John Connolly’s first novel, Every Dead Thing (1999), brought him nearly equal amounts of praise and condemnation. Critics agreed that the tale is dark, terrifying, thrilling, and disturbing, not only because of its gruesome violence but also because of the hero’s single-minded quest for retribution. Some critics extolled Connolly’s lyrical prose style and the intensity of the story’s drama. Others found the violence simply repellent and the themes irremediably grim. The Los Angeles Times reviewer deftly characterized Connolly’s literary impact in remarking that the novel “holds the reader fast in a comfortless stranglehold.”
Connolly’s subsequent novels delve ever more into the supernatural to prepare readers for the psychotic killers and macabre violence of the plots. These novels are as much horror fiction as mysteries. The supernatural elements, however, rather than providing escapism, allow Connolly to examine the pathology and psychology of violent crime. British critic Mark Timlin wrote that as Charlie Parker’s character evolves through the novels, Connolly demonstrates the possibility of moral choice and the necessity of action in the face of evil. In this regard, Connolly likes to quote the eighteenth century English political philosopher Edmund Burke, who observed that evil triumphs when good people stand by and do nothing to stop it. It is this thematic approach, critics agree, that makes Connolly’s fiction more than simply thrilling entertainment. Connolly is also recognized for the meticulous research behind his settings and behind his use of esoteric supernatural lore.