Prosperous is a town like no other. To outsiders, it appears liberal, lucky, benevolent to its citizens suffering from loss or hardship. But to its founding families, those who trace their ancestry back, unsullied through the centuries, to the pilgrim fathers of northeastern England, heritage has become something more than sacred, their church, uprooted stone by stone from its English foundations, far more than a place of worship. When a young woman disappears in the town little attention is paid, but when her father Jude, a respected and kind homeless man, is found hanged in Portland, private detective Charlie Parker’s interest is caught. Not least because Parker learns that Jude had been calling in his favours to be able to pay Parker for a few hours of his time.
Charlie Parker is no more ordinary a detective than Prosperous is an ordinary town. He knows better than most, having learned in the most terrible of ways, the demons and angels that walk the Earth. This novel includes loose ends (that’s one way to describe them) from his earlier investigations and they continue to influence events. There is an intriguing blur here between horror and thriller, with horror having the edge, which is not really surprising considering what some people are capable of, not least the residents of the fortunate town of Prosperous.
The Wolf in Winter is the twelfth Charlie Parker novel but it is my first. I was drawn to it after being captivated by the completely different Conquest science fiction novel that John Connolly co-authored last year. With writing that good, the Charlie Parker novels could not be ignored. It’s never easy jumping into a series this established (and popular) but sometimes starting with the latest novel seems a lot less daunting than going right back to the beginning and trying to catch up.
Much of the story of The Wolf in Winter is independent of any other book and so it is very possible to read it, as I did, as a stand alone novel. But as the novel proceeded, especially during the last third, it was clear that I was at a distinct disadvantage when it came to understanding the personality, and demons, of the detective and the people around him. Nevertheless, as far as the story of this particular novel goes, the investigation of the disappearance of the young girl and the murder of her father, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The highlight for me in The Wolf in Winter is without doubt the town of Prosperous. It would be difficult to imagine a town more frightening and sinister, and yet terrifyingly reasonable, than this Godforsaken bit of land. Connolly brings the town to life in all its creepy horror in a style that reminded me of Stephen King. Its inhabitants, its board of selectmen, its police, rule with a fist of iron gloved by velvet. Their corruption, hidden behind small town middle class respectability, exists alongside their predilection for extreme violence. For much of The Wolf in Winter, I was on the edge of my seat. The tension is extreme. As for the wolf who prowls this wintry land, he has met his match.
The tale is divided in two, with part delivered in the first person by Charlie Parker himself, and then the rest by the omnipresent author. Parker himself plays a secondary role to the town and is often absent but his presence is often powerful, not least because we witness the reaction of others to him. Despite everything, there is also a fair bit of humour in the exchanges between his ‘colleagues’ Angel and Louis.
One character that stands out, though, is Jude, the gentle albeit odd homeless man who sets Charlie Parker off on his investigations. Jude is a wonderful creation and the descriptions of his life, end and memory are terribly sad. As a reader, one is desperate for justice for this lost life. It’s upsetting. And it’s easy to understand why Parker, and others we meet during the course of the novel. are so set on retribution. Everything has to be put right, as far as it can be. The price must be paid.
Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard