Chapters 19-23

Exposition ahoy times with these chapters, with a smattering of women telling Parker how dangerous he is and meaningful foreshadowing.

First up is Lorna Jennings, who meets Parker at the diner and tells him how curious he is making the town and how Rand is scared of him, before talking about how Parker kills people now and the distinction between people who deserve to be killed and people who don’t deserve to live. It’s a subtle difference in phrasing, but it will be relevant when Parker finally meets up with Rachel again. This scene takes place after Parker finds a disemboweled cat strewn over his car, presumably a gift from Stritch, and the trio splitting up so that Louis can watch Meade Payne’s house for Billy Purdue and Angel and Parker can spread out to nearby towns and try to track Ellen Cole’s movements. The fact that a sexually sadistic hired killer knows full well where the three are is fairly quickly glossed over. The only significant clue Parker finds about Ellen’s movements is an armed-with-a-shotgun old man in a wooded shack whom Parker catches in a lie about “seeing ‘em” when he only asked about the girl.

Our first big info-dump is in Greenville, where Parker is able to talk to Erica Schneider, the woman who lived in the room next to Emily Watts before she killed herself. It’s a fairly long narrative, starting with Emily Watts being physically and sexually assaulted by her father before a man “comes out of the woods” to save her, by beating her father. And only occasionally her. When the man started to show up with blood on his clothes, inordinately pleased to discover that Emily was pregnant, she faked a miscarriage and ran away to a nunnery, the same one that eventually became the nursing home, to escape him. She was fine, until the day that Billy Purdue arrived and claimed to be her son, and fled into the night after both she and Mrs. Schneider saw a man climbing the side of the building and trying to get into her room. Schneider is able to confirm that, yes, the man Emily Watts was hiding from did call himself Caleb Kyle, and adds the clue that he was from someplace called “Medina.” After this, Parker leaves to meet with Rachel, and lucks upon the old man from the woods driving into a place called Stucky Trading, but is unable to follow up and catch his flight.

Rachel is, understandably, not happy to see Parker. Living in semi-seclusion and teaching, no longer taking private clients or profiling work, staying out of the public, Rachel has switched her research to the links between brain damage and violent behavior. Parker is only barely able to persuade her to help create a profile of Caleb Kyle by mentioning that Ellen Cole is missing and showing her the crime scene photos from 1965. After meeting with Rachel, Parker narrows the location of Medina to Tennessee or Texas and eventually speaks with the sheriff of the Medina in Texas who knows of Caleb Brewster, whose mother sexually and physically abused him, and who was in turn killed, and fed to the pigs, by Caleb when he was fourteen. Caleb served twenty years in prison before returning to town and staying only briefly, disappearing the same day a local girl went missing and was then found, hung from a tree, just as the women who went missing in 1965.

The next day, Rachel gives Parker his profile, which allows another bit of explanation and plot hole filling. Caleb, according to Rachel, is a sadistic sociopath, but his long dormancy period, outside of any proof of incarceration, suggests that his need to kill abated. The women who were killed in 1965 were left out to be found, probably as a warning, and the evidence that their reproductive organs were mutilated, when no evidence suggested a sexual assault, indicates that Caleb’s rage was at the death of his child. The new killings, however, follow a different pattern, with the the mutilations of the mouth a likely punishment for complicity in keeping Billy Purdue from Caleb Kyle. The two stand-out crimes in this analysis are the surveyor, whose presence probably drove Kyle out of the woods, and the sixth victim from 1965, Judith Mundy, who was never found. Given Kyle’s obvious desire for a child, Rachel’s analysis is that Kyle probably took her into the woods with him to force her to bear him a child.

Rachel ends her conversation with Parker by noting that Caleb Kyle’s primary motivation is his feeling justified in taking revenge out on the world. Expanding on Lorna’s observations from earlier, Rachel notes that, in this sense, Kyle and Parker are not terribly different. It’s heavy-handed, yes, but it also occurs in the context of catching up the slower readers on the themes and backgrounds of the main conflict in the novel. After this consultation, Parker returns, stopping only at Stuckey Trading to find out the name of the man from the woods, the not at all fake sounding John Barley. That Parker also finds that Barley sold Ellen’s boyfriends boots at Stuckey’s makes him of greater interest to Parker.

Most of the exposition here feels fairly hand-holdey for the reader. The background and history of Caleb Kyle helps ground him as a villain, but the attempts to compare him with Parker fall a little flat. Yes, Parker is a deeply flawed protagonist, but Kyle’s background, while explaining how he came to be a monster, still paint him as monstrously selfish and evil. Parker, though violent, revenge-driven and self-appointed arbiter of who lives and who dies, is still, fundamentally, a man motivated to do good.

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