Evidence of the Uncanny: MysteryPeople Q&A with John Connolly

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

John Connolly’s latest Charlie Parker novel, Game Of Ghosts, has the detective searching for another detective gone missing while investigating a case involving hauntings. Parker’s search takes him to a centuries-old crime organization run by a creepy matriarch and her son. It is another one of Connolly’s masterpieces of gothic hard-boiled. We were lucky to track down the master himself for this Q&A.

MysteryPeople Scott: Did having Charlie track down another detective allow you to examine Parker in a different way?

John Connolly: I suppose it’s a variation on the classic “missing person” case, with the idea of one investigator following the path of another. I suppose what’s interesting about Eklund is that, on some levels, he’s not entirely unlike Parker: he is alone, he has perceived what he believes to be evidence of the uncanny in the world, and he is being paid off the books by the same government agency that keeps Parker on retainer. But Eklund is a much more ambiguous character than Parker, and it becomes clear that he’s been hiding secrets.

MPS: Correct me if you think I’m wrong, but this book appeared to have more supernatural elements than the last few of the series. Is there a particular reason for this?

JC: Actually, it can probably be read as having no supernatural aspects at all, just as A Time of Torment could, or A Song of Shadows. What matters is not what is believed by the people Parker is hunting, but how those beliefs bring harm into the world. That’s a recurrent theme in the books, and you only have to look at current events to see why. At no point in the book is Parker presented with any evidence of the supernatural, and that was quite deliberate. In a way, I wanted to write a novel in which the detective is always a step behind not just his quarry, but also the reader, and in which, one could argue, his influence is largely peripheral. Every book should be an experiment.

MPS: There is a strong subplot with Angel. What did you want to explore with him?

JC: Aging. Mortality. These men are older than Parker, and Parker is (allowing for a little leeway on the years, as the series hasn’t aged him year by year) certainly in his mid-fifties at least. I think it’s the vulnerability of Angel and Louis, and their awareness of it, that causes the reader to feel for them.

MPS: Mother and her son Phillip are two of your more creepier characters. How did they come about in creating them?

JC: The creation of characters isn’t a planned process, or even an entirely conscious one. I write slowly, step by step, without really knowing exactly where I’m going with the plot, at least at the start. That’s similar to Parker’s process, and the reader’s process of discovering the book. It’s the only way I’d want to write. So the arrival of characters, particularly the shadier ones, is, for me, a function of the subconscious. I’d hate to sit down and describe a character to myself before I’d begun writing. I don’t think I’d be happy with that level of conscious contrivance. To put it another way, for me part of the pleasure of writing lies in discovering the narrative.

MPS: Charlie’s daughter Sam is playing a bigger role in each book. What has she provided to the series?

JC: Ambiguity. The sense that Parker is a pawn for larger forces. And just as he doesn’t understand the role he has to play, neither, I think, does Sam. She’s too young. She’s still in the process of formation. She has inklings, only some of which she has shared with her father, but she doesn’t have a clear picture.  

MPS: You once said something along the lines that the detective novel is application of logic while horror deals with the lack of it. How do you deal with those opposing ideas when combining the genres?

JC: I don’t think that’s quite it, but it’s close. The detective novel is primarily rationalistic, while supernatural fiction is anti-rational (which isn’t the same thing as irrational). For me, the combination of the two is pretty easy, because it’s how most of us deal with the world. We understand that some aspects of it adhere to rationality (although fewer than we’d like to think), but a lot of it, human beings included, is not entirely rational, or can’t be understand on a rational basis alone. People are stranger than rationalism allows. The universe, at the level of the smallest particles (which can, theoretically, be in two places at once) is strange. The Parker novels simply embrace this tension between the rational and the anti-rational, and do so by mingling two genres which are often seen as antithetical, but which are, in fact, entirely complementary.

A Game of Ghosts comes out today! You can find copies on our shelves or via bookpeople.com. 

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