HOW DARK does a thriller have to get before it shifts from the crime shelves to horror? In setting his private-eye novels in Maine, John Connolly nudges into the territory of the local 800-pound gorilla: Stephen King. This collection of his stories opens with "The Cancer Cowboy Rides", a novella-length King pastiche. It closes with a return by Connolly's investigator, Charlie Parker, in a tale ("The Reflecting Eye") where crime and the supernatural overlap.
"Cancer Cowboy", a premise King would have turned into a 1,000- page novel, has a drifter come to town to spread disease at the behest of a squirmy
alien-demonic parasite. "The Reflecting Eye" has Parker ferreting around the creepy house where a child murderer lived and may still cling to half- life within the many mirrors. These substantial pieces have contemporary settings, yet they feel old-fashioned, rooted in 1970s ideas. The two slide past like a good TV movie, but give the impression of being included to provide a way in, and out, for Connolly's regular readers.
The other 13 stories in Nocturnes, all much shorter, are very different. Most were written to be told on radio, a tradition of ghost story rarely honoured these days but going back to the likes of Algernon Blackwood. They draw on the forms invented by a range of writers explicitly or implicitly referenced: Ambrose Bierce, MR James, H P Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, and even the despised EC horror comics of the 1950s. …