the novel had to wait until the next millennium to gain a widespread readership – thanks initially to the success of translations across Europe, and then via the championing of writers like Julian Barnes and John McGahern, who provides a handy introduction. Little wonder Barnes loved the book. William Stoner’s is a life of gradual, and then more rapid disappointment, all given shape by his passion for literature. This changes his life – when he reads Shakespeare’s 73rd sonnet. Yet teaching great art doesn’t guarantee great happiness, and Stoner’s life fails to launch, professionally or romantically. Alfred Molina is a suitably A-list and hangdog narrator. He reads lines like “He saw the potentialities of prose and its beauties, and he looked forward to animating his students with the sense of what he perceived” like he has just been told his parrot is extremely unwell. Listen, for sure, but choose a sunny day.