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.