I also have a very simple rule regarding novels: The writer always gets a free pass for the first fifty pages. Period. I know, I know. Hook the reader. Reel them in early. Open with action! Tantalize with dialogue! Conflict and complications!
Harry Connolly (burger_eater) fires on every frickin’ cylinder, folks, and Child of Fire’s first fifty pages (really the first fifty-two) or three chapters come across clean and crisp and loaded with enough breadcrumbs to keep me munching happily along and wanting more. When those first several chapters feel like only a handful of *pages*, I know pacing’s not a problem.
And guess what? Harry Connolly delivers just as adeptly for the rest of the novel.
The wry wit of our fppov character, Ray Lilly, belies a protagonist loaded with guilt and trust issues and working for a woman, Annalise Powers, who would just as soon kill him as look at him straight. It's pretty much hate-hate all the way, and at one point, with a little story Annalise tells Ray, you can't help but go, "Yeah, Ray, I'm with you all the way, bub."
But they’ve got to figure out why the children of Hammer Bay are bursting into flames and why the adults and parents of the selfsame community are totally oblivious to these occurrences. Connolly’s voice is straightforward and well-suited to this noirish supernatural thriller, and I can only wish him the best for Game of Cages and Man Bites Dog because I think he’s got many, many loaves of bread from which to pluck some narrative crumbs for the folks of the Twenty Palaces Society. He understands creepy and has an accessible everyman protagonist in Ray.
Another strong suit of Connolly’s is the weaving of subplot dealing with small town corruption (the Dubois brothers’ running the town like a glorified hick mafia/sheriff’s department) and Annalise’s connection to the Hammer family. Another thread of creepiness comes from his werewolf subplot (and here I’ll say no more for fear of spoilers) along with, yep, something being up with Annalise, an injury, and lots and lots of red meat.
Other nice touches include Ray’s being a straightforward character who wishes he were simply shut of Annalise and truly concerned not just for the safety of children in Hammer Bay but for the amnesia-prone adults of the town. The iron gate spells of protection (painted-on tattoos for safety) and the ghost knife (a piece of paper taped over and laminated and wicked cool) add some fun to various complications and action scenes in the novel, and where Connolly could’ve easily had Ray Lilly come across as a totally hardened ex-con with a sense of nigh-invincibility, he easily avoids such a pitfall in Child of Fire. I can only hope that we learn much, much more about Ray and his burgeoning education in the mysterious Twenty Palaces Society.
As far as favorite scenes go, I’ll briefly point out two: Ray’s being pulled into a van by some thuggish types and an intense strip club fight scene. Both involve some rather creative and intuitive uses of that ghost knife mentioned earlier.
Harry Connolly, through and through, maintains a tight control of the plot’s pacing and a death grip on the narrative lens presented via Ray Lilly. On a scene-by-scene basis, there’s a strong cinematic approach to the action, and Connolly’s ear for dialogue is as competent as it is fun.
All in all, I’m going A+ for ol’ boy on this one.
You are a monkey if you don’t give Child of Fire a try.