I had read Connelly’s The Book of Lost Things and so was prepared for the unusual, the strange, and just plain creepy when I agreed to review A Time of Torment.
John Connelly’s A Time of Torment (Charlie Parker #14) reminds me of the movie Deliverance, David Baldacci’s Divine Justice (set also in West Virginia), and a little known place in Polk County, Georgia by the name of Esom Hill. Legend has it that way before my husband and I moved to Polk County, an individual was killed and then his body stuffed into a meat grinder or given to the hogs. It has been said that if you’re a stranger passing through Esom Hill to be wary; stopping or spending too much time can be injurious to your health and not in any manner where the EPA would have jurisdiction.
To be fair Esom Hill is not as reclusive or hermit-like in nature or prone to violence and savagery as the area known as the Cut is depicted in in A Time of Torment. The story takes place in West Virginia and Maine. There is a private investigator, Charlie Parker, who is nobody’s fool and travels with two sidekicks that are more than a match for most, a sheriff that is a product of small towns but who remains committed to the law, justice, and mostly ethical behavior. All the rest are what you typically find in a small town. There are murders, rapes, thefts, and every kind of vigilante justice . Everything that happens, or doesn’t happen, is the result of a polite, though not always abiding respect of or is controlled by the Cut. Getting on the wrong side of the Cut means certain trouble, and sometimes death through some of the worse ways imaginable. Everyone is answerable to the Cut and the Cut uses, and then permanently discards, anyone.
A man is set up by the Cut on a child pornography charge, imprisoned and tortured while in prison and out after his release, two women are abducted, likely tortured, and then killed, two more women are abducted to be sex slaves in the form of child-producing services, various people go missing and are killed for witnessing certain things, and all manner of thefts happen, all of it to further the longevity of the Cut and its reclusive people… that is until Sheriff Henkel has his fill after a simple, thought to be harmless boy goes missing. He is not a resident of the Cut, like so many others who are never heard of again. The boy’s crime? He witnessed a murder. Henkel, prodded on by the private investigator who comes to town to find out what happened to his set-up child pornographer client, decides that enough is enough. The Cut must answer, and they do.
The spooky stuff comes in by way of a persona named the Dead King who is the spiritual, and iconic, representation of the Cut’s victims. The legend of the Dead King is part of a mythology that is thought by the leaders of the Cut as the sustaining power of the Cut. Coming into contact with it for any prolonged period of time and you simply go out of your mind. Akin to mind-altering drugs like LSD. meth, and/or hallucinogenics are child’s play compared to the power of the Dead King. As in The Book of Lost Things, the supernatural-paranormal plays a large part in A Time of Torment. It is not a book I read at night, though the gore factor is nothing compared to a Stephen King novel (thankfully!).
A Time of Torment is a well-written, densely-packed novel with a bunch of different plots. It’s kind of like peeling an onion. Layer by layer you get the whole picture, instead of just seeing the trees. Take your time reading it as there are little parts in the beginning and middle that become significant. That being said, I never did see the connection of a character in Delaware by the name of Eldritch to the story as a whole. His appears to be a minor role and only occurs in the beginning. It seemed that this part could have either been reduced in size or even possibly eliminated. I also wished Sheriff Henkel’s personal history/private life had been developed more. Other than that, I loved it.
***Copy provided by publisher through Netgalley for honest review.