THE NAMELESS ONES by John Connolly (Hodder & Stoughton, July 2021)
John Connolly’s The Dirty South was one of my favourite books of 2020. It was a rich, multi-layered novel, which served as a pre-sequel to Connolly’s highly praised Charlie Parker series, and, in my view, was one of his best novels.
The Dirty South was notable for the lack of the supernatural overtones that usually accompany Connolly’s novels and in many ways can be read separately from the rest of the series. The Nameless Ones also sits slightly outside the series, although it does wrap up some of the threads from Connolly’s mammoth A Book Of Bones.
The focus of The Nameless Ones is not on Charlie Parker, although he does appear briefly in the book in an important scene, but on his brothers in arms, the assassins Louis and Angel.
The book opens with the brutal murder of four people in a canal house in Amsterdam, including the infamous criminal fixer De Jaager, who is crucified. The massacre is perpetrated by the brothers Vuksan, notorious Serbian war criminals and leaders of an influential crime gang. The brothers believe that they are above the law and can do what they want. They confidently head back to their homeland, initially unaware that they are being pursued by someone far more dangerous than themselves.
De Jaager was a go-between, confidant and kind of friend to the killer known as Louis. When Louis hears of De Jaager’s death he heads to Europe to hunt the killers down. Accompanied by his partner in business and life, Angel, who is still recovering from cancer, he sets off after the five murderers, only to learn that there is a sixth killer, who is potentially more deadly than the others.
The Nameless Ones is a terrific book. The seemingly straight forward plot, is quickly made more complicated and richer by maneuverings between various Serbian crime factions, the actions of an Islamic terrorist group, the interest of figures in the American intelligence community and a hint of the supernatural. After the truly gruesome opening, the pace slows a little, as Connolly impresses with swathes of information on the horrors of the Balkan conflict and the breakdown of the former Yugoslavia, before speeding up over the final fifty pages or so.
As usual, Connolly brings a poet eye to his story and there are some truly evocative passages, especially those set in Amsterdam and a small cemetery in Vienna. There are also some marvelously witty and humourous lines by Louis and Angel, particularly as they encounter agents from the FBI and CIA, and Connolly’s own wry observations:
“One of the problems with using crooked bankers – or rather, bankers who were more crooked than the norm – was the obvious: their essential dishonesty.”
The Nameless Ones is a slightly shorter book than Connolly’s usual efforts, and a lot shorter than A Book of Bones, and this shortness sits well with the book’s pace and the essentially thriller nature of the story. As usual, there are a host of recurring characters, not of all whom fare well. This guest appearances will be welcomed by regular readers of the series, but newcomers may be less taken by these diversions and the detailed backstories.
Overall, I really liked The Nameless Ones and came away from it once more impressed with Connolly’s beautiful writing and amazing grasp of history and detail. I also liked the extra texture given by the slight supernatural elements and the moving reflections on death and culture.
The Australian edition also has a nice evocative cover that captures the early Amerstdam setting and the mood of the book.
Four and a half stars out of five!
The Nameless Ones is released in Australia and the United Kingdom on 8 July 2021 and in the United States on 12 October 2021.
Thanks to Hachette and the Canberra Weekly for an advanced copy of the book for review.
Here is a link to an ‘In Conversation’ event I did with John back in 2019 before COVID !: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/talk-with-john-connolly-5-september-2019/