hrillers are funny things; like most genre fiction, they tend to be formulaic, but conversely they are most successful when they break the rules. Irish writer John Connolly does a good job of "writing outside the box" in his new novel, Dark Hollow, a Stephen King-meets-Robert B. Parker tale of murder, mobsters and the macabre.

Charlie "Bird" Parker, introduced in Connolly's first novel, Every Dead Thing, is an ex-Boston cop turned private detective with a frightening gift or maybe it's a curse. He sees dead people. Not all the time, mind you, but he sees plenty this time around, and they want vengeance. When Parker rousts the ex-husband of a friend for child support payments, he inadvertently sets off a chain of events that leaves a trail of bodies leading to an isolated Maine village called Dark Hollow and to an unsolved mystery in his family's past. Parker is not the only one on the trail, and any or all of the others could be the killer.

John Connolly has populated Bird Parker's world with an assortment of memorable characters, from a creepy pair of professional killers to their counterpoint, a gay hit-man and his lover, who happen to be Parker's friends and allies in this adventure. Add to the mix a rogue mob boss, a bitter sheriff, a beautiful psychologist, a brutish felon and a desperate cop searching for his missing daughter, and you've got quite a cast. Even though Connolly sets his novel in Boston and northern Maine, his writing betrays his Irish roots. He writes dense, thoughtful prose, a brooding style that is rich in detail and introspection. Parker's ghostly vision on a subway, a battle in an abandoned warehouse and a deadly chase down a snow-covered road are particularly well drawn scenes.

Dark Hollow is Connolly's second novel, and with this fast-paced, original thriller, he demonstrates the talent that could make him a formidable contributor to the genre.

James Neal Webb does copyright research for Vanderbilt University.

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