Friday, November 04, 2005

If you're at an airport book store, do pick up: The Black Angel.

Charlie Parker. Legendary jazz saxophonist. Often mentioned in the same breath as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. Once said, “They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.”

Also John Connolly’s haunted, first-person hero. Last seen in The Black Angel, an extraordinary novel that describes the familiar darkness of a Stephen King landscape with the lyricism of Salman Rushdie -- lushly evocative, effortless prose that seems almost too sophisticated for a paperback thriller to be read on a boring business trip.

It’s a special book, alright. Released in some parts of the world with an accompanying CD, the soundtrack to which Connolly wrote this, and a few other Parker-starring books. But utterly unforgettable in that it introduces to you a name that you've never heard before, but are very unlikely to forget. Sedlec.

Hannibal was a name that belonged to an Alps-crossing invader, before you attached it forever to Thomas Harris' invention of pure, distilled evil. (And for the odd trivia fiend, his last name was Barca. Like the diminutive of a certain Spanish football club.) Sedlec is different.

First of all, it's a place. Somewhere in the Czech Republic, on the outskirts of a town called Kutna Hora. Clearly not a popular tourist destination. (The Lonely Planet throws up the odd link to a fan site, worth visiting for the pictures.)

It's most often referred to as the Sedlec Ossuary, a word that appeared on page 224 of the book, and forced me to look it up. An ossuary is a receptacle for skeletal remains, and in Sedlec, in the Middle Ages, it gave rise to a whole new art form. The artist is Frantisek Rint. And his masterpiece, this cathedral of bones. (More trivia? The monastery now belongs to Philip Morris.)

In Connolly's Acknowledgments at the end of the book, he describes it as being "far more impressive visually than I could convey in words". He's right.

Can't wait for the movie.

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