NOCTURNES by John Connolly is a collection of short fiction. The stories are bookended by two extended tales set in the United States, while the balance of the remaining thirteen tales takes place in Connolly's native British Isles. Of those thirteen, nine are transcripts of stories written for presentation on BBC's Radio Four. All are --- to varying degrees --- a wild, terrifying ride.
"The Cancer Cowboy Rides" opens NOCTURNES. It is somewhat reminiscent of a Stephen King tale --- the story of a being who intentionally spreads a fast-acting terminal cancer by casual contact. This is a terrifying story, one that will have you avoiding the handclasps and bumps of strangers, and the jostle of crowds.
The closing story, "The Reflecting Eye," is a Charlie Parker novella that fills over one-fourth of the book. It finds Parker waiting with Rachel for the birth of their child. Their quiet peace is disturbed when Parker somewhat reluctantly undertakes an investigation at the behest of the owner of an abandoned house, once occupied by an infamous serial killer of children. A photograph of an unknown girl has turned up in the mailbox. It may not mean anything, but Parker can't take the chance, given that there may be someone, or something, waiting within the nether reaches of the house, poised to kill again.
"The Reflecting Eye," as with other Parker tales, flirts with the supernatural, though Connolly perhaps delves deeper into the genre than he has previously. While "The Reflecting Eye" will only whet the appetite of Parker fans --- it is an appetizer, not a full meal --- it does introduce a dark, mysterious character known as The Collector, who may play a role in future Parker novels and is worth reading for that reason alone.
The remaining stories in NOCTURNES are tinged with Lovecraftian touches and are quite well done, even if the topics are familiar ones. I have been reading Lovecraft and variations of his Cthulhu mythos for a long time, and I'm always pleasantly (or unpleasantly) surprised. "The Wakeford Abyss," for example, had me yelling, "Oh shoot! Shoot! Darn!" (or words to that effect) when I finished this creepy, claustrophobic tale of two spelunkers who decide to explore a cavelike abyss that the rural locals tend to leave to itself. Forests aren't any safer either as you'll discover after reading "The Erlking," which will not only have you skirting the edge of the local woods that your beagle likes to run through, but also will result in you giving that locking latch on your windows an extra tug to make sure they're shut.
Moving? Well, "Nocturne" will ensure that you check out the history of that little fixer-upper that the realtor is so keen on selling you, the one where the previous owner liked to play the piano for all the children in the neighborhood. And if you're wondering why that daughter of yours is acting so...differently as she approaches adolescence, the answer is right there in "The New Daughter." Check out that doll collection. And what's in it.
NOCTURNES demonstrates the range as well as the depth of Connolly's talent. Hopefully this volume won't be overlooked due to its trade paperback format, but will instead open up Connolly to a new audience, while his longtime fans will find more than enough to keep them entertained. Recommended, with the lights on.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub