Archive for the “Every Dead Thing” Category
Chapters 45-50, Epilogue
As the story approaches its climax events begin accelerating again, mostly in the “tie a bow on it all” sense. Rachel’s analysis of the Traveling Man’s crimes make it increasingly clear that Parker is the primary target of the “messages” that TM is sending, but that he appears to be becoming bolder and more spectacular in his efforts. Louis offers a contrasting view based on his own experiences, which is that TM simply enjoys killing people and wants attention. As plot threads tie up, Parker accompanies the Fontenot’s on a raid of Joe Bones compound, in retaliation for the attacks on the funeral. Bones, before being dispatched by the Fontenot’s men indicates that he has been in contact, in some form, with the Traveling Man, but refuses to tell Parker anything. Rachel, disgusted by Parker’s involvement with a targeted killing, decides to return to New York, just as someone leaks the details of the Traveling Man’s crimes to the press in New Orleans. In our final example of “chump Parker” in this book, it is obvious, from the details and the curious omission of Parker’s name from the press, that the leak came from someone within the FBI. To make matters worse, the Traveling Man kills Morphy and his wife, Parker’s contact with the local police in New Orleans, giving every authority in the area an excuse to send Parker home, as his presence is clearly making matters worse.
While being escorted out of town by Morphy’s partner, words comes of another body of a young girl found near Honey Island in a barrel. The local police, taking advantage of Woolrich and the FBI manhunt raiding the just conveniently located hiding place of their main suspect in the Traveling Man murders, agree to keep Parker on briefly and not divulge the discovery to the FBI. Through, again, a remarkable set of lucky coincidences, the new body is identified as Lisa Woolrich, the estranged daughter of the FBI agent, who allegedly ran away from home to join a cult in Mexico. Parker, finally, begins to get a clue, and his suspicions are confirmed when, meeting Woolrich after the FBI raid, he casually asks about his daughter and is told that Woolrich spoke to her recently. The enormity of this confirmation of just how long Parker has been toyed with by a sociopath overwhelms him, and Woolrich, realizing the jig is up, has time to escape, kidnapping Rachel in the process.
Parker tracks Woolrich to the home of an ex-girlfriend that Woolrich claimed moved away but, in all likelihood, was another Traveling Man victim. The actual confrontation is quite short, considering the bulk of the book beforehand, and ends in a shootout between a ketamine drugged Parker and Woolrich, with Parker shooting Woolrich to death in a room filled with jars containing the faces of Woolrich’s victims-far more than the FBI, as led by Woolrich’s investigation, suspected. Woolrich has nothing much to offer in the way of justification; his explanations hew closer to Louis’ theory that he simply enjoys killing, those his justifications for targeting Parker veer towards Rachel’s theories, particularly in his excuse that Parker became his target for “parading” his family in front of him while Woolrich could see that Parker was, at the time, no more than a drunk, taking us back to the suggestion that Parker somehow brought this on himself and others for failing to live up to someone else’s standards. The epilogue closes us out with another visit by Parker to his family’s graves as he leaves New York for the upstate area and the home of his late grandfather, with Rachel, understandably, refusing to see him.
One of the things I find useful about rereading/rewatching things I’ve enjoyed is that it allows me to take a closer, more nuanced look at the thing. I enjoy Connolly’s novels tremendously, and the world he has created for Parker is deep and fascinating, and bridges the gap between “supernatural” and detective fiction in a way that makes me wish I was more talented and had thought of the idea first. And while many of the themes that become important in later books in the series are premiered here, much of this book doesn’t quite hang together as well is it maybe should. The hints that Woolrich is really the Traveling Man very quickly pass from “foreshadowing” into “the characters are idiots for not recognizing this” territory. The Adelaide Modine subplot doesn’t quite match up with the Traveling Man story; while it mirrors it in many ways, the stories feel like two separate incidents stitched together hastily. A lot of these flaws are understandable in light of this being Connolly’s first novel and the large amount of world-building that is taking place here, and the quality of the writing and strength of characterization more than makes up for it.
