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The White Road, John Connolly, Pocket, $7.99.

The White Road by John Connolly

At the beginning of The White Road people are rushing to see "the burning man", and at first I thought John Connolly was referring to the famous Burning Man festival in Nevada. I should have known - in his books the burning man is going to be an actual person, not an effigy, and the reader will see, hear and smell flesh sizzling. Connolly's books are about as far from cozy as they can get, their world of depravity and violence matched in darkness only by Andrew Vachss. Unlike Vachss, whose prose is spare and telegraphic, however, Connolly has a lyrical and expansive writing style and the gruesome happenings seem to unfold in an aestheticised slow motion, kind of like a Peckinpah movie.

In The White Road, Connolly's fourth novel, the result is a deeply unsettling examination of the sins of the American South from the lynchings of the old days to the less obvious but no less hateful discrimination of today. Connolly's hero, Charlie Parker, travels to Charleston, South Carolina at the behest of an old friend, a lawyer who believes his young, black client is innocent of the murder of the daughter of a powerful, white family. Things, of course, are a lot more complicated and nasty than they seem, and he's soon drawn into a tangled, devious web of bloody history and an even more bloody present. This is the sort of thing James Lee Burke has written masterfully about, but Connolly, an Irishman, is also in a position to understand the curse of ancient enmities and long standing blood feuds.

As is only too often the case in today's "supersized" novels, The White Road is too long, but if you like your mysteries strong and dark and your body count high you might want to take a ride on it.

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