Prologue, Chapters 1-6
The second Charlie Parker opens with horrible things happening at opposite ends of a stretch of woods. At one, two FBI agents listen in on what they believe to be a standard cash drop between local gangsters and the Cambodian mob that turns into a hit on the Cambodians, ending with virtually everyone dead. At the other, an elderly woman escapes from a nursing home, knocking out a guard and taking his gun, evading a police manhunt before killing herself, all in her efforts to get away from, or face, “Caleb Kyle,” the local bogeyman. Parker is largely unaware of this, alternating fixing his grandfather’s home in rural Maine and helping a family friend, Rita, extract some long overdue child support money from her ex-husband, Billy Purdue, a small time crook who has, in the past, done some work with the local gangsters who were out killing Cambodians the other night.
Parker’s life hasn’t completely settled from the events of the last book. Rachel is refusing to speak with him, and at the funeral for a cop friend of Parker’s, Walter Cole refuses to speak to him as well. The only bright spot, such as it is, is Parker’s acquiring of a private investigator’s license, though the only work he has been offered is corporate espionage cases that he feels are unseemly and beneath him. That, and a visit from Ellen Cole, Walter’s daughter, who is camping in the Maine woods with her boyfriend. But even these bright spots are troubled by the arrival in town of a fat, oily, palpably corrupt man looking for Billy Purdue, who has disappeared since his run-in with Parker. The clear implication is that the money that Purdue used to pay his child support came from very bad men who would like it back.
Everything goes to hell, naturally, the next day. Parker wakes up to discover footprints and a child’s toy in his house, and makes the realization that someone broke into his home and watched him while he slept, leaving the toy as some sort of message. This is confirmed when Ellis Howard, the local sheriff, arrives and confirms Parker’s movements after telling him that Rita and her son Donald have been killed. The suspicion is that Purdue has killed them and skipped town, but Parker doesn’t believe the evidence suggests that. Rita was strangled, and then her lips sewn shut-a message intended for someone. Donald had his head bashed into a wall, and Donald’s death in particular suggests it is unlikely that Purdue would be the killer, even in the case of a custody or support argument.
The parallels to Parker’s own loss are an obvious drive to the narrative; in both this and the last book Parker is motivated by the death of a mother and child. It’s the sort of plot similarity that could suggest an overuse of a problematic trope, but in context here it plays out more of a factor of Parker’s personality. He is driven to help people, to prevent tragedies, and when he fails he becomes more determined. That the murders are staged as messages, combined with the break-in at his own home, also reinforces the theme of Parker being dragged into these situations by outside forces, compelled to become involved. The fat man is interesting as well. Moral corruption expressed as physical ugliness is a recurring feature of the villains of Connolly’s books-though not exclusively, both villains in the previous novel had pleasant shells hiding their depravity. The actual, physical corruption though does play into the more supernatural elements of the series as the books progress.