Monday, August 26, 2013

Book Review - The Wander in Unknown Realms

The Wanderer in Unknown Realms – John Connolly

Apart from loving the Charlie Parker series, I am huge fan of John Connolly’s other books especially his short story collection, Nocturnes. When he announced he was releasing a digital only  novella I was very excited. His short stories tend to have a stronger element of the supernatural which I think he does extremely well.

The blurb:

Lionel Maulding, a rare-book collector, has gone missing from his country home in Norfolk. When his nephew approaches Mr Maulding’s solicitor, Mr Quayle, to look into the matter, the investigation is passed on to Soter, a WWI veteran, who has done similar detective work for Quayle.

From the nature of books in Lionel Maulding’s impressive library at Bromdum Hall, it is clear that he was greatly interested in the occult. But how far did that take him? There is evidence of the withdrawal of £10,000, an extraordinary sum of money for the purchase of a single book.

As Soter delves deeper into the connection between Lionel Maulding’s disappearance and the possible existence of the rare book Atlas of Unknown Realms, he starts to question his own sanity. Did Lionel Maulding release evil into the world, or is Soter suffering from post traumatic stress?

As we follow Soter from the slowly decaying Bromdum Hall to the sinister bookseller in Chelsea and the book scout in Whitechapel, we enter his nightmare world where his horrific experiences in the trenches echo the fearful reality unleashed by his search.
From the opening paragraph of this story, Connolly sets the scene well. The language he uses (always one of his strong points) helps convey the time period. Normally I find this off putting but with Connolly you know you are in safe hands. Within paragraphs you are immersed in the story and the language feels like you have been reading it all your life.

Soter is a good character. He is no nonsense, straightforward guy who is willing to do what it takes. In short, he is the kind of guy you want to read about.  The book focuses on him uncovering the mystery of the disappearance of Lionel Maulding.

As Soter investigates the circumstances become more mysterious and Soter discovers more questions or answers. The success of this novel hinges on the mystery and whilst it is nothing new, the characters Soter interacts with makes it feel fresh.
There is a higher power involved here, but one than Soter struggles to understand.  Connolly takes the reader along for the ride and fully immerses them into the investigation and so when it is suggested Soter might be going crazy, it is the first time the reader is aware of it. It is nicely done, as I found myself questioning what was the reality and what was false.

The technique automatically makes the reader uneasy and the writing feels dirty, as if you shouldn’t be uncovering the truth but like Soter you just can’t stop. This sense of the uncomfortable is aided by the crustaceans Soter keeps on seeing, truly creepy creatures that add to the intrigue and tension.

The secondary characters are good and serve their purpose well. Obviously with a short story you are not going to get layer upon layer of background detail, but they are interesting enough to stand out from the background.

The ending is somewhat predictable. It feels like I have read the ending a thousand times before which is a little disappointing. There is nothing wrong with it, but with the quality of writing and John’s usual high standards I was just hoping for something more original.

Overall, this is a great demonstration of how to create a brooding, uneasy tale with a gloomy atmosphere. Connolly’s writing is a superb as ever, it is just as shame that the ending is too familiar.

My rating: 8.1