The last six chapters of the Charlie Parker’s second outing is pretty much a non-stop collection of violent shoot-outs, as the deck gets cleared of all the B and C plots so that the whole “oh, yeah, legendary woman killing bogeyman from the woods is back” story can be resolved. First off, we have Stritch attempting to kill Lorna Jennings in a Dark Hollow bar, only to be stopped by Angel and chased out into the snow by Parker and Louis. This storyline ends when they find Stritch impaled on a tree branch, obviously physically lifted onto it, and Parker begins to suspect that maybe Caleb Kyle has been watching him too.
We get a brief bit of exposition when Parker then goes to talk to John Barley, who is clearly terrified but not of Parker. After being threatened, he finally tells Parker that he saw an old man kill Rickey and kidnap Ellen Cole, then drive off and bury their car in a pre-dug hole. Barley dug up the body just long enough to steal a few things, but then that night felt someone watching him from the edge of his property. Parker tries to take Barley into town to tell Rand Jennings all this when they are ambushed by Tony Celli’s mean and Barley is killed and Parker is badly wounded, escaping by following a nearby river to, of all places, the Jennings house.
Parker learns that Rand Jennings has arrested Billy Purdue and is holding him in custody, but Lorna barely patches him up before the house is attacked by more of Tony Celli’s men. Parker holds them off briefly, but in the end is saved by the timely arrival of Angel and Louis, and the trio heads off for the police station, where they are again attacked by yet more of Tony Celli’s men. Walter Cole is there, and being in danger with Parker reconciles them, but mostly because Parker tells him he finally knows where Ellen is. He comes to this knowledge after he talks to Billy and is shown a picture of Meade Payne, finally realizing that the man and boy he met at the Payne house could not possibly be Payne and must in fact be Caleb Kyle.
The revelation that fake-Meade Payne was really Caleb Kyle all along isn’t quite a “fair play” resolution to the mystery, but Connolly actually did seed it to a certain extent. The final clue being an actual photo of the real Meade Payne feels like a cheat, since it’s information withheld from the reader. But Parker is also the one who failed to notice that the man supposedly living alone in grief since the death of his wife and nephew seemed not only fairly cheery but had a strapping young man of about Billy Purdue’s age just hanging around the farm. The added “clue” that’s noted, that Payne referenced a dog that Parker didn’t see at the farm itself, is more strained, as absence of dog is not proof of dog’s absence, so to speak.
In any case, this siege is cut short when Parker and Louis sneak out the back and pick off some of Tony Clean’s men, only to discover that, again, a third party is picking some of them off as well, only to have that business cut short when Al Z show up, kill Tony Celli themselves, and vaguely threaten Parker for basically doing a large part of their job for them. In the confusion, Billy escapes, and Parker takes Walter Cole with him to the Payne farm, sending Angel and Louis away because having two professionals with you when facing two surprisingly effective serial killers makes no sense at all.
At the Payne house, Parker and Cole find Elled tied up in an upstairs bedroom, they free her, but are unable to leave before the house is entered by Caspar, who would Walter and attacks Parker, only to be shot to death by the detective. Parker is then immediately attacked by Caleb Kyle, although Parker quickly subdues him. The death of Caspar is the only element of events that seems to actually unnerve Caleb, who offers nothing but disdain for the people he has killed, and justifies his actions with misogynistic ramblings. Parker prepares to take Caleb in, but is disarmed by Billy Purdue, and Caleb uses the opportunity to beat Parker and urges Billy to kill him. Billy is unsure, conflicted over the discovery that this raving lunatic is his real father. When Billy learns from Parker that Caleb killed Rita and Donald and Meade Payne, Billy instead turns the gun on his father and kills him, just in time for the anniversary of the death of Parker’s wife and daughter.
The epilogue wraps up a few loose ends, including revealing that characters who had dropped out of the story had, in fact, been killed by Caleb Kyle, and that Billy has taken after his father and skipped his court date to disappear into the Maine woods. The possibility of a reconciliation between Parker and Rachel is suggested, and the book ends with Parker witnessing the ghosts of the victims of Kyle, the Travelling Man and Adelaide Modine gathering around him, at rest and physically restored.
Structurally, I think this book works a lot better than Every Dead Thing, particularly in the areas of blending the various plot lines together. Although the search for the money that Billy Purdue stole has a bit of villain bloat, what with the mob and sexual sadist serial killers, it actually links up well as a complication in the main Caleb Kyle plot, with Billy playing an important role in both. Unlike the last book, there is no extensive plot that takes over a large chunk of the story with little connection to the main plot. It’s also nice that the events of the last book have real consequences for not just Parker in this book but for the rest of the cast as well, particularly Rachel and the Cole family. Unlike some serial detective/thriller series, physical and psychic wounds last past the last page. And while the supernatural aspects are more limited this time around, confined primarily to ghosts popping up at convenient times, the series mythology through line has still not really started to come together.
That’s…going to change really soon, though.