The 19th novel in Charlie Parker the series hardly features John Connolly’s troubled detective. Instead, this story belongs to his staff Louis and Angel. Lovers as well as partners in crime, they are a study in contrasts. Louis is black, always misrepresented and a cold-blooded assassin. Angel is white, dressed dressed and recovering from cancer, and a thief who will fight if he also has it, but preferably not. They are drawn into the story of the murder of Louis’ friend and fixer De Jaager in Amsterdam.
A decade ago, Louis De Jaager helped stage the assassination of a Serb named Andrej Buha. Buha had killed the man of De Jaager’s sister-in-law. He was a fighter for the Serbian mob in the Netherlands, and his sadistic love of violence first came to the attention of his bosses, Spiridon and Radovan Vulksan, when he committed atrocities in the Balkan conflict in the 1990s. After working their way to the top of the pile of organized crime, the Vulksan brothers are now in their late mid-twenties, settling old points before a proposed retirement back in Serbia. The thoughtful, calculating Radovan was against killing De Jaager, but Spiridon, impulsive, sadistic, would not be denied.
Last year’s The Dirty South felt like something of a reset to the series; it was a more downright criminal story than we are used to from Connolly, certainly much more than the previous Woman in the Woods and A Book of Bones, which together served as an epic story in which supernatural and cosmic horror were strongly highlighted. While The Nameless Ones offers a bit of Eastern European folklore, here the classic mystery format is exchanged for that of an action thriller.
Louis is being assessed by his friend’s death by fake FBI agents and sent abroad to kill with the knowledge that there will be no legal consequences. The following is an adrenaline-fueled hunt through Amsterdam, Austria and finally South Africa, as the volcanoes find their opportunities increasingly limited. It turns out that the powers of Serbia, eager to see legitimacy granted to their country upon entry into the EU, regard the volcanoes as an embarrassment. Like so many powerful people in front of them, the brothers are surprised to find that time has passed them by.
Connolly has long had a reputation for writing the best villains, and they are no disappointment in The Nameless Ones. Vulksans are well drawn and their relationship is constantly felt on the verge of collapse. Connolly has chosen the Balkan conflict as the well from which he can draw his antagonists, and he is careful not to fall into the trap of trivializing this humanitarian catastrophe for the sake of fiction. An author’s note precedes the story, places the conflict in its proper context and acknowledges its complexity. The novel is graphic in its depiction of the results of cruelty, though much of the actual violence happens outside the page. I had to go back to Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog trilogy to find another story so imbued with violence.
Zorya, perhaps a young girl, perhaps a crown and a creature of European mythology, provides the link to Charlie Parker through her dead daughter Jennifer. She travels through this world and one after and controls Vulksans, but finds herself haunted by Jennifer’s spirit. Her death feels like a release.
As much as I enjoy Louis and Angel, the absence of the main detective leaves a gap and probably means this is not the best book for new readers to dip their toe into the series. I would suggest either starting at the beginning with Every Dead Thing or The Dirty South. If you are not looking for a new series, I can see that it will work as a great standalone thriller. Supporters of Connolly will, of course, push it up.
Why not take a look at our Charlie Parker primer or check out our review of The Woman in the Woods?
Hodder & Stoughton
Print / Kindle / Audio
CFL rating: 4 stars