Chapters 21-27, Epilogue
Parker and Rachel’s brief idyll is broken when Pudd and Mrs. Torrance, keeper of Carter Paragon and Fellowship secretary, break into Parker’s cottage and take the couple hostage. Parker, drifting in and out of consciousness from the assault, notes the presence of a man he presumes to be Reverend Faulkner, who makes comments about Parker being able to see the dead. Pudd begins to torture Rachel with his spiders, and Parker breaks the chair he is tied to, impaling Mrs. Torrance on a spar of wood while Pudd escapes. The necessity of having Rachel treated for her spider-bites forces Parker to come clean about the Fellowship and his investigation with the local police, who surmise that the murder of Jack Mercier, his wife and lawyer on their yacht that same night is, in light of all this information about a long-running fundamentalist Christian conspiracy to assassinate anyone they consider sinners, probably related.
Mrs. Torrance is one of those figures in the novel that I’m mostly glossed over before, because her primary role up to now was to be a bitchy voice on the phone impeding Parker’s investigation. Her presence here in this scene feels like something of a narrative contrivance; she has to be here because she has to die because the board needs to be cleared of everyone associated with the Fellowship by the end of the novel. But the Mrs. Torrance we’ve seen so far is, really, just a bitchy, petty secretary. Elevating her to a woman who happily stands by while a mass murderer tortures a woman to death feels like a stretch. Logically, it should be Pudd’s sister Muriel here, and since Mrs. Torrance’s final act is spitting blood and refusing to tell Parker where Faulkner is, putting a mute character in her place pretty much accomplishes the same effect.
The next day, Parker is finally able to lean on Marcy Becker’s parents enough to convince them to tell him where she is hiding. He takes Louis and Rachel with him, for their firepower and counselling skills, and find Marcy at her family cabin (a rather obvious place to look, really) and get her to tell the story of what happened to Grace; she had left Marcy in a hotel for two days, returning wet and carrying a bundle. On the drive back they were spotted by the police, so Grace gave Marcy the package and dropped her off after a blind curve. Marcy witnessed Lutz murder Grace and ran off with the package to hide. The package, we soon discover, is another Faulkner Apocalypse, only this one is made out of human skin and bone. A small name on each “page” lists the person the skin was from, and the Aroostock Baptists make up most of the book. Parker’s attempt to flee with Marcy is frustrated by the arrival of the Golem and Lutz, with the Golem taking Lutz with him in exchange for not killing Parker for interfering with his work. Meanwhile, Pudd kidnaps Angel.
No, seriously, that’s how the book treats the subject, as an aside at the end of a chapter. Now, a lot has been written about gendered violence in genre fiction, and this book series opens with horrible things happening to a woman and her daughter in order to angst motivate the hero. It’s an unpleasant and regrettable trope, but it’s the character trajectory we’re dealing with here. And I would certainly include violence against gay characters as one of the elements of gendered violence that’s overused in genre fiction. But I’m not going to get into that now, because Angel and Louis fall into a complicated position in that regard (it’s really hard to see professional killers as “victims”) and because I’m pretty much going to have to address it in The White Road.
In any case…Parker calls a friend at the FBI for any information on the Travelling Man’s movements in Maine that might be a clue to where Faulkner and his children are and is told of a trip to Lubec that was nowhere near any investigation that should have been conducted. Lebec is known for historic lighthouses, and once Parker arrives in town he learns of a partially collapsed lighthouse built by a Baptist minister in the 1800s that is inhabited by “an old man and his children.” Parker makes his way onto the heavily fortified encampment, and in a field finds the Golem, dead and staked to a tree. Muriel, Faulkner’s daughter emerges from a nearby building and dies quickly in a gunfight with Parker. The building itself is filled with shelves and shelves full of spiders and insects, and while inside Parker has another gunfight with Pudd, ending when Parker tips over a shelf, causing a domino effect that crushes Pudd under shattering glass cages full of venomous insects.
Inside the main building, Parker finds walls covered with apocalyptic imagery, and signs that the Faulkners were planning on fleeing. In the basement is Angel, still alive but badly injured, and with a patch of skin removed from his back. Parker takes him out of the house and finds Faulkner himself preparing to leave by boat from a nearby jetty. Parker shoots the boat’s motor, stranding Faulkner, and the two banter about the nature of evil and sin and Faulkner’s weak justifications for mass murder, before Parker is attacked by a somehow still alive Pudd. Parker loses his gun in the struggle and seems on the verge of losing when Angel appears and literally blows Pudd’s head off. Faulkner then attempts to provoke Parker into using a flare gun to blow him and the boat, leaking oil, up, but Parker instead uses the flare to signal the police, enraging Faulkner by denying him his desired martyrdom. The book ends with Parker at home with Rachel and Rachel revealing that she is pregnant.
It’s hard to discuss this book in isolation because, unlike the two previous books, it…really isn’t a stand-alone book. In many ways, this book and the next book in the series are two parts of one longer story, only stretched out to a more reasonable length instead of having two separate but related plots crammed into one book, as was the case in Every Dead Thing. Events from this book continue directly on into The White Road, and characters and events take on greater significance when viewed in that context. As a stand alone book, then, the story here is somewhat unsatisfying. The central mystery is who killed Grace Peltier and why, and when the answer comes (religious fanatics) there’s not really anyone left to care except Parker himself. And the last thing Parker needs, frankly, is more angst. And while Pudd is a supremely creepy villain, and while the Fellowship’s motives have suitably uncomfortable real-world parallels, Faulkner himself is rather sad and petty in his ideology. A case could be made that this itself is a statement about the ultimate banality of evil, but given the horrific nature of Faulkner’s crimes and the repeated suggestion that killers of this nature are not, strictly speaking, even human, his ultimate mundanity is frustrating.