My rating: 1 of 5 stars
All the Charlie Parker thrillers have had a similar pattern of late: standalone thrillers, with the detective and Angel and Louis almost tangential characters, the former studiously hard-assed and doomed, and the latter like a Laurel and Hardy pairing for some often much-needed comic relief (though this time around we get Jewish jokes as well as the inevitable gay jokes).
Then there are a few bones tossed in to appease the overall story arc. The latter has increasingly taken the rather Dickensian form of characters defined by their names: the Collector, the Travelling Man, the Hollow Men, the Believers. And now, with The Wolf in Winter, we have the Green Man, the Radix malorum (the ‘root of all evil’), the Long Ride and the Backers. Oh, and let us not forget the Principal Backer.
I think Connolly himself has a sense of how ridiculous this is all becoming, with him thanking his Constant Readers “for continuing to read these odd little books.” The problem for him and his publisher is that, although there is a central protagonist, this is not a series like Jeffrey Deaver (having said that, there is a moment towards the end, especially with the reappearance of a key character, the identity of which I will not divulge, where I thought Connolly was parodying the pairing of Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs.)
It is almost impossible for the casual reader to jump in at, say, this point of the series. I mean, it is hard enough for the dedicated fan to keep track of all the breakaway factions and things that go bump-in-the-night. In terms of the latter: much has been made of Connolly’s ‘literary’ fusion of the hardboiled detective novel with supernatural elements. However, I have always thought that Charlie Parker is hugely indebted to Chris Carter’s Frank Black from Millennium. And, frankly, the Charlie Parker books stopped being truly original or even remotely unsettling since The Killing Kind.
What dismayed me so much about The Wolf in Winter – and it is a much better book, in fact, than The Burning Soul or The Wrath of Angels – is that Connolly seems to have botched a perfectly legitimate end game to his series. If he is trying to have his cake and eat it – by which I mean place Charlie Parker entirely in the shadows – and yet carry on with Louis and Angel as main protagonists … that would be a disaster, I think.
So while the ending of The Wolf in Winter is ‘reader-friendly’, I felt it subverted a much bleaker conclusion. The book kind of idles along for almost two-thirds, then takes a sudden dip into an unexpected darkness that Connolly, unfortunately, does not take advantage of.