Archive for the “John Connolly” Category

In many ways, this is the “part two” for The Killing Kind, and the structure of the two books very broadly resembles the structure of Every Dead Thing. Only, instead of cramming the “Parker is too late to realize the obvious set-up by the villain” storyline in the middle of the actual storyline, the “Parker is too late to realize the obvious set-up” storyline gets moved into another book entirely. It works much better this time in terms of pacing and overall satisfaction. We do, after all, get two full stories now, instead of two rather rushed ones, but it also means that the ending of the last book lacks resolution and this book requires familiarity with what happened before to catch what’s going on.

The book opens with a brief flash-forward, as Angel and Louis travel to Georgia to kill the three men who organized the lynching of Errol Rich when Louis was a young boy. It’s an important scene for a couple reasons. One, it sets up a storyline for Angel that’s more in depth than what he’s had before, where we see the lengths Angel must go to to exorcise the psychic damage Faulkner did to him. Of the three regular male leads, Angel is the least likely to kill, but Faulkner’s actions have essentially corrupted him, and now Angel feels a need to kill to act as catharsis. The background we get on both Angel and Louis later in the book ties into this as well: Angel has been a perpetual victim for most of his life, and it’s only his association with Parker and Louis that has moved him beyond that. Faulkner has set him back. Louis, meanwhile, killed his first man when he was thirteen, when he planted a bomb in a whistle to kill the man who murdered his mother and raped his aunt. Louis has always been about killing those who need killing in order to satisfy the greater good. The other purpose the scene serves is to very explicitly lay out the theme for the book; sins of the past have consequences now.

The main plot concerns Parker being contacted by an old acquaintance from his NYPD days, a former prosecutor named Elliot Norton now semi-retired to South Carolina and working as a defense attorney. His current client is Atys Jones, a black man accused of raping and murdering his white girl-friend, Marianne Larousse, daughter of wealthy industrialist Earl Larousse. Complicating the matter is the presence of Roger Bowen, the closest thing to a leader a loose-knit confederation of racist groups, using public outrage over Marianne’s death to raise funds for the defense of Reverend Faulkner. Before leaving for South Carolina, Parker speaks with Faulkner in prison, where he is awaiting a bail appeal hearing and arguing that he was the innocent victim of his children’s violent predations. Faulkner offers Parker a deal; don’t testify against him and he won’t have Rachel killed, an offer Parker refuses before Faulkner speaks to him of Black Angels again, implying that the beings that Parker is angering at this point are inhuman and explicitly supernatural. After Parker leaves, Faulkner begins signing to the man in the opposite cell, a serial killer named Cyrush Nairn, whose real crimes have so far been undetected, doing time for an attempted burglary and pretending to be deaf and mute-though he is perfectly capable of hearing and only affects to be mute. Faulkner is aware of Nairn’s crimes and has been arranging to “give” Rachel to him once Nairn is released.

In South Carolina, Parker quickly finds the situation to be infinitely more complicated than he initially surmised. Atys Jones and Marianne Larousse were not just lovers; in the past, her family owned his family and one of his ancestors led a brief slave rebellion. Further, Elliot Norton was good friends with Earl Larousse Jr, Marianne’s older brother, and one of his clients, Landron Mobley, was hired muscle for Roger Bowen. Bowen is chummy with the Larousse family and claims to employ a man named Kittim, who is leading the efforts to free Faulkner. Kittim is a curious case, as everyone in Bowen’s movement agrees that Kittim is “legendary” but no one can actually ever seem to remember what, precisely, he is famous for. This odd memory gap and the stench of rotting meat that follows Kittim around serve to unnerve everyone. In addition, Atys Jones mother and aunt both went missing from the same swamp that Marianne Larousse’s body was found in nearly twenty years ago, and his father appears to be an ex-con turned jailhouse preacher named Tereus, who went to jail for killing the man who raped Aty’s mother and was the presumed father of Atys Jones until Parker starts researching the situation for himself. As a further complication, the rest of the circle that included Norton, Earl Jr and Mobley are being killed off by a woman with scaled skin one by one. As is usual for Parker’s life, things quickly go to hell, and he frequently finds himself having visions of a ghostly car trailing him.

