“For I am every dead thing;
I am begot
Of absence, darknesse, death;
Things which are not.”
– John Donne, “A Nocturnal Upon S. Lucies Day”
John Donne’s musings on mortality serve as an unlikely reference point in John Connolly’s “Every Dead Thing,” the first book in the Charlie “Bird” Parker mystery series. I don’t find it unlikely that ONE “tough-guy-criminal-investigator” would be a fervent admirer of the metaphysical poets. Charlie, (no relation to the jazzman) has plenty of reasons to take refuge on poetry, considering the grizzly way in which his wife and daughter are murdered at the beginning of the novel. But when we get SEVERAL “tough-guy-criminal investigators” discussing George Herbert and Andrew Marvell, I start to feel like I’m caught in an English major’s fantasy.
Parker is on the chase after a psychopathic, dissection-happy serial killer called “The Traveling Man,” (because every serial killer needs a catchy nickname.) Along the way there will be grim corpses; cynical and/or banal musings on the nature of evil; gang-wars; way too many detailed descriptions of the clothing worn by way too many unimportant characters; a multitude of movie-ready shoot-outs; and a couple of gratuitously inserted sexy scenes. It’s a familiar tale, but at least this time it’s well told, and I’m already convinced the Parker series provides thrills for fans of Thomas Harris, Lee Child, and Michael Connelly. I am one of that fold, so I will be checking out the next one happily. I still have to comment on the four flaws:
1- A brooding, recovering-alcoholic, self-righteous, bullet-resistant hero you’ve met too many times.
2- An unwieldy, murder-crammed plot. Actually, PLOTS, because there are two distinct novels here, with the second one, set in New Orleans, being far superior to the first one. It speaks of a writer learning tricks and developing strengths along the way.
3- I seldom take this critical bent, but the few female characters all badly suffer from “girl in the refrigerator” syndrome. It’s ridiculous…
4- … And so is the final scene, with its “whodunit” reveal. Silly, “who-you-would-least-expect-because-it-makes-no-psychological-sense” stuff.
What makes up for those flaws? The whiz-bang action; the real dread the crimes generate; the vivid supporting characters, (particularly Bird’s henchmen, the unusually kick-ass gay couple of Louis and Angel); and the sense of locale. You can practically small the gumbo in the New Orleans section. Connolly is an Irish writer, so more the praise to him.
RATING : GOOD ENOUGH first half, COOL! second half, SHRUG reveal.