Review: The Woman in the Woods by John Connolly
By Ardi AlspachJune 11, 2018
The Woman in the Woods by John Connolly is the 16th book in the Charlie Parker series, where the body of a woman—who apparently died in childbirth—is discovered, and Parker is hired to track down both her identity and her missing child.
Irish writer John Connolly has won the Agatha, Anthony, Barry, Edgar, and Shamus awards for his work, and he is perhaps most well-known for the Charlie Parker series that began with Every Dead Thing back in 1999. If you haven’t come across these novels before, now is a great time to start. The 16th installment of the series, The Woman in the Woods, is out this summer, and while I’m sure longtime fans will be overjoyed, those just now discovering the series will find much to enjoy about it as well. It’s a smart and spooky supernatural thriller starring a private detective who often finds himself at odds with the law while always, in the end, trying to do what’s right.
The story begins in a bar in Portland, Maine. Charlie and his longtime friend Louis are catching up over drinks while Louis’s partner recovers from cancer surgery in New York City. Louis is a man with a dark past that includes the lynching of his father and revenge for the same, so when they exit the bar and see a truck covered in Confederate flags, he decides to blow it up.
Meanwhile, we turn to the story of a young boy and his mother, as different from each other as night and day. Connolly’s turn of phrase really shines in this moment as he switches from the rough words to describe Parker and Louis to the more fantastical:
His eyes, quite dark, were fixed on the woman before him: Holly, his mother, although had one been separated from the other, no stranger would have reunited them by sight alone. She was blond where Daniel was ebony, ruddy where he was wan, light to his shade. She love him—had loved him from the first—but his temperament, like his coloring, was alien to hers. A changeling, some might have said, left in the cradle while her true son—less troubled than this one, gentler in his soul—was taken to dwell deep below the earth with the older beings, and light up their hollows with his spirit.
The juxtaposition of this deeply imaginative and lyrical prose against the ugliness of the world in which Parker inhabits is a theme throughout the novel and perhaps makes this a detective story unlike any other.
Soon, we learn that the body of a woman showing signs of having just given birth was found in the woods near Daniel and Holly Weaver’s part of the state. Though her death was not a homicide, signs at the grave indicate that she was not alone—and that the baby is missing. Moxie Castin, a lawyer, has hired Parker to shadow the police investigation and see if he can locate the child. In the meantime, bodies are beginning to pile up in other parts of the country as two others—Quayle and his assistant, Pallida Mors—are also on the hunt for the child. But it’s not just the child they want.
At this point, the supernatural comes into play. It’s a subtle thing, woven into the story so seamlessly that it doesn’t jar against the realism of this world that Connolly has created. Quayle is something other, and his partner Mors is even more so. And it’s not actually the child they want. It’s something altogether evil that was left with the child. Something that could bring Hell to Earth.
Parker is dealing with the all too real consequences of Louis’s actions, a hunt for a missing child, a police force that’s reluctant to work with him thanks to his shady past, and mysterious and horrifying entities out to destroy reality as we know it. Though the book weighs in at a hefty 496 pages, the story moves at a breakneck pace as events come to a head in a rather startling finale. Will Parker outwit his enemies? And what consequences will his actions have on the fate of humanity? We’re left hanging on those questions, but not in a way that ruins the resolve of the primary mystery related to the missing child and the woman in the woods. It only compels the reader to seek out more in this series and leaves us with a promise of more to come after this one.