After much back-and-forthing with Parker criss-crossing the state, with Louis acting as occasional bodyguard, Kittim and Bowen’s men kill Atys and Norton disappears (without, tellingly, leaving a body behind, a sure sign of guilt by genre convention), while Angel makes a side-trip to New York to contact the same synagogue that hired the Golem to kill Faulkner in the previous book. Eventually the truth is revealed in a confrontation in the swamp, Earl Jr, Norton and their friends, under the guidance of Mobley, raped Atys Jones mother and aunt, burning both women and leaving them for dead in the swamp, but Melia, Atys’s aunt, survived, living in the swamp and giving rise to the local legend of a ghostly, scaled woman. When Tereus was released from jail they began their revenge scheme, starting with the murder of Marianne Larousse, whose relationship with Atys they were unaware of. Mobley used his knowledge of Norton and Earl Jr’s involvement and sold it to Bowen as blackmail material to force the Larousse family to bankroll his activities. The inevitable confrontation ends with everyone but Parker dead, and Kittim trying to escape into the swamp, only to be captured by members of the synagogue who are aware, quite plainly and literally, not human but a spirit animating a corpse.

Back home, Faulkner is granted bail and his confederates arrange an escape for him. One by one Faulkner’s group is picked off by people working for either Louis or the synagogue, but Cyrus Nairn is busily stalking Rachel and Parker’s unborn child. In short order, Parker, Angel and Louis find and kill Faulkner, frustrating his ambitions to become a martyr by ensuring that, as far as the world is concerned, he simply disappears. Rachel lures Nairn into the woods, beats him and drowns him in the river. In a
epilogue, Cyrus finds himself along “the White Road”, the metaphor for the path of the dead that Tereus used in his conversations with Parker, and the ghostly car waiting for him. Inside are the spirits of Stritch and Pudd and his sister, each with the manners of their deaths visited upon them over and over again. Tellingly, like the incident with Rachel, these scenes are not relayed to us by Parker, but by an omniscient narrator; Rachel’s actions and the nature of the afterlife for these characters is information withheld from Parker.

In a lot of ways this book represents the “end” of the first cycle of Charlie Parker stories. While the elements of the supernatural have always been present, going forward it’s more explicitly a factor in the stories, so Faulkner’s suggestion that he is the last of Parker’s strictly human foes is largely correct. It also ties many of the loose threads from earlier books together with Faulkner acting as a motivating factor for events since the Travelling Man first appeared. The themes the series revisits over and over are laid out here again; the sins of the past continue to have consequences in the present, and the world is a “honeycomb” with secrets buried deeper and deeper in it, all in layers, and each secret waiting to harm those living on the surface of the world.

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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.

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The Killing Kind, 2003, John Connolly
We’ve got another ambiguously vague symbolic cover here. Is that Charlie Parker, caught in the middle of the Fellowship’s web? Or is that Pudd at home with his pets? It works either way, and conveys a sense of dread.

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Chapters 8-20

There’s a lot of ground to cover in these chapters, as events themselves move quickly, Parker often learns of them at second-hand, and Parker is more or less keeping pace with the reader when it comes to revelations about the plot that is unfolding. He starts by tracking own Grace’s friend Ali Wynn, a perky Goth girl who broke off contact with Grace when Grace’s obsession with the Aroostock Baptists became unhealthy. Parker then also learns of the death of Rabbi Josef Epstein, whom he had seen at the Mercier home, and was prominent in anti-Nazi and anti-racism movements, and was part of a legal challenge to the Fellowship’s tax-exempt status. Shortly thereafter, Curtis Pelletier is killed as well.

Parker is then summoned into the presence of Al Z, who explains that he sicced Parker on Pudd because Pudd’s activities have not only made him enemies amongst the mob, but because even their low moral standards are offended by Pudd, but Al cannot be seen to move against him without initiating a full war between the mob and the people Pudd works for. Al refers him to a retired Jewish mobster named Mickey Shine, and warns Parker that a Jewish hitman named The Golem has been hired to kill Pudd as a response to the death of Rabbi Epstein.

