John Connolly’s Every Dead Thing opens with a prologue introducing us to lead character Charlie Parker and flashing back to the death of his wife Susan and daughter Jennifer, pivotal events that drive him from the police force and into the private detective work that is the focus of his life as a mystery/horror novel anti-hero. Parker’s character is sketched out quickly here; he’s aggressive, he’s emotionally volatile, he’s potentially alcoholic and he’s potentially violent. Chiefly at this point he’s defined by his negative characteristics, which makes the death of his family all the more poignant. It’s clear that this event deeply unhinges and disturbs him, pushing him even further down the dark path he’s on. But it’s also clear that the singularly horrific nature of the crime stands out as something no one should have to endure; his daughter frightened to death, his wife tortured and both of their faces removed by the killer. It’s grotesquely cruel and designed almost as an attack on Parker himself, especially in light of the symbolism of the face removal as a stripping off of the victim’s identities.
In the early chapters we move on to an unspecified point at least six months after the murders. Parker is working as a bail enforcer, tracking down a chop shop owner with ties to an organized crime family. It is emphasized that, at this point, Parker doesn’t need to work, that this is simply a way for him to pass the time. That this is a line of work in which Parker’s tendencies towards violence can be loosed is notable, but being on the streets also gives Parker a chance to investigate the murders in an unofficial capacity. It’s also suggested here that Parker’s tendencies towards violence may be related to his father, with a strong implication that Parker is also a murderer (a necessary bit of foreshadowing as well as an acknowledgement that, despite evidence proving that Parker couldn’t possibly have killed his family, he is still the most likely suspect). Parker’s target, Fat Ollie, is gunned down by a mob hitman before Parker can take him in, and that hitman is himself killed. The surface plot is moving rapidly here at the beginning, as an informant tells Parker that Ollie was killed not because of his car theft operations, but because he has knowledge of a more serious crime committed by a mob enforcer that came to light because of Ollie’s work.
The rest of these early chapters is taken up with a flashback to a psychological profile of the killer of Parker’s family conducted by Rachel Wolfe. Her analysis focuses on the sadism of the crime and on its intended dramatic impact. The character fail to make the inference, but from the reader’s standpoint it is increasingly clear that the crime was committed to drive Parker towards a mental state desired by the killer.
At this point the novel is a fairly conventional thriller, with some gruesome, but entirely human, horror to differentiate it from your standard crime novel. Connolly’s writing is what drives it, as the first-person narration in Parker’s voice is clear and compelling. This is the main reason I have wanted to do an extended blogging project looking at Connolly’s novels, and a “running review” seemed like an interesting and appropriate tack to take, as it allows me to revisit the works and engage them on a deeper, more analytical level. That it hopefully gets others to look at the books as well doesn’t hurt.