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Dangerous Disappearing Acts, With Killers in Pursuit

There’s no mistaking a John Connolly novel, with its singular characters, eerie subject matter and socko style. All these flags are flying in THE WOMAN IN THE WOODS (Emily Bestler/Atria, $26.99), which finds Charlie Parker, the oddball private detective in this quirky series, thwarted by the broken link in a chain of safe havens for battered women. Normally, “they go in one end of the tunnel and come out the other, far away.” Except when one of them is caught — someone like Karis Lamb, whose body is found in a shallow grave in the woods shortly after giving birth. There’s no sign of her newborn child.

A man named Quayle, who may very well be “the devil himself,” and his “creature,” creepy Pallida Mors, commit some vividly depicted atrocities in their fevered hunt for a powerful ancient book, which they believe to be in Karis’s possession. Parker himself is no saint (“If there’s trouble, he’ll find it. If there isn’t trouble, he’ll make some”), and it’s best to stay away from him whenever he’s visited by the “black dog” of depression. But he’s a savior in a world that can be merciless to those without a champion.

All the kinky people in this novel, killers included, are readers. Parker’s pal, Louis, who has eclectic tastes, is currently juggling Montaigne and Hemingway, and “when he wasn’t reading, he was contemplating what he’d just read.” Dobey, of Dobey’s Diner in Cadillac, Ind., is also a rare-book dealer who subscribes to The New York Times, The New Republic, National Review and The New Yorker. What makes this dedicated reader a mensch, however, is his covert work as a principal in the underground railroad for “frightened and abused women.”

Connolly creates a world, somewhat real but emphatically unnatural, in which the dead commune with the living in mysterious ways. Five-year-old Daniel, for one, is no longer answering his toy telephone; after receiving frequent calls from Karis’s uneasy ghost, “Daniel didn’t want to talk to dead people” anymore. Well, he can always talk to us. We’re right here by the phone, waiting.

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