Prologue, Chapters 1-7

We’re at the point now where a map of Maine has to be included at the start of the book. On the one hand, it does give a sense of place, to be able to see how various locales throughout the books relate to one another. On the other, it’s the sort of detail I mentally associate with D&D-campaign inspired fantasy novels.

The prologue opens with the description of the “honeycomb world” as a metaphor for the secrets of the past coming back into the present in unpleasant ways. It’s an idea that informs the series as a whole, and formed almost the entire basis of the last book, but it plays out explicitly here as well. The rest of the prologue then focuses on the death of Dr. Alison Beck, an abortion rights provider and activist who is killed when she is locked in her car with a large number of spiders. Beck had been tracking the activities of terrorist groups tied to the anti-abortion movement, and was close to making an announcement of some kind with her allies when she was killed. The prologue ends with the discovery of a mass grave by utility workers in Northern Maine.

This prologue is interesting, not only for heavily foreshadowing the important details of the early chapters, but because this is a post 9/11 book, and the selection of Christian extremest terrorists as villains goes against the cultural zeitgeist of the time (and is the sort of thing that’s still a political hot potato, to the point where real-life law enforcement agencies are hindered by political squeamishness over calling nominal Christians “terrorists”). But Connolly is Irish, lives in a country with a history of religiously motivated Christian terrorism, and has the luxury of speaking unpleasant truths about American culture as a result of those factors.

In the opening chapters we find Charlie Parker doing business mostly in corporate espionage cases, not carrying a gun with him, and being free of visions of the dead for some time. He has even managed to rekindle his relationship with Rachel. Things start to turn sour when a client suggests that his line of work is sleazy (dismissing the fact that he himself hired Parker in the first place) when wealthy ex-politician Jack Mercer requests his aid. Jack wishes to hire Parker on behalf of his old business partner, Curtis Pelletier. Curtis’s daughter, Grace Pelletier, an ex-girl-friend of Parker’s because of course she is, has recently died and her death been ruled a homicide by the local police. The circumstances of the death are suspicious enough, involving missing persons, salt water soaked clothes, the gun in the left-hand when Grace was right-handed, and a no official cause of death cited by the coroner, that the eagerness of the investigating officer to close the file appears peculiar. Especially troubling is that Grace died while researching the disappearance of a fringe religious group, the Aroostock Baptists, and her last planned meeting was with Carter Paragon, a televangelist and head of a religious organization named The Fellowship, which has long been suspected of funding Christian terrorist groups. Shortly after taking the case, Parker’s visions return, this time of a woman and little boy in summer clothes too light for the weather, the boy with tape over one half of his eyeglasses and a board on a string around his neck.

Occasional excerpts from Grace’s thesis separate the chapters, and paint a picture of the Aroostock Baptists as a Millenialist group led by self-appointed Biblical authority Reverend Faulkner, who leads a group of twenty people; all carefully selected families with two children-a son and a daughter-and estrangement from other relatives, into deep Northern Maine, selling all their possession and living communally. It is, as Grace notes, a pattern of behavior more common with religious conmen than the truly devout. It should also be noted that the Reverend himself was accompanied by his own wife and son and daughter.

Parker’s second vision plays off of a story from his father’s time as a policeman, involving the death of Marilyn Hyde, who was brutally tortured and murdered after making eye contact with a man on the subway. Parker’s father rationalized this as being due to “dark angels”-people who are somehow more and less than human, divorced from empathy and who live amongst humans and prey on them. As a metaphor for sociopaths it’s compelling, but it becomes literalized in Parker’s dream. In the dream he sees an old man with dark wings screaming “sinner” as similarly dark figures wait at the edge of a clearing. At the end of the vision, Parker sees that he too has these same dark wings. On a character level, this is an excellent conceptualization of the thin line that Parker walks between doing the right thing and being as bad as the men he fights. In terms of the metaplot for the series as a whole, though, this is actually pretty much just a literal vision. There really are dark angels, or at least some believe, and Parker really is one of them. Possibly.

In the morning, Parker finds his mailbox has been filled with poisonous spiders, a detail of more signifcance to the reader than Parker himself. Parker’s attempts to speak with Carter Paragon are frustrated by the brutally callous efficiency of the Fellowship secretarial staff, as well as Detective John Lutz, a police officer who openly admits to working more for the Fellowship than the police force. Coincidentally, Lutz is the investigating officer in Grace Pelletier’s death, despite the location of her body being outside his technical jurisdiction. Parker has little more luck at the family hotel of Mary Becker, whom Grace was supposed to meet. Mary has disappeared and her clearly terrified parents refuse to give any information on her whereabouts. Further pressing of Curtis Pelletier confirms what Parker had suspected; that the reason that Jack Mercier was so involved in this case is because he is the biological father of Grace. It also becomes evident that, through both Mercier and Pelletier, Grace is related to members of the Aroostock Baptists.

Parker’s life is further complicated when Al Z, de-facto head of the local mob, refers Harvey Ragle, a producer of porn fetish videos to Parker for protection, with Ragle’s lawyer insisting that the job is related to his current line of inquiry. On his way to meet with Ragle, Parker is accosted on his property by a thin, red-haired man who has been following Parker through the last several chapters. He has arrived with his mute sister, introduces himself as Mr. Pudd, and is very put out to learn that Parker burned the spiders in his mailbox. Pudd rather lazily threatens Parker on behalf of the Fellowship and presses his card on him, which is soaked with some sort of venom. Parker meets with Ragle and learns that Pudd has threatened to kill him, after learning that Ragle has made “crush” videos featuring women stepping on spiders. The chapters end with Parker having another vision of the woman and the one-eyed boy. The woman, whom the boy refers to as “The Summer Lady” is clearly Parker’s late wife Susan. The placard the boy wears says “Sinner” and Parker sees himself surrounded by men women and children wearing the same signs.

The melding of the plots is happening rather quickly here, in comparison to the usual pace of mystery novels, to the point where even Parker is realizing that all the threads revolve around Mr. Pudd and the Fellowship. The obvious connections between the mass graves and the Aroostock Baptists are evident to him as well, so for once Parker is keeping pace with the reader in figuring out how data points fit together. The only things left for him to discover is Pudd’s history of violence and to draw the connection between Faulkner’s son and daughter and Pudd and his peculiar sister.

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