John Connolly’s second Charlie “Bird” Parker mystery, after “Every Dead Thing”, improved on the successful formula. Parker goes back home to Maine, still reeling from the murder of his wife and daughter, to once again find himself involved in the murder of a mother and a child. (The blurb in my book candidly reads “YET ANOTHER mother and child.” At least it alerts you that there are formulas at play here, like in most modern thrillers.) The Traveling Man from “Every Dead Thing” is replaced by the mysterious shadow of Caleb Kyle. The preferred gory M.O. involves women hanging from trees.
The plot is significantly tighter. No more of the awkward two-novels-in-one structure that made the debut wobble at points. The crimes are dialed down in the grotesque department