by John Connolly
Published by Hodder & Stoughton, 2009
How do you categorise John Connolly, crime writer – yes certainly. Supernatural writer – well yes most of his crime novels have had a supernatural overtone so supernatural crime writer then. What about his book of horror short stories, Nocturnes – so that makes him a supernatural, crime, horror writer. Then there is his fantasy/fairy tale The Book Of Lost Things – so he is definitely a supernatural, crime, horror, fantasy writer. And then there is The Gates, damn it…..tell you what, lets just describe Connolly as one of the finest genre writers working today and lets hope The Gates is the book that lets everyone see the breadth of that talent.
Samuel Johnson and his dog Boswell (ha,ha) decide to get a head start on Halloween by trick or treating a few days early. Among the surprised neighbours to find a small boy dressed as a ghost on their doorstep are the Abernathys. The only problem is this quiet unassuming couple have invited some friends round and intend to open the Gates of hell. Only Samuel, Boswell a couple of friends and a demon called Nurd can prevent this catastrophe.
Quite unlike anything Connolly has written before, although there were hints with The Book Of Lost Things, The Gates is a laugh out loud fantasy. The problem with most comedy fantasy is that it’s either not very funny (recent Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals excepted) or it’s funny but with a convoluted i.e. not very good plot (are you listening Mr Rankin). Douglas Adams was one of the few writers who could consistently pull off humorous writing. John Connolly is a naturally funny guy, at a recent reading he had the audience in stitches with his observations on the Da Vinci code etc. and thankfully this has come through well in this story.
John Connolly has drawn on recent worries about the Large Hadron Collider and the completely bizarre world of particle physics to create a plot which whilst simple is also clever and well constructed. The footnotes throughout again reminded me of Adams, taking a sideways look at particle physics and explaining concepts in simple and often hilarious ways. The clever nods to horror writers of the past which are scattered throughout are also nice. John Connolly is a man who understands the horror genre.
This is a book aimed largely at the young adult market but one which could be enjoyed by all. At times genuinely emotionally engaging the characters are all interesting and well drawn. The characterisation can be compared with Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and although The Gates has a much lighter tone there are many similarities between the two novels.
My biggest complaint is only that when the book was announced I felt sure we were finally going to get the full blown horror epic that John Connolly is surely destined to write. This isn’t it but hopefully the widespread appeal of this book will raise John Connolly’s profile and maybe, just maybe that great horror novel is still coming.
You can read more about John Connolly here.
Rating 4 out of 5