2019’s A Book of Bones is the 18th book in John Connolly’s CHARLIE PARKER series. This series is dark, with a thriller plot steeped in supernatural elements. Over the years, we’ve seen Parker, his human helpers Louis and Angel, and his supernatural protectors Sam and Jennifer face a variety of entities. A Book of Bones seems to resolve most of the issues around a specific Not-God and an evil murderous cult called the Familists. The two nasty villains, a book collector named Quayle and a creepy woman called Pallida Mors — a play on “Pale Death” — return from the previous book, and Parker is on their trail.
Parker is giving evidence in a child sex-trafficking case in Texas when he is called away by his FBI connection, Special Agent in Charge Ross, to a body dump in Arizona. All the signs point to this being a cartel murder, and the victim bears a resemblance to Mors, who was wounded by Louis in the previous book. Parker’s skeptical, though. He thinks this is a false trail and instead uncovers information that leads him to Amsterdam and London, where Quayle has his home base. Louis, Angel and an antiquarian bookseller named Bob Johnston come along.
Quayle, who is unnaturally long-lived, is searching for the final few pages of the mystical Atlas that will open the gates to other worlds, destroying this one. He thought he had found the final pages, but Parker confounded him. Quayle knows another way to fracture our world, though, and he has set that plan in motion through Mors.
The book shifts points of view, from Parker to Quayle, to the sordid Mors and a couple of different men, who are carrying out ritualistic murders on the command of Mors. Midway through the book we begin reading ephemera: letters, diary entries, scraps of historical accounts of encounters with the Atlas. Another supernatural entity makes an appearance about three-fourths of the way through the book, and I think Connolly is setting up the next book in the series.
A Book of Bones seemed much too long for its story. The thriller structure often uses POV shifts to increase the suspense, and this is nothing new in the PARKER series, but I found it hard to track in this one. Part of the problem is that the book, while moody and atmospheric as always, moved slowly. Part of it was that I hit my threshold of unpleasantness before I reached the end of the book, and we are in so many bad people’s heads for so long. The ephemera, a technique I usually love, irritated me because I wanted to get back to the story of Parker, Quayle, Johnston, Mors, and the Atlas.
On the plus side, the use of an historic British chapel and its famous stained glass windows was inventive and frightening, and I genuinely enjoyed the character of Bob. Angel had a brush with mortality in the previous book, and watching him and Louis deal with the consequences is interesting. As with all the Parker books, A Book of Bones is sprinkled with bits of dark wit and irreverent whimsy, like when Parker orders pizza and champagne for the two FBI agents assigned to escort him to Arizona, since they’re relegated to a chain hotel while Parker is put up in a five-star hotel suite. Parker charges the feast to SAC Ross’s account. That was fun, and funny.
If you plan to continue reading the CHARLIE PARKER series, you must read this one because much of it is clearly setting up the next multibook arc. In fact, that is one of its flaws. I don’t think the book’s full attention is on Parker’s story here, and it shows.