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“Night Music: Nocturnes Volume 2” by John Connolly

Although he’s best known for his detective/crime novels, John Connolly has also made his mark in the speculative fiction world with The Book of Lost Things and The Gates. In 2005, he branched out further, writing a collection of short stories called Nocturnes. Most of the pieces in that collection were excellent, so I was excited to learn that Connolly had put together another one, Night Music: Nocturnes Vol. 2.

While this anthology has a definite slant towards dark fantasy and horror, the tone and style of the stories varies. Two of the longer stories, “The Caxton Private Lending Library and Book Depository” and “The Fractured Atlas: Five Fragments,” share a theme about the love of books, but come at it from very different angles. In “Caxton,” a recently retired bibliophile encounters a manifestation of a character from a famous novel, which leads him to the titular institution. While the event that initiates the plot is an emotionally distressing one for the main character, the story ends on a light-hearted note. “Atlas,” by contrast, is a story in the same vein as much of H.P. Lovecraft’s work. One of the strengths of this piece is characterization: each of the five sections focuses on a different character, and all have fully realized personalities.

“The Children of Dr. Lyall” is one of the most atmospherically creepy stories I’ve read in a long time. During the London Blitz, a pair of burglars who steal from destroyed or abandoned homes get more than they bargained for when they end up robbing a haunted house.

“Razorshins” at first appears to simply be looking at the flip side of the coin from Connolly’s crime novels: instead of an investigator, it focuses on a group of bootleggers during Prohibition. But there’s more going on here, and not every backwoods legend is just a legend. The characterization in this piece was very well-done, making it one of my favorites in the collection.

Fans of The Book of Lost Things may be happy to know that one of the stories in Night Music, “The Hollow King,” is set in that world.

Overall, this is a worthy successor to Connolly’s first collection. Here’s hoping for a Nocturnes, Vol. 3 sometime in the future.

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