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This group of chapters is characterized by a lot of what I tend to think of as “back-and-forthing,” the tendency for characters to do a lot of running around between multiple locations, returning periodically to a central location. It’s a fairly common habit in writers of mystery and detective fiction, as it lends itself well to info-dumps and exposition for the investigators. The broad structure here is; Parker goes to a location with an ally, comes back to the hotel and has Rachel offer a new insight into the Traveling Man’s motives based on her independent research. Occasionally this pattern is broken for the sake of an action sequence.
The broad points are as follows:
- At the funeral for the Tante Marie and her children, Parker is told that the ghost of a girl has been seen by Honey Island.
- Rachel notes that the Traveling Man quotes from an apocryphal Bilical text, the Book of Enoch.
- David Fontenot is killed and the body found near Honey Island. Parker speaks to Joe Bones, who denies involvement with anything happening.
- Tony Remarr, official suspect in the Tante Marie slaying’s, is found by Parker, flayed.
- Rachel discovers that all of the Traveling Man’s victims have been posed in a way that resembles a classical anatomy illustration, while Woolrich reveals that a hospital orderly named Edward Byron-present at the birth of Parker’s daughter-was fired for mutilating female corpses shortly before the murder of Parker’s family and lives near Baton Rogue.
- Parker and Rachel attend David Fontenot’s funeral, which is attacked by Joe Bones’ gunmen. Rachel and Parker each kill an attacker, providing the impetus for their relationship to be consummated.
- Parker goes with Morphy to Honey Island and finds a dumping ground filled with old metal cannisters. In a nod to the supernatural overtones, Parker somehow homes in on one with a body, that forensic identification reveals is that of Lutice Fontenot.
- Parker talks to Lionel Fontenot and learns that David had been having visions of Lutice after her disappearance. When he returns to the hotel, his, Rachel’s, and Angel and Louis’ rooms have been raided by the FBI and Rachel’s research confiscated. Rachel declares that the common link between all of Traveling Man’s kills, save Lutice Fontenot, is that they are, in some sense, modeled on memento moris.
The big set pieces here are the shoot-out at the cemetary and the dive for bodies at Honey Island, but even these take up less time and seem imbued with less dramatic weight than Rachel’s research and the infodumps. The plot seems to be barreling forward in many ways, especially after the entire business with the Modine case, which largely in hindsight feels like a side-story. It is almost as if Connolly had two stories, neither of which was a full novel, and grafted them together. This isn’t a complaint, but it’s an interesting “first novel” trick that explains many of the seeming gaps and stutters in the narrative.
Returning to the “Parker is a chump” theme for a moment, there are two scenes that stand out. The first, is Parker actually acting like a real detective and making a chart of everything he knows about TM, presumptive suspect Edward Byron, and all the killings, and drawing literal connections between them. Doing so makes it clear that the only killings that stand out from the pattern is Lutice Fontenot. That this would be a signal to dig significantly deeper occurs to Parker, but not as urgently as it might. The second is Louis insisting to Parker that Woolrich is not trust-worthy, dismissed by Parker as Louis-hitman with a conscience, being overly suspicious. Even Rachel, who at this point is not very familiar with Louis and Angel, remarks that Louis in particular has a close bond and link with Parker, and that, perhaps, he should be listened to.
The denouement of the Adelaide Modine/Isobel Barton/Ferrera family plots comes rather quickly. The entirety of the mob subplot hinges on Sonny Ferrera’s involvement with Baton/Modine, and the large number of mob-related killings occurred as part of Ferrera pere‘s attempts to cover up the fact that Sonny had graduated from watching children being abused to killing them himself, culminating in the death of Sonny Ferrera at his father’s hands. Parker’s attempts to bring Barton/Modine to justice are briefly thwarted by her attempts to again fake her death. Cornering her after a car chase ending in her car crashing, in which Barton/Modine crashes, she has time to, conveniently, reveal that she knows who killed Parker’s family, before her gas tank ignites.
Debriefed at the police station, Walt Cole informs Parker that the entire reason he got him involved in this missing person case was because he had strong suspicions that someone at the Barton estate was involved with the disappearance of Evan Banes, and Parker, who he knows got away with the murder of the pimp Johnny Friday, might be able to recognize someone else who got away with murder. This notion of killers being able to somehow recognize each other is a metaphysical point that will be revisited in later books. We are also now given background on Parker’s father, which had been hinted at before but mostly glossed over. Parker’s father was a police officer, a patrolman, who killed two unarmed teenagers; a local “tough kid” and his girl-friend, before going home and killing himself. The crime was apparently motiveless and unprompted, but never fully investigated because the death of all parties implies closure. Before too much conversation on these points can occur, however, Parker is called by Tante Marie in Lousiana (the vooddoo woman from earlier chapters) because the Traveling Man is coming for her.
