Archive for the “Dark Hollow” Category
Dark Hollow, 2002, John Connolly
I like how the cover image fits the tone of the book, but is completely ambiguous about who that’s supposed to be. Parker? A man standing alone against the darkness. Caleb Kyle? Danger watching from the woods. Billy Purdue? A man isolated in the wilderness. It fits all of them.
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.
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.
This set of chapters opens with meetings. Parker meets with Lee Cole, who tells him that her daughter Ellen, who visited Parker at the start of the book, has not called in several days. Walter went to search for her and was rebuffed by the police in the last town she visited; Dark Hollow. Parker and Louis then travel to Boston to meet with a mid-level mafia intermediary, and superior of Tony Celli, Al Z, who operates out of an office over a comic book shop. Parker wants Z to persuade Celli to give Ellen Cole back to her parents if he has her, but Z makes it clear that Celli is being hunted by the mob because of the Billy Purdue business and broadly warns Parker to stay away. Parker attempts a third meeting, with Rachel at Harvard, but has to settle for leaving her a message with his new phone number.
When Parker and Louis return they find that Angel visited Billy’s trailer and found a letter from Meade Payne addressed to Billy. The trio return to Dark Hollow with the search for Ellen Cole providing an explicit justification that keeps them, from the perspective of both the law and the mob, out of the Billy Purdue search. Parker learns that Ellen and her boyfriend did come through Dark Hollow, on the advice of an “old man” that they gave a lift to. They stayed one night, and then none of the three were seen in town again. Parker wants to connect this “old man” to the one who harassed Rita and was seen watching Billy Purdue, but while the coincidence is suggestive he has no proof. Parker then meets with Rand Jennings, who flatly refuses to take the search for Ellen seriously, especially now that he knows that the man his wife had an affair with is searching for her.
Parker is left to voice his frustrations with Jennings apathy with Angel, prompting a long discussion with the short burglar about the nature of compassion and how men like Jennings would rather be angry at the world. Their conversation is interrupted by police sirens. The body of the missing surveyor has been found at the end of a private road into the deep part of the Maine woods. Jennings immediately decides that the man must have fallen and twisted his neck, but Parker notes that there is evidence of rope burns around the man’s wrists, and ponders the likelihood that, given the location of the body and circumstances of its discovery, he was more likely assaulted by someone coming out of the woods than following him in. That night, Parker has another vision of the dead, and Louis, in an odd moment of acting as comforter, tells Parker of the night in his childhood when Errol Rich was lynched and his Grandma Lucy “saw” the death in a psychic vision, suggesting that Parker has the same connection to, and responsibility to, the dead that she had.
These chapters are very talky, and what little forward momentum there is is focused on the side-stories and clues that the reader and Parker see add up to the bigger picture. In this case, that every act and moment of violence that has occurred brings Parker back to Billy Purdue, with the sole and notable exception of the disappearance of Ellen Cole. It’s the one aberration from the pattern that is developing. More importantly, we get a look at the flip side of the series. Instead of focusing on evil and the nature of evil, Parker and Angel have a long conversation about compassion. The conversation reiterates one of the main elements of characterization, that despite the violence of his life and his connection to the dead, Parker is defined by his compassion. The way the concept of “compassion” is spelled out here is interesting as well. Compassion is not recognizing your own pain and realizing that others can feel pain too. Compassion here is recognizing that others feel pain, regardless of whether or not you do, and that their pain continues unless you do something about it. To act otherwise is to act selfishly, which approaches evil.
And we’re back…
This set of chapters is marked by a little back-and-forthing and quite a lot more flashbacking. First Parker travels to Dark Hollow to find Meade Payne, Billy Purdue’s foster father and now the only living person to have any ties to Purdue’s past. Meaning Payne not only has potential answers for Parker about why those connected to Billy are being targeted, but is also in danger himself. Parker barely gets into town, however, before meeting Lorna Jennings, wife of Dark Hollow police chief Rand Jennings…and the woman Parker had an affair with the summer before he left for New York to join the police force. Parker’s memories of their affair, and Rand’s beating of Parker once he found out about it, leave little time for the actual conversation with Payne. Payne, according to local rumor, has had a rough few years following the deaths of his wife and nephew, and when Parker meets him he finds a sprightly old man with a gruff, overtly hostile young man Payne addresses as Caspar. Payne, stubbornly, claims to not know where Purdue is, and indicates he wouldn’t tell Parker even if he did know.
Which leaves Parker to drive to Greenville, the next town south, and meet with it’s chief, Dave Martel, for whom Purdue was once a regular problem. Martel is unaware of where Purdue might be, and is mostly concerned with the search for a lumber surveyor who is overdue after going deep into the Maine woods and the fallout of the Emily Watts death at the St. Martha’s home. There is still no clear motive for the suicide of Emily Watts and it is being chalked up to dementia by those in authority since she was, according to witnesses, running from the local version of the bogeyman, Caleb Kyle.
This prompts another long flashback, as Parker remembers 1965, the year his grand-father, still active in the police force, assisting in the search for six local women who disappeared. After meeting with a non-local man in a bar who seemed to be overly interested, and curiously amused, by the search efforts, Parker’s grandfather found a tree in the woods where five of the women were hung. A man fitting the description of the man he had met had been spotted near where each of the woman had disappeared, but the blood clothes of one of the woman was then found in the home of another local man, a mentally retarded itinerant worker with a history of inappropriate behavior with women, including one of the dead women. After that man’s death in custody, the cases were considered closed, with the disappearance of the sixth woman, Judith Mundy, officially considered unrelated. After that, the name “Caleb Kyle” entered the local lexicon as the bogeyman who kills people who wander into the woods, though the actual provenance of the name or its association with the woods, is never clear to anyone.
After establishing this background, Parker checks in with Angel and Louis, who tell Parker that Lee Cole has been looking for him. It seems her daughter, Ellen, is now missing after stopping to see Parker before going on her camping trip. This news is put aside, however, when Billy Purdue calls Parker and asks for help. Parker, Angel and Louis go to fetch Billy, only to find Tony Celli’s men there already. Louis dispatches them, only for the trio to find dead federal agents and the Canadian officer looking for Billy, who, it transpires, is actually Abel. Louis kills Abel and Parker now learns that Angel and Louis are not here solely out of concern for him, but because Louis has accepted the contract to kill Abel and Stritch. For the princely sum of one dollar, as it turns out. Timely intervention by the ghost of Rita Ferris prevents Stritch from killing Parker, but Billy flees, now convinced that Parker is working with Tony Celli’s men.
A significant amount of backstory occurs in these chapters, and Parker’s investigation is fairly meandering, but a few recurring themes do appear. Parker’s connection to the supernatural is reiterated, and the association of the name Caleb Kyle with the deaths of the missing women despite an explicit connection is suggestive of a kind of supernaturally informed group consciousness. The Abel and Stritch subplot also brings in the issues of human evil, and the degrees that exist. Abel and Stritch are evil and corrupt in unspeakable ways, and Louis, though a murderer, is set up as a kind of corrective to such evil. He kills, but only those who, on the scale of such things, are on the deserving end.
Parker opens these chapters with some actual investigation, going to talk to one of Rita’s neighbors, a single mother who sometimes acted as babysitter for Donald. Rita, it transpires, had been working “at nights” to make ends meet for Lester Biggs, a crooked businessman with aspirations of running an escort agency. Biggs doesn’t have much information to offer, only that the last client Rita took scared her so badly she quit and tried to leave town-the incident being what prompted her to ask Parker for help in getting the child support money Billy Purdue owed her. The only description Rita gave of the man was that he was old and wore clothes several decades out of date. Any further attempts to chase down Billy Purdue only result in Parker learning that Purdue hired a private investigator of his own several weeks ago.
Marvin Willeford is an aging alcoholic and the only investigator Purdue could afford, and even then he couldn’t pay him to complete his investigation. What Purdue was looking for was the identity of his birth parents, but Willeford only encountered dead ends; ones seemingly designed to end. Purdue was mostly raised in foster homes, mostly upstate, the last in the town of Dark Hollow. The records of his birth were sealed and his placement into the foster care system was facilitated by Cheryl Lansing-whom Parker briefly encountered leaving money and clothes with Rita for Donald, and the nuns of a local convent-since turned into a nursing home. The same nursing home where a woman killed herself rather than face Caleb Kyle, a tragedy overshadowed in the local imagination by the gang killings. Parker concludes his interview with Willeford only to get kidnapped and roughed up by Tony Celli, the mobster at the center of the recent activity, who is also looking for Billy Purdue.
Angel and Louis arrive in town to watch Parker’s back. Word has reached them of Tony Celli’s involvement and they are able to explain/exposition the missing details. Celli made a bad investment in currency bonds with other people’s money, and so he is hiding from his bosses. He kidnapped the daughter of an ex-Khmer Rogue agent turned smugger for the Cambodian mob and Billy Purdue made off with the ransom money when that deal went pear-shaped. Meanwhile, a pair of sexual sadists/assassins, Abel and Stritch, are looking to retire and have set their eyes on the Cambodian ransom money, believing Celli and/or Purdue to be easy marks. Of Abel, conveniently, there is no description, but Stritch fits the description of the fat man who had been following Parker. Louis, in a nice touch indicating that the characters are at least as quick on the uptake as the readers, points out that Rita and Donald’s death do not match up with the methods used by anyone looking for the money.
The chapters close out with Angel and Parker traveling to meet Cheryl Lansing. When they arrive at her address there is no answer at her door and they can see rotting food through a window. In the backyard the pool has been filled in with leaves, and Parker finds the bodies of Lansing, her daughter-in-law, and her granddaughters inside. Lansing’s tongue has been cut out, in a “don’t talk” message similar to Rita’s mouth being sown shut.
In contrast to the previous books, it’s nice that Parker is doing actual investigations and the characters are drawing logical conclusions based on the information they find, rather than following along in a killer’s trail and waiting for convenient murder attempts to clue them in. It goes a long way towards removing the “Parker is a chump” theme of the previous book. It’s also a nice touch that Connolly subverts the “all the cases are related” trope here. While Billy Purdue is at the center of both the murder story and the mob money story, he is the only common point of contact, and even the characters recognize that they are in the midst of two separate stories. The “all cases are related” trope is so widespread in mystery fiction, that it’s frankly a relief whenever it’s not used.
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Prologue, Chapters 1-6
The second Charlie Parker opens with horrible things happening at opposite ends of a stretch of woods. At one, two FBI agents listen in on what they believe to be a standard cash drop between local gangsters and the Cambodian mob that turns into a hit on the Cambodians, ending with virtually everyone dead. At the other, an elderly woman escapes from a nursing home, knocking out a guard and taking his gun, evading a police manhunt before killing herself, all in her efforts to get away from, or face, “Caleb Kyle,” the local bogeyman. Parker is largely unaware of this, alternating fixing his grandfather’s home in rural Maine and helping a family friend, Rita, extract some long overdue child support money from her ex-husband, Billy Purdue, a small time crook who has, in the past, done some work with the local gangsters who were out killing Cambodians the other night.
Parker’s life hasn’t completely settled from the events of the last book. Rachel is refusing to speak with him, and at the funeral for a cop friend of Parker’s, Walter Cole refuses to speak to him as well. The only bright spot, such as it is, is Parker’s acquiring of a private investigator’s license, though the only work he has been offered is corporate espionage cases that he feels are unseemly and beneath him. That, and a visit from Ellen Cole, Walter’s daughter, who is camping in the Maine woods with her boyfriend. But even these bright spots are troubled by the arrival in town of a fat, oily, palpably corrupt man looking for Billy Purdue, who has disappeared since his run-in with Parker. The clear implication is that the money that Purdue used to pay his child support came from very bad men who would like it back.
Everything goes to hell, naturally, the next day. Parker wakes up to discover footprints and a child’s toy in his house, and makes the realization that someone broke into his home and watched him while he slept, leaving the toy as some sort of message. This is confirmed when Ellis Howard, the local sheriff, arrives and confirms Parker’s movements after telling him that Rita and her son Donald have been killed. The suspicion is that Purdue has killed them and skipped town, but Parker doesn’t believe the evidence suggests that. Rita was strangled, and then her lips sewn shut-a message intended for someone. Donald had his head bashed into a wall, and Donald’s death in particular suggests it is unlikely that Purdue would be the killer, even in the case of a custody or support argument.
The parallels to Parker’s own loss are an obvious drive to the narrative; in both this and the last book Parker is motivated by the death of a mother and child. It’s the sort of plot similarity that could suggest an overuse of a problematic trope, but in context here it plays out more of a factor of Parker’s personality. He is driven to help people, to prevent tragedies, and when he fails he becomes more determined. That the murders are staged as messages, combined with the break-in at his own home, also reinforces the theme of Parker being dragged into these situations by outside forces, compelled to become involved. The fat man is interesting as well. Moral corruption expressed as physical ugliness is a recurring feature of the villains of Connolly’s books-though not exclusively, both villains in the previous novel had pleasant shells hiding their depravity. The actual, physical corruption though does play into the more supernatural elements of the series as the books progress.
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