Whilst I freely admit to having any number of considerations when selecting a book to read it’s not really the case that any of them are complex or demanding to fulfil. Indeed price is most decidedly a determination when taking a chance on something, but I will pay whatever rate is put in front of me for my favourite authors, look you see.
The main expectation I have is that the novel should be self-contained. This is to say that it should make clear whether or not it is part of a series, and I should not need to have any specifically researched knowledge or information at hand in order to understand or appreciate it. Not too demanding, I think.
With that in mind, then, here I am, apparently reviewing one book which is number 14 in a series, and one book which perhaps benefits from some level of prior knowledge.
A quick, spoiler free overview for those of you in something of a rush? Sure. A Time Of Torment by John Connolly is the 14th novel proper (there’s been a couple of short stories here and there) to feature detective Charlie Parker as the protagonist. It’s one of the best ones of the series. Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll at times feels like a homage to the early works of Bret Easton Ellis, but ultimately is quite a thought provoking, troubling novel.
Right, as ever a fabulous, colourful *** SPOILER WARNING *** is ahead of you for the rest of this post, so you’ve been most decidedly warned. Also, all links are for ease of reference, and are no endorsement or affiliation of mine. Although I am considering switching on ads here, Magic tells me I could earn some formidable coin by doing so.
A Time Of Torment by John Connolly? It was a most kind and very welcome birthday gift off of my family, the 3 who form the 75% of my immediate family who you all like and prefer to me, which is understandable.
Plot? You remember the spoiler warning, yeah? Well here that relates to the previous 13 novels featuring the main character. Charlie Parker is about as recovered from the near fatal attack as he ever will be, and is using his time on earth to seek out those who have committed great evils and somehow escaped. Not that he delivers a form of justice himself as such, but he does present the guilty with the option of surrendering to the authorities or face horrors far worse than they have inflicted.
Parker still does detective work, as and when it appeals. He is intrigued when someone who was once hailed as a hero but was convicted for rather disturbing crimes approaches him. He claims to be innocent of what he was charged with, but no longer cares – he just cares that two other people, absolutely innocent of any wrongdoing, have been harmed as a consequence and he wants them to be helped or at the least their fate found. Parker agrees, and sets off to find out what happens.
This is a really, really, really good novel. It would work in its own right, but alas it is not and I suspect one would have to have a working knowledge of the previous books to follow many aspects of the narrative. In a refreshing change the whole thing is in flat third person, rather than the alternating first / third person Connolly has done with the last few. The character Parker is also allowed to do some clear, crystal cut detective work, something that was the initial appeal of the series and something that has perhaps become a bit clouded in the last few.
Quite harrowing and dark at places, ultimately as I suggested at this is a brilliant read. The only real problem I have is the title of it. For some reason John Connolly has gotten very excited about alliteration of late, what with this, A Wolf In Winter and the upcoming A Game Of Ghosts. This novel should have been called, for reasons all too clear as and when you read, The Dead King. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if someone picked this up to film as a standalone thing and named the movie adaptation that.
Luckiest Girl Alive. Good, I say. As easy as this is to say, I handled correctly it could well be a very powerful and important film. But that’s for another day, here we are with the book.
Provenance of my copy? Tesco, by the look of it, on the cheap or part of a 2 for ₤7 deal. Other than the striking cover, what drew me to select it was that it had been quite heavily promoted, and suggested for people who loved The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. As that was one of the finest novels I read, off I went and got it.
Plot? Difficult to say without giving much away, as much of my conversation or comments about it will be tricky. Here goes. Our narrator is 28 year old Ani. She’s a successful writer at a top magazine, and is soon to be married to a rather wealthy, well to do suitor. At the same time, she has agreed to be part of a documentary about what happened to and around her in her youth. These are harrowing, torturous and shocking things in themselves, but there is worse in the aftermath. Do be warned, for this is stuff tough for those who are usually difficult to unsettle.
Again, I am keen to avoid spoilers or giving too much away. I can’t really discuss much of the plot or events, then. I would say, however, that if you are aware of interviews Jessica Knoll has given then you are prepared for some of what you will face in the book.
My initial reaction, to the first few chapters, was that this was all some sort of homage to Bret Easton Ellis, in particular the more college based Less Than Zero and Rules of Attraction. The characters certainly seemed to inhabit the same sense of living. Rather than rip-off I suspected that this tone was deliberate, echoing a comment on aspects of American society from some 30 years ago to show that it prevails today. My take would be that this is right.
Again, skirting around anything that would distract your own reading, for me the most interesting dynamic I can speak of is the narrative style. It’s first person, and we well and truly do have an unreliable narrator. However, and yes perhaps as was the case with The Girl On The Train, it’s the reasons around why the narrator is unreliable that makes it so effective. Broadly, it’s not deliberately unreliable. That sounds confusing, but you know what I mean, kind of.
The subject matter of Luckiest Girl Alive is dark, harrowing but also topical – as much in America as it is around the world. In this day and age of blink and you miss it, sensationalised “clickbait” poorly done news, I would suggest that this novel is highly insightful and gives one much to think about and dwell upon.
You see, look, this is tricky to conclude. These are two brilliant novels that I would not hesitate to recommend or otherwise endorse. It’s just that one kind of needs you to have read 13 books before it (which I have, over the last 17 or so years), and the other is likely to trouble and upset people, having the confront things that perhaps normally they would turn the page on. But, hey, you’re grown up enough to use the internet, so you can make your own mind up. If my comments have somehow helped in deciding, well then so much the better.
Fate has taken me to Tesco a number of times in the last few weeks. As they would appear to have a special promotion where they sell selected titles for ₤2 a go each week I have a formidable stockpile of books to get through This is quite handy, as the cigarette counter at Morrisons seems to have given up on selling them.
Thanks, as ever and very much, for reading.
be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!