The 5th book in the Charlie Parker series, The Black Angel is probably the most ambitious work that author John Connolly has undertaken yet. Lurking behind the seemingly mundane, though by no means less disturbing, murder of a New York prostitute lies a more horrifying tale of evil featuring fallen angels and their insidious spread on earth. This is a compelling book that combines the modern day thriller with the dank realm of the myth and supernatural with spine tingling results.
The story opens with a presentation of the myth that will drive the entire story. This myth involves The Black Angels known as Ashmael and Immael who gloried in the death and destruction that they brought down on the earth in the form of wars, rape and murder. But then Immael was confronted by a Cistercian monk and in the ensuing battle fell into a vast vat of molten silver where he was trapped, cast as a silver statue, and hidden. Ever since, Ashmael his brother has been searching for the map detailing where Immael was held. The map had been separated into fragments and scattered around the world. Should Immael be freed, an unthinkable fury would be unleashed on the world.
Charlie Parker is a Maine private investigator who is still haunted by the death of his wife and daughter with a guilt that refuses to be diminished. He now has another baby daughter, Sam, and a girlfriend, Rachel, who he loves very much, but the strain of his dangerous job plus his inability to move on in life is taking its toll on their relationship.
This strain is multiplied when, at his daughter's christening no less, he is caught up in the disappearance and possible murder of Louis' cousin Alice. Louis is Charlie's murderous, gay business partner, an extremely dangerous man from whom Rachel maintains a disapproving distance. Rightly or wrongly, Charlie immediately joins in the search for Alice leaving his girlfriend and daughter at home putting into doubt yet another relationship.
The book separates into two stories here. The first is the investigation of Alice's disappearance as Charlie, Louis and Louis' partner Angel hit the streets of New York to try to retrace Alice's last known steps. The retribution that Louis is known for will come swiftly and brutally when he founds out the person responsible for any harm that has been done to his cousin. This part of the story is your standard hardboiled thriller filled with street violence, crime and fast-paced action.
Now enter the Other side of the story. We know that the "person" behind Alice's murder is a man known as Brightwell, a huge monstrous man with a frightening disregard for human life and an unquenchable need to kill. But more frightening about this man is that he appears to have supernatural powers that he uses to gruesome effect on his victims. Brightwell leads a secret group of people known as "Believers" who are all on the hunt for the elusive fragments of the missing map. When they track down a piece they go to any lengths to acquire it, with devastating results.
Their mistake is unintentionally made by drawing Parker and his partners into the mix, although it seems that there will be no stopping Brightwell and his evil plans, even after Brightwell senses that there is something special about Parker, a terrible truth that could go a long way towards explaining his tragic past.
The Black Angel is a superbly satisfying thriller that delves deeply into mythology, dragging us back to the 15th century with stirring historical stories before taking us to the present and the horrifying evil that has resulted. From European monasteries to grim ossuaries and vast monuments to the dead, talk of apocrypha and the Book of Enoch to the creepy hobbyists who deal in the sale of human bones and the statues from which they are made this is a complex, yet rather creepy book.
For the fans of the series, there are numerous references to events from earlier books as well as returning characters, heroes and villains alike. While it is obviously aimed at readers who have experienced the earlier books, The Black Angel has such immense scope that it can stand on its own and still provide immense entertainment.
John Connelly has created a story of enormous depth and has been uncompromising in the amount of detail and research that has gone into the historical references. He has richly drawn his characters filling them in with alarming detail to create some of the most fully-fleshed villains I have ever encountered. He has then thrown a chilling other-worldly aspect over the top of all of this that nastily creeps into nightmares, is vividly descriptive and will stain your imagination for weeks to come.
At over 500 pages, The Black Angel is long by today's standards, but it is a story that simply flies by as you are lost in the dark underworld of the hunt for the fallen angel. Stout of heart and strong of stomach will devour this supernatural thriller of the highest order.