On the trail of John Connolly’s superb fictional detective, Charlie Parker, in the equally superb, real-life Portland, Maine

The Great Lost Bear, Mug (on my bookshelf)Portland, Maine, tucked away in the northeast corner of the US, is the real-world home to the fictional private investigator, Charlie Parker, the outstanding creation of Dublin born writer, John Connolly. A recent business trip took me to Portland and I was determined, in the short time I had available, to explore something of the home of the greatest detective in contemporary fiction.

Charlie Parker first appeared in John Connolly’s 1999 novel, Every Dead Thing. Parker is a former New York cop, who is tormented by the unsolved slaying of his wife and young daughter by the mysterious murderer known as The Travelling Man. When Parker is asked to take on a case to search for a missing girl he finds himself on the trail of the man responsible for his own family’s tragedy.

Harbour Side, Portland, Maine

There are dozens of reasons why you should pick up a Charlie Parker novel; character, story, tension, surprises all abound, but for me, a key element is that feeling of realism that you can sense throughout the writing. An author needs authority, hence the title, and it’s important to be able to trace some believability in what you’re reading, no matter how fantastic the story line and John Connolly does this expertly, tying the story into living, breathing locations, peppered with believable local characters.

Parker lives and works in and around Portland, often helping out at the real-life bar, The Great Lost Bear on Forest Avenue. The Bear boasts more than seventy beers on tap, and as if that wasn’t enough, a further seventy bottled.

The Great Lost Bear, Portland

The Bear has a commitment to traditional breweries, including many local micro breweries, offering visitors some of America’s best and most diverse beers. Not least of these is the Allagash Brewery, located on Industrial Way, Portland, which was founded as a one-man operation over twenty years ago by Rob Tod. (allagash.com) Their range was well and truly tested during the trip.

Commercial Street, Portland

Heading downtown and you’ll pass along Commercial Street, also featured in the novels, where you’ll find J’s Oyster Bar. My visit to J’s was memorable for many reasons, not just for the wonderfully colourful food, but also for a few particularly colourful customers, one was later asked to leave, the worst for drink, and at lunchtime too!

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I didn’t notice at the time, but I suspect that Bluebeard’s ghost may have popped in while I was having lunch.

As a coastal town with a thriving fishing industry you’re in the right place if you love seafood. J’s menu, not surprisingly, includes outstanding local oysters, but also features locally caught lobsters like you’ve never tasted before. Almost every part of Portland has a strong sense of connection with the sea, a feeling cemented by the extensive marina that provides a picturesque backdrop to the countless restaurants and shops along the seafront.

Harbour, Commercial Street, Portland

The latest Parker novel is The Wolf in Winter, the thirteenth in the highly acclaimed Charlie Parker series, which was released in the UK in April 2014. My copy is lined up on one of my bookshelves along with my souvenir Great Lost Bear mug.

The Great Lost Bear, Mug (on my bookshelf)The Wolf in Winter, synopsis: “The death of a homeless man and the disappearance of his daughter draw the haunted, lethal private investigator Charlie Parker to Prosperous. Parker is a dangerous man, driven by compassion, by rage, and by the desire for vengeance. In him the town and its protectors sense a threat graver than any they have faced in their long history, and in the comfortable, sheltered inhabitants of a small town, Parker will encounter his most vicious opponents yet. Charlie Parker has been marked to die so that Prosperous may survive.”

One of the admirable things about John as a writer is his commitment to getting his message out there. His promotional tours take in book signings and literary festivals around the world, enabling him a face-to-face connection with his readers. I had the opportunity to shake the man’s hand at the launch of Books to Die For at Foyles bookstore in London back in September 2012. (You can read that post here Books to Die For.)

A Song of Shadows by John ConnollyIf you search You Tube, i-Tunes or Google for a John Connolly podcast, you’ll find that he’s turned up on just about everything, providing his insightful views on literature, writers and writing, and with it an invaluable motivation to those who may wish to follow in his footsteps. If I ever start an audio podcast, he’ll be the first guest I’ll invite (open invitation, if John ever reads this).

The fourteenth Parker novel, A Song of Shadows, is due out in the UK in April 2015 and later in the summer in the US. I’ve put a reminder in my calendar.

For more information on John or Charlie you should visit johnconnollybooks.com.

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