Shine mostly speaks around the question of Pudd when Parker talks to him, though he does have an idea of where Pudd’s home base is, or at least was: somewhere in the north of Maine, in the woods, near a lighthouse. But Shine does further the notion that Pudd, and men like him, are not actually human, but hollow things with some kind of spirit of malice inside them. That night at the opera, Pudd kills Al Z and his bodyguard while Parker and Rachel just happen to be coincidentally there. Shine goes into hiding, but agrees to meet Parker at the Cloisters-a museum housing medieval exhibits-that he says will explain what Pudd and the Fellowship are after. At the same time, The Golem arrives and kills Lester Bargus, Pudd’s spider-dealer and a gun-dealer for militia groups, who had earlier refused to give any info to Parker. This leaves Parker caught in the middle of two professional killers working towards each other.

The Cloisters exhibit features a collection of illuminated manuscripts featuring Apocalypses, illustrations of the Book of Revelations. The exact import of this isn’t clear, but the central exhibit featuring an illustration of a spider-like demon who inscribes the names of the damned provides something of a clue. Things go to hell, though, when on the Cloisters grounds Parker encounters Pudd and his sister and learns they have killed Shine and left his head in a nearby tree. A gunfight ensues, and Parker is saved by a quietly tagging along Louis, who manages to wound but not kill Pudd. An excerpt from Grace’s thesis provides (along with details of the ongoing deterioration of the Aroostock Baptist colony over both Faulkner’s authoritarian rule and the questionable and violent behavior of his children and the disintegration of Elizabeth Jessop’s marriage) the reader with the timely information that Faulkner’s main claim to fame was in the construction of hand-made Apocalypses, all marked with an omega symbol-which Parker had noted in the Mercier library.

Deborah Mercier then visits Parker at home and attempts to bribe Parker into dropping the case. He learns that Deborah, out of bitterness over her husband’s relationship with Grace, steered her in the direction of the Fellowship. Parker speaks to Jack Mercier and tells him about his wife’s involvement with Grace’s death and also learns that a new Faulkner Apocalypse was sold at auction by Carter Paragon, proving not only that Faulkner is alive, but that the Fellowship is connected to him, which set in motion to legal challenges of Mercier, Beck and Epstein. Mercier then formally fires Parker.

Parker’s next stop is The Colony, the religious commune he dried out at after the death of his wife and daughter, where he speaks to Dave and Amy, liberal Christians who just coincidentally happen to be acquainted with both Pudd and the Fellowship. (Okay, I’m inclined to accept a certain degree of coincidence in mystery novels-you only have so many pages and exposition has to happen some how. And while I can see a group of liberal evangelicals butting heads with the Fellowship from time to time, their connections and knowledge of Pudd require a lot of suspension of disbelief. Either Pudd is a figure know to only a small group or he’s the infamous boogeyman of the religious extremist movement. He can’t be both.) In any case, what Parker leans is that the Fellowship is not only a front for extremist groups, but even that aspect is a front for a very small group with the misanthropic goal of wiping out all humanity for being sinful. Pudd usually adopts aliases drawn from demonology, and the Pudd name is a twisted tribute to an American arachnologist. He also learns that, several years earlier, the Travelling Man had come to the Colony and asked for information on Pudd and the Fellowship.

Along with Louis and Angel, Parker breaks into the Fellowship offices and finds them empty save for some right-wing pamphlets. They then head over to Carter Paragon’s house and find it mostly empty save for many boxes of guns and ammunition, apparently destined for militia groups. They also find the body of Carter Paragon, tied to a chair and seemingly tortured, with a shard of clay in his throat. Back at his home, Parker is visited by the Golem, who up close Parker can see is both badly burnt and bears a numbered tattoo on his wrist. The Golem warns Parker to stay out of his way as he makes his way through the Fellowship members towards Pudd. Later that night, after some prompting from Angel and Louis, Parker asks Rachel to move in with him.

One of the things I find interesting about Connolly’s books is that he seems interested in making the “badass” characters anything but WASPy. Yes, Parker’s the protagonist, but if we’re going to assign the characters some point on a scale of who you don’t want to mess with, while Parker is up there, Louis, the black gay conservative hitman, is definitely above him. And so I find the Golem an interesting addition to this mix. He’s a minor character, more of an impediment than an actual character, but a couple of small details not only tell us that he’s fairly dangerous, but sketch in his background to explain why he’s dangerous. Plus, the idea of a concentration camp survivor turned assassin, with a focus on killing anti-Semites, ranks up there with, well, black gay conservative hitman in terms of ideas you don’t see anywhere else.

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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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