If Lawrence C. Connolly's debut novel, Veins, seems a curious hybrid, blame the landscape. Connolly spent his earliest years living near Schenley Park's Oakland edge; he now lives in Moon Township, alongside a reclaimed surface mine. Connolly, 57, has been writing fantasy, horror and science-fiction stories for a quarter-century, for magazines like Rod Serling's Twilight Zone and Cemetery Dance. But in Veins (Fantasist Enterprises), the interweaving of nature's dark beauty and the destructive majesty of heavy industry informs the story's crossbreeding of crime thriller with fantasy with special potency.
"It's such a wonderfully mysterious place, Western Pennsylvania and Southwestern Pennsylvania," says Connolly. "You never know what's around the next bend." He calls his home turf "the ideal landscape for dark fantasy and horror."
After a prologue intimating the role Native American-inflected spirituality plays in the story, Veins depicts a poorly planned armed robbery in rural Western Pennsylvania by a smart lowlife, his two bumbling accomplices and a hapless but sympathetic hireling. Soon they're on the run from an expatriate Russian thug.
A heist story struck Connolly as a powerful metaphor for man's predations on nature. "We're taking and we're not really thinking about what we're taking," says Connolly, who by day teaches creative writing at Sewickley Academy and is a writer-in-residence at Seton Hill University. Thus does what he calls the novel's "metaphysical" element begin to inform the genre plot: "If we have all of these short-sighted agendas, what does the landscape have in mind for us?"
Lawrence C. Connolly reads at 5 p.m. Wed., Oct. 22 (Open Mind Bookstore, 439 Beaver St., Sewickley; 412-741-1888) and 7 p.m. Mon., Nov. 24 (Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 1099 E. Pittsburgh St., Greensburg; 724-832-0622). Both events are free.