Right up front I have to admit that I am a huge fan of John Connolly. For me he is right up there with Robert McCammon, Richard Matheson and Stephen King as writers of dark fiction. I wouldn’t call any of them horror writers per se, although they don’t seem particularly offended by it as horror is probably their first literary love anyway. What separates these giants, in my opinion, is that their work, while horrifying at times, never fails to dig deeper into the humanity of the situation. Their characters are complex, often conflicted, and the stories are deep in meaning and emotional impact. Plus, they propel their stories forward in such a way that I can’t help but read them in as few sittings as possible.
I love Connolly’s Charlie Parker series and recommend The Book of Lost Things to anyone I find, but I have limited experience with his short stories so I was very interested to read Night Music. Given that many of these stories are interrelated and some of them novella length, this isn’t really a traditional short story collection—it has a cohesiveness that made it even more enjoyable for me.
The Caxton Private Lending Library and Book Depository and its companion piece Holmes on the Range show that Connolly is not only a mature writer—but like the greats mentioned above, at heart he is still that young man that fell in love with the books he read in his youth. These two stories are homages to great literary characters, and to their writers. I don’t want to spoil even a word of these two stories so I will just say that if you love literature and great characters from Dickens, Doyle etc. these two stories are at times hilarious, and at all times tremendously clever and just plain fun to read.
The Fractured Atlas stories, which tell of a diabolical and hopefully mythical book, is another connected set of tales that have an overarching Lovecraftian type of theme to them. Each story provides a different perspective, and often different time frame, to the overall story of the book. And it is a great story that emerges like peeling the skin off of an onion.
There are a couple of classic style stories such as “Razorshins” and “The Lamia” as well as some that travel unusual territory like the brilliant bit of heresy “Lazarus.” While on the subject of heresy, I have to give a shout out to “The Blood of the Lamb” which is one of the most chilling stories that I have read in a long time. The ending is like stepping into an elevator shaft.
Connolly is very generous in that all of the stories are annotated and give you the details on how they came to be, because as we are told, songs and short stories are not written, they are already there and are merely discovered.
In “I Live Here,” Connolly treats the reader to an extended, and often hilarious, autobiographical section in which he mentions the authors and works that impacted him, as well as, perhaps as interestingly, those that didn’t. I thoroughly enjoyed this section. It felt like the wizard came out from behind the curtain, pulled up a chair, and proceeding to tell you how all of the magic worked---or at least where it came from. However, don’t get too comfortable because “I Live Here” will give you chills as you are asked quite seriously are there people assigned to guard actual dangerous places so that people stay away? What if Hill House (or Hell House for that matter) was in your neighborhood? Would you want to visit? Could you stop yourself?
Of course 5 stars. It’s Connolly so it is brilliant.