Traveling to the shack in the bayou with Woolrich, Parker and the feds arrive too late to prevent the murders of Tante Marie and her youngest son, both disemboweled and their faces removed. Florence, Tante Marie’s youngest daughter arrives at the scene last, and points a gun at Parker and Woolrich before killing herself. With these new deaths, the FBI now officially links the deaths of Parker’s wife and daughter to a serial killer. Setting up a wire-tap in his hotel room (which Parker briefly evades in order to contact Angel and Louis, as well as take a call from Rachel), the FBI waits for the Traveling Man to contact Parker. He does twice, first insisting that he won’t speak until Woolrich is also there, and the second time beginning the call with the instruction that Parker is not to talk. Curiously, TM calls Paker “Bird” throughout the call, a name which previously we had seen reserved only for Parker’s friends. TM also strongly implies that Parker and Woolrich are now “united in grief,” linked in a way similar to the way that TM implies he and Parker are linked.
A careful reading suggests that we are now witnessing another incident of our hero being blatantly played by the villain.
These chapters conclude with a local cop, Morphy, taking Parker on a a visual tour with lecture on the history of local crime-families. Mostly this focuses on Joe Bones, second-generation gangster whose father was killed for having an affair with a mixed-race woman, and the Fontenots, Cajun brothers running a racially integrated crime syndicate. Their styles are vastly different, with Bones going for violence and the Fontenots more focused on maintaining the veneer of businesslike behavior, but the important detail is that one of Bones’ lieutenants, Tony Remarr, was harassing Tante Marie in order to buy her land, and his bloody fingerprint was found at the crime scene.
Parker and Deputy Martin finally speak to Walt Tyler, father of the first victim of the Haven child killer, Adelaide Modine. Like Parker, Tyler is a man whose life has been overshadowed by the death of a daughter, but Tyler lacked the ability to pursue vengeance or justice in any meaningful way. This conversation mostly recaps information we were already given, with the only new fact being Tyler’s revelation that William Modine couldn’t possibly have been involved in the killings because Tyler saw him and Sheriff (then Deputy) Granger having sex in a squad car at the time of one of the abductions. Parker, to be honest, doesn’t seem particularly surprised by this revelation, or at least not as much as he is by finding out that Granger was part of the mob that lynched William Modine.. Returning to town, Parker learns that the woman who tried to kill him was stabbed in the hospital.
Parker travels to the house where the bodies of the dead children were discovered and searches it, finding it filled with debris and the usual detritus of teenagers who discover an abandoned building. A close inspection reveals a trap door with new hinges and locks that have been deliberately scuffed to make them appear to be old and rusted. Prying open the door, Parker enters the basement where the killings took place and finds, as he expected, the bodies of Catherine Demeter and Sheriff Granger. Catherine has been dead for days, probably as soon as she left New York, while the Sheriff has only been dead a short time. When he attempts to leave, he finds Connell Hyams with a gun, trying to lock him back into the basement. Parker is at a severe disadvantage, but the standoff is solved when Bobby Sciorra shoots Hyams from an open window in the house.
Knowing that there are four dead bodies now in town and that the FBI are soon to be searching for him, Parker chooses the wiser course and breaks into Hyams’ home in search of a connection to the Ferrera family. What he finds is a lease agreement for a warehouse owned by Sonny Ferrera. Parker calls Angel and Louis and arranges to meet them at the warehouse. Putting the pieces of the puzzle together, a clear picture emerges; Hyams was Adelaide Modine’s accomplice and he used his access to his father’s medical records to fake Modine’s death, it was Adelaide that Catherine Demeter saw in New York and Hyams was waiting for her when she returned to Haven. The only remaining questions are where is Adelaide Modine now, and why is the mob covering up for child killers and leaving a trail that leads back to themselves in the process?
