This is the first book I’ve read by Connolly. I had a copy of one of his YA books on the shelf for a while, but then traded it in without reading it. Recently, though, I heard Connolly described as obsessed with James Lee Burke and his work being similar, but with a cosmic horror twist. Over the past few years Burke has become a favorite crime writer. His prose style is as good as anyone. And gradually I’ve become a horror fan over the same span. So, naturally I had to try Connolly out. He is best known for a series of books featuring a detective called Charlie Parker, though I was advised to start with the second book. But this is a relatively standalone novel, and I found it at a used book store. I say relatively, because Parker does make a couple of cameos, but has little to do with the main action of the book. But this was actually a great place to start.
The book opens with the dream of a man named Moloch who is remembering events that happened on an island called Sanctuary in colonial times. Brutal events, as if he were the one commiting them. The action moves then to the island itself. The lone policeman who lives there is a giant (7’2”), whose family has been there for generations. He knows the history, both mythic and mundane, of the place and something of a keeper. Since the events recalled in Moloch’s dream, the island is alive with the presence of the dead, who tend to settle scores with any who take innocent life. There is a woman there who is hiding with her child, and seeing the giant policeman. Moloch is a criminal who escapes prison, and he and his colleagues are not the only characters who live up to the book's title, but they fit it very well. Eerie things begin to happen on the island which escalate even as Moloch and company head toward the island. And the conclusion is perfect.
The novel is completely effective as both a bleak crime novel and an eerie gothic horror one. The prose is excellent at evoking a choking horror mood. It does resemble Burke’s in that sense, though there are very few authors in any genre who can live up to that. Still it’s perfect for the story being told. Like the best horror and crime, the bleakness is as much a product of the people as the supernatural elements. Once the stage is set, the book is a tension machine. This gets brutal at times, but was an excellent first book to read. I will be reading many more, starting with that second Charlie Parker novel.