Deep in the Maine woods, a tree falls and unearths the remains of a woman, the only mark of her grave a Star of David carved into a nearby tree. Soon, a wave of violence will disrupt the lives of a handful of people as the search for the woman's child ensues, and the book the woman once possessed in the days leading to her demise. Drawn into this is Charlie Parker, a private investigator touched by darkness, and for whom violence surrounds him.
The Woman in the Woods is the 16th entry in John Connolly's Charlie Parker series, and its opening chapters carry with it an unmistakable dread. The threat and promise of death looms large over this series, naturally, but it feels more prominent here, more like a warning. Or, perhaps, more like a preparation. Parker and his associates are growing older, as is the author himself, who recently celebrated his 50th birthday, and who has been writing about Parker for going on 20 years. I can't help but feel like Connolly is beginning to move his pieces closer toward an end game, tightening the narrative threads of particular concepts introduced in previous entries and forcing his characters to reflect on the nature of their demise as a close ally to Parker faces the threat of cancer. Of course, long-time readers will know that not even death can spell the end of a character's story, but it still feels like the noose is tightening around the series and that its finale is soon to be upon us.
As with prior novels, Connolly gives us heartless killers with odd afflictions, detours into the supernatural, and glimpses of an overarching narrative involving the war of good against evil. In The Woman in the Woods, we find evil particularly emboldened. I believe this is the first Parker novel written squarely amidst the turmoil of the Trump presidency, a presidency that has served only to empower white supremacists. Beyond the murderous Quayle and his companion Mors, there is the threat of white supremacy and the burgeoning increase in bigotry and racism as represented by the Stonehursts, the youngest of whom rides around in a truck decorated with Confederate flags. Naturally, Luis takes some issues with this northernmost Confederate idiot, allowing readers to live vicariously in the nitwit's comeuppance. It's interesting to see how the Trump regime has impacted some of my favorite authors and their responses to the creeping nature of this odious moron's hate into their work. In Stephen King's The Outsider, we saw graves desecrated by swastikas, and Nicholas Sansbury Smith's Trackers series has provided a good bit of Neo-Nazi-punching heroics. Sadly, the normalizing of these repugnant attitudes by the right-wing is now common place and hate crimes have been on the rise ever since Trump took office, so it's quite refreshing to see characters like Charlie Parker and Luis taking a stand against this all-too human evil. Their actions and reactions toward the Stonehursts had me smiling rather happily along the way, and I suspect this family of rich racists will be playing a larger role in the books to come.
There are few series that I look forward to with as much anticipation as a new Charlie Parker novel, and The Woman in the Woods delivers on a number of fronts. The characters and dialogue are as sharp as ever, and Connolly infuses the narrative with a sense of creeping dread, one that promises to deliver even more worry and upset in the near future. While I suspect we're finally getting close to the end of Parker's ultimate story, I certainly hope I'm wrong. There's nothing I'd like more than to keep on reading Connolly's series for many, many more years to come, but if the end of near, I believe Parker and company will be going out on a high note, and the end began here, with the discovery of a dead woman lost in the woods.
[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the publisher, Atria/Emily Bestler Books, via NetGalley.]
View all my reviews