At the warehouse, Parker, Angel and Louis find the body of Evan Banes, the boy who went missing from the Burton estate some months back. In his hands are the broken pieces of a blue china dog, the twin of a statuette belonging to Isabel Burton. There is also evidence of a video recording system and a suggestion that, buried in the warehouse, are many more bodies. Sciorra arrives at the scene, conveniently explains that Sonny Ferrera likes to watch, and gets killed by Louis as soon as his exposition ends.
In hindsight, much of this was obvious. Everyone involved in setting up Parker to search for Catherine Demeter lied to him; there were simply no strong links between Catherine and Stephen Burton, so Isobel had to have an ulterior motive. Once the specter of Adelaide Modine was introduced it’s a short link. The mob angle throws a wrinkle into it, but since one of the main tropes of detective fiction is that all the cases must link together, it isn’t a surprise that they would also have a part to play.
It is worth noting that, despite the fact that the main investigation is over save for the unmasking of the perp, we are still only about half-way through the book.
These chapters open with Parker determined to continue investigating Catherine Demeter’s disappearance, despite Walter Cole’s insistence that he stay and help the police track the Traveling Man, on the theory that, now that he has made contact with Parker he will seek to further the dialogue. After a discussion with psychologist Rachel Wolfe, inserting the requisite amount of sexual tension into the story-as Rachel, we are told, is the first person to awaken any sexual feelings in Parker since his wife’s murder-Parker becomes even more convinced that he must leave. Both for his own psychological well being-staying away from the man who killed his family, but also to avoid feeding into the desires of a psychopath. It’s Rachel’s additional analysis of the killer that cements Parker’s resolve. She points out that the man is highly educated, quoting both Joyce and the Bible in his conversation with Parker, but also highly fixated on Parker. The man is a certain threat to Parker and should be treated as such.
Parker leaves for Haven, trailed by a man and a woman in a jeep, too clumsily obvious to be federal agents and too conspicuous to be mob hitmen. Haven, when he finally arrives, is a decrepit, decaying town, a backwater in every sense. There is no industry to speak of and the shadows of the child murders still hang heavily over the town. It’s here that some of Connolly’s strengths as a writer become apparent. He is able to very quickly sketch out believable characters for what are essentially supportive and expository roles by relying on character types. Familiar tropes that everyone is familiar with, allowing us to essentially get on with the story because we know what type a particular character is. Not that Connolly doesn’t sometimes over play this; Haven is populated primarily with racists and rednecks so outlandishly cartoonish as to pose a serious challenge to suspension of disbelief. A scene where Parker endears himself to the locals and attracts the attention of the police by picking a fight with wannabe Klansmen in a bar does much to increase Parker’s “badass antihero” quotient, but the effect is mitigated by having the odds stacked so broadly in his favor.
Parker’s investigations lead him to the library, where the microfilm of the local newspaper for the period of the murders has been hidden in the librarian’s office. Breaking in and reading it nets Parker the information that, prior to the disappearance of Catherine’s sister, the only local attention the crimes garnered were insinuations that the father of the first victim is responsible for disappearances of other black children. Breaking in also nets Parker a visit to the police station and a talk with Deputy Martin, a black officer transplanted from Detroit and apparently the only semi-competent officer in Haven. He warns Parker out of town, as bad publicity might scare off semi-mythical “Japanese investors” the town is relying on to get back on its feet, but ultimately agrees to arrange for Parker to interview local attorney Connell Hyams and Walt Tyler, father of the first victim.
Hyams doesn’t offer Parker much in the way of information, citing both client confidentiality and the fact that he was technically away at law school at the time of the crimes, but he does provide an interesting insight into Adelaide Modine. She was born a twin, but her twin brother was still-born. Hyams compares Modine and her family’s affect on Haven to that of a hyena pack, in that brutally metaphoric way that so many of Connolly’s characters have of talking. The Modine’s were a matriarchal and fraticidal family and they despoiled the region. It’s a quirk of Connolly’s to have characters talk in such self-consciously literary ways, but it’s one of the small details about his work I find pleasurable.
That evening, Parker’s precautions of breaking into the room next to his hotel room and sleeping there instead pay off, as the man and woman from the jeep break into the room he was supposed to be in and start firing. In a short action sequence Parker kills the man and beats the woman into a coma, suffering some heavy blood loss from a shotgun near miss in exchange. Deputy Martin is even more eager to have Parker leave town, but after some eavesdropping on a phone call with Walter Cole decides that the attempt on Parker’s life indicates that Catherine Demeter is in real danger and quite probably in Haven somewhere. That his superior, the sheriff whom Catherine contacted, is still missing-or rather, “on vacation”-goes some way to driving this home.
The last batch of chapters ended with Stephen Barton’s body being discovered in a sewer, strangled and killed apparently right around the same time that Catherine Demeter disappeared. The method of death immediately sends the police and FBI towards the Ferrera crime family, as “strangle and dump” is a murder method associated with them. Parker suspects that the mob is actually being used as a convenient scape-goat and a means of distracting law enforcement from the real crime, Demeter’s disappearance.
Connolly’s depiction of the Ferrera family is interesting as it mostly does away with the “noble men who just happen to be criminals” portrayal that we often see in crime fiction. These people are thugs; violent, murderous thugs, and though they may adopt the pretense of having honor and nobility, they are simply bad men. Parker talks directly with Stefano, the head of the family, and it is indirectly confirmed that the police are looking in the wrong direction if they suspect they had anything to do with Barton’s death. Ferrera draws Parker’s attention to a gold plate that his son gave him, in imitation of a story about Al Capone dining off golden plates. Ferrera told the story to his son to send him a message about propriety; his son took it as a story about power. “Some tastes should not be indulged” is Ferrera’s lesson to Parker before restating that Catherine Demeter is the key to everything that has been going on.
Back at his home, Parker receives a telephone call from someone claiming to be the Traveling Man, the call assembled from clips of other people’s voices. TM claims the he “choose” Parker, that he answered his “call”-again implying, as if Parker needed any more angst, that what happened to his daughter was something he somehow deserved or brought down upon himself. The creepiness of TM’s obsession with Parker is compounded by the disquieting nature of speaking with jumbled voices. It’s inhuman and lacks identity, just as by removing the faces of his victims he takes away their identities. This is made even more, and sickeningly worse when it becomes clear that TM is calling from a pay phone outside Parker’s apartment, but when he leaves all he finds is a terrified boy holding a jar with the face of Parker’s daughter in it. It’s a violent and gruesome scene, but the boy’s description of TM is only that the man has no face, hammering the lack of identity theme home with a final nail.
These chapters also bring up the idea that the Traveling Man is not, literally, human. One of the things that interested me about this series was the notion that, though grounded in reality, the possibility of supernatural events being “real” exists. Though this becomes much more prominent a theme in later books, it’s the suggestion that the Traveling Man is, in fact, an actual demon that gets this ball rolling.
After this, we settle into some more flash-backs, including a crucial one, the revelation of what exactly Parker did after the murders of his family, the event that has been alluded to by several characters. After fleeing the city in an alcoholic haze, and then drying out with a religious commune, Parker returns to the city to investigate. On the pretense of looking for information on whoever killed his wife and daughter, Parker trailed a pimp, Johnny Friday. Friday was known to be a procurer of children for pedophiles and was strongly suspected of helping to cover up the murders of children by those same clients. By any definition, then, a “bad man” and one deserving of punishment. Parker knows that Friday, in all likelihood, doesn’t know anything about the death of his family, but he follows him, assaults him and grills him for information anyway, knowing that when none is forthcoming he will have justification for killing him. This is an important detail to bear in mind about Parker and makes his associations with, for example, Louis and Angel more clear. Friday is a bad man and deserved to die. Parker is also a bad man, because although he has only killed another bad man, it was not something he had the right or responsibility to do. He took it upon himself. Just as he takes the guilt for the death of his family on himself. He is bad, therefore everything bad that happens to him is justified, no matter if his pretensions of nobility or a higher calling are not significantly different than that of the Ferrera family.
Much of this block of chapters deals with Parker’s investigation into Catherine Demeter’s life, while the Ferrera crime family circles around him. Catherine was being treated for depression by an unscrupulous psychiatrist Parker was familiar with due to his past indiscretions with female clients. The root of Catherine’s depression is linked to the murder of her older sister when the girl was eleven and Catherine was eight, in her hometown in Haven, Virginia. There were a series of child murders in which children were kidnapped, tortured, and then their bodies dumped. Catherine’s sister was the first white child to disappear, and so the first child to whom the local police truly devoted resources into locating. The main suspects in the crimes were a wealthy local woman, Adelaide Modine and her suspected to be gay brother William. William was found hung in the family home’s basement, an apparent suicide, and Adelaide allegedly burnt to death. Parker discovers in his search into Catherine’s movements that she has very recently been back in contact with the sheriff in Haven.
The parallel between the child murders in Haven and the disappearances of both Catherine and Evan Baines are obvious, and while none of the characters have yet realized that Catherine’s disappearance may be linked to thirty-year old murders the coincidence is too strong to ignore. The major question is how the crimes are linked, as the thinly veiled implication of vigilante justice doled out to the suspects would indicated that either the wrong culprits were blamed or something more complicated transpired in Haven.
The rest of the chapters deal with establishing the Ferrera family and their eminence grise Bobby Sciorra. Stefano Ferrera, the head of the family, is a second-generation mobster who built his family into a major crime syndicate in his quest for social respectability, or at least the illusion of it. His oldest son died of a brain hemorrhage, his second in a drug war with a Jamaican gang, leaving his third son, a violence prone sexual deviant as the apparent heir. It is the third son and his entourage that were working with the dead chop-shop manager Fat Ollie and with Catherine Demeter’s boyfriend Stephen Barton, but it is the elder Ferrera and Sciorra who have been monitoring Parker. Sciorra is a man without a past, who came out of nowhere and executed a violent and spectacular revenge on the gang that killed Ferrera’s middle son, earning himself a place in the organization and a rapid rise to be the person truly calling the shots.
Most of this information comes to Parker after a meeting at Wille Brew’s auto-shop, a hangout for various petty, mostly retired criminals who act as Parker’s informants. The source is Angel and Louis, a complicated pair who act as Parker’s allies. Both Angel and Louis are one the “wrong side” of the law in relation to Parker, Angel being a burglar, possibly the best burglar in the city, and Louis being a semi-retired hitman, though one who operates with a complicated sense of morality that results in him only killing those who deserve it because of their own, unspeakable crimes. But with the death of Parker’s family, and his ostracization from his police allies, not only because suspicion fell on Parker but because going after families is one of the unspoken rules-and if Parker’s family was targeted he must have somehow called it down on himself, Angel and Louis, ironically, offer more moral support. The suggestion being that their own degree of comfort with moral ambiguity puts them in a better position to understand that, sometimes, terrible things just happen to people.
Angel and Louis are interesting characters, and their development over the course of the series is interesting. At first blush they appear to be an attempt to create something novel in mystery fiction, aggressively non-stereotypical gay sidekicks for the hero. Angel is scruffy and ethnically ambiguous and looks disreputable. Louis is a tall, well-groomed black man and archly conservative despite his profession. And what’s really special about them, is that even though it seems like they were created to be novel, they’re actually really good, strong, interesting characters, fleshed out and quirky and endearing, often in a way that Parker isn’t as he’s relegated to the bluff loner/viewpoint character role.
These chapters open with the aftermath of Fat Ollie’s murder and Parker’s interrogation, with Parker meeting Walter Cole at Cole’s home to discuss what Parker has been doing the last few months, prompting another flashback. What’s important in these moments are Cole’s characterization. The scene takes place in his library, and based on what is within we can see that Cole is the anti-beat cop. He’s smart, well-read and educated, and curious. Parker, it is deftly noted, is no longer drinking, but is suspected of having killed the man who killed his family and covering it up.
The flash-back takes us to New Orleans several months ago and Parker’s visit with an FBI field agent who recently transferred out of New York, Woolrich, a corpulent man who mirrors Parker in interesting ways, having also lost his family. But in Woolrich’s case it was to the kind of neglect that Parker was heading towards; his wife leaving him and his daughter joining a Mexican cult. Woolrich takes Parker out to the middle of the swamp to follow up a lead, and they talk with an old, blind voodoo priestess who has had a vision of a girl who was killed in the swamp by a man who took her face. We also get a suitably ominous name for the killer, “The Traveling Man.”
There’s some potentially problematic cliches here having to do with race and voodoo, but I’m more struck by the clumisness of going to the “blind psychic” well than I am with the tone-deaf way those cliches are used in the story. What’s more signifcant, I think, is that for a series in which the reality of the supernatural is always in question, having our first introduction to it being a method that’s used more frequently to mock the cliches is a bit jarring.
In the present day, Cole arranges for Parker to work on a missing person’s case on behalf of a wealthy family, the Barton’s, connected with a charitable trust for children. The trust has recently had bad press as a young boy, Evan Baines, disappeared without a trace at a recent event. Baines is not who Parker has been hired to find. Isabela Barton, glamorous widow, wants to find Catherine Demeter, a shop-girl and fiance of her step-son Stephen. Stephen is a typical spoiled child of privilege, who deals steroids and coke for the same crime family, the Ferrera’s, that are suspected in Fat Ollie’s murder.
Working on this case, several things become clear soon; Isabela Barton was more concerned with Catherine’s disappearance than Stephen, and Stephen is also being looked for by, presumably, the Ferrera’s. Catherine, for her part, appears to be a woman without a past; no family, few friends outside the Barton’s, and according to her co-workers, the last thing she did before disappearing was chase someone she “thought she recognized” through the department store she works at.
Anyone familiar with the rhythms of mystery stories can see where this is heading: all cases inevitably become the same case. We’ve got a bit of a headstart here, in that the the “Traveling Man” case links both the New York and New Orleans murders, and the connections to the Ferrera family in both Fat Ollie’s murder and Catherine’s disappearance suggest that there is no coincidence here. The questions are, how does the disappearance of Evan Baine’s link to either situation, and how does the Traveling Man plot link to the Ferrera plot?
Prologue, Chapters 1,2
John Connolly’s Every Dead Thing opens with a prologue introducing us to lead character Charlie Parker and flashing back to the death of his wife Susan and daughter Jennifer, pivotal events that drive him from the police force and into the private detective work that is the focus of his life as a mystery/horror novel anti-hero. Parker’s character is sketched out quickly here; he’s aggressive, he’s emotionally volatile, he’s potentially alcoholic and he’s potentially violent. Chiefly at this point he’s defined by his negative characteristics, which makes the death of his family all the more poignant. It’s clear that this event deeply unhinges and disturbs him, pushing him even further down the dark path he’s on. But it’s also clear that the singularly horrific nature of the crime stands out as something no one should have to endure; his daughter frightened to death, his wife tortured and both of their faces removed by the killer. It’s grotesquely cruel and designed almost as an attack on Parker himself, especially in light of the symbolism of the face removal as a stripping off of the victim’s identities.
In the early chapters we move on to an unspecified point at least six months after the murders. Parker is working as a bail enforcer, tracking down a chop shop owner with ties to an organized crime family. It is emphasized that, at this point, Parker doesn’t need to work, that this is simply a way for him to pass the time. That this is a line of work in which Parker’s tendencies towards violence can be loosed is notable, but being on the streets also gives Parker a chance to investigate the murders in an unofficial capacity. It’s also suggested here that Parker’s tendencies towards violence may be related to his father, with a strong implication that Parker is also a murderer (a necessary bit of foreshadowing as well as an acknowledgement that, despite evidence proving that Parker couldn’t possibly have killed his family, he is still the most likely suspect). Parker’s target, Fat Ollie, is gunned down by a mob hitman before Parker can take him in, and that hitman is himself killed. The surface plot is moving rapidly here at the beginning, as an informant tells Parker that Ollie was killed not because of his car theft operations, but because he has knowledge of a more serious crime committed by a mob enforcer that came to light because of Ollie’s work.
The rest of these early chapters is taken up with a flashback to a psychological profile of the killer of Parker’s family conducted by Rachel Wolfe. Her analysis focuses on the sadism of the crime and on its intended dramatic impact. The character fail to make the inference, but from the reader’s standpoint it is increasingly clear that the crime was committed to drive Parker towards a mental state desired by the killer.
At this point the novel is a fairly conventional thriller, with some gruesome, but entirely human, horror to differentiate it from your standard crime novel. Connolly’s writing is what drives it, as the first-person narration in Parker’s voice is clear and compelling. This is the main reason I have wanted to do an extended blogging project looking at Connolly’s novels, and a “running review” seemed like an interesting and appropriate tack to take, as it allows me to revisit the works and engage them on a deeper, more analytical level. That it hopefully gets others to look at the books as well doesn’t hurt.
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