It’s rare that the Irish writer of dark thrillers, John Connolly, disappoints me. Bad Men might be the first time, now that I think about it. Published in 2004, this thriller is not part of the fallen angel Charlie Parker series, although it is set in Parker’s universe, and the detective makes a brief appearance.
If anything, Bad Men is closer to another writer, famous for writing about isolated communities in Maine; Stephen King. Bad Men takes place over three days, on an island, in the middle of a terrible snowstorm. Written like that, it reads a little bit like the plot of King’s Storm of the Century.
On Dutch Island, originally known as Sanctuary, Joe Dupree is the local police officer. Melancholy Joe, as he is called behind his back, is an odd-looking man, nearly a giant. His size makes him self-conscious, but the truly unusual thing about Joe is how he relates to the island. He has an awareness of it that goes deeper than just understanding his jurisdiction. Joe’s father, who was also a cop, had this same affinity. Right now, Joe is attracted to Marianne and her six-year-old son Daniel. Marianne is new to the island, but she is fitting in well. She has told everyone, including Danny, that her husband is dead, but this is a lie.
On the mainland, a conscienceless killer plots his escape; and in other parts of the country we see one or two other sadistic murderers. Soon, all these characters converge in Portland, Maine. On the island, meanwhile, strange omens are appearing, including unseasonal moths, apparitions, and ghost lights in the forest that rings an area in the center of the island called simple The Site, where a horrible massacre happened in the sixteen hundreds.
Connolly does manage to weave together all his threads. Part of the difficulty, I suppose, is that instead of Clint Eastwood’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Connolly aims for The Bad, the Evil and The Supernatural Evil. Connolly’s premise is either that the island recognizes evil and draws it in, in order to deal with it, or that the island causes certain people, or personalities, to reincarnate (or otherwise re-appear) at various points in history. Joe, Marianne and rookie cop Sharon Macy confront the bad men, and the island does, too.At the end, the survivors seem to feel that that island has “purged” the evil from its midst. I’m not sure Connolly completely sold this idea.
Bad Men, by the way, while a catchy title, is not a sexist book in one regard. The “bad men” who travel to Dutch Island to do evil include one bad woman; one ruthless, bloodthirsty, violent woman.
Connolly’s writing is beautiful, as always. The book is gory and dark, and there is a lot of violence against women. Connolly does not sexualize violence towards women, but I hit my threshold with this one. Disappointing, yes, but not bad. It’s just not the best of Connolly’s work.
I have to end by saying, though, that I love the metaphysical justice meted out to the corrupt cop, and the ghost of the murdered boy who waits by the water.