A Time of Torment by John Connolly is the 14th book in the Charlie Parker series that sees the hardened PI facing down a strange, isolated community called the Cut (Available today!).
The beginning of A Time of Torment finds PI Charlie Parker physically diminished from injuries that brought him very close to death, but still very much in the fight. When he’s approached by Jerome Burnel, who just got out of prison, he doesn’t know what to think of the soft spoken man. At first.
Jerome was a hero before he went to jail. He shot and killed two thieves during a convenience store robbery, putting himself in grave danger. Soon after the shooting, however, the authorities were alerted to child pornography found in his house and on his computer, and off to jail he went. He claims he’s innocent though, and Parker believes him. He also claims that his life is in danger from those that he claims set him up and asks Parker for help in bringing them down. This investigation will lead him to an insular and murderous West Virginia community called the Cut:
The Cut wasn’t a large area-maybe only ten square miles in total-but it was all private land, and those who lived within its boundaries kept themselves to themselves, or as much as was possible in the twenty-first century.
Technically, in Appalachian terms, it was a cove, a valley between two ridges, but it was shallow rather than deep, with the gentle declination of the terrain barely noticeable as one moved farther into the Cut’s territory. That was the other thing: the Cut was both the place itself and its inhabitants. They lived in the Cut, and were the Cut. It was in and of them, and they in turn were of it. Sometimes its people were referred to in the singular, but just as often as the plural: the Cut “is,” the Cut “are.” It was of no consequence. It was all the same, for it was all the Cut. This might have proved confusing for outsiders, but the people of Plassey County did their best not to refer to the Cut at all, and certainly not to strangers. It was better that way.
The people of the Cut use crime to fund their needs, and they’re not above murder, whether in revenge or otherwise. But, they’ve never met anyone like Charlie Parker—aided by his friends Angel and Louis and a sheriff determined to see the Cut demolished, he plans to bring the apocalypse down on them and find out the truth behind rumors of an entity called the Dead King.
A dead king, then, is a kind of effigy, typically centered on the skull of a victim, but very rare, even it its most basic form, and the creation of one, as far as we can tell, is entirely the preserve of the most extreme of criminal groups or gangs.
You serve a dead king. You’re its subject. As it is added to, and its potency grows, so too does its hold on those who created it increase.
I remember when I read Every Dead Thing, the first book in the Charlie Parker series, and how much it blew me away. Thirteen books in and the series is still going strong. It has everything I look for in a story: a tough cop/PI, emotionally resonant prose, and even echoes of the supernatural.
John Connolly writes with his always superb, poetic prose, and its beauty is in wonderful contrast to the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle (one bad guy has dentures made of razor blades), horrors he describes.
Charlie is a quietly moral, flawed man, but his heroism lies in his intolerance of injustice and his willingness to go the distance in order to fight it. Louis and Angel are capable, cranky, and deadly as always, and a storyline involving Parker’s little girl, Sam, and the ghost of his daughter, Jennifer, adds a spooky layer to the novel, while providing plenty of fodder for future stories.
The Cut is a terrifying place, and just when you think they’ve exceeded the bounds of criminality, it’s obvious that they are truly beyond the pale, and repulsive is too nice of a descriptive. Fans of the series will not be disappointed, and although I’d recommend starting at the beginning of the series, new fans will find much to love in Connolly’s incredible talent for creating creeping, atmospheric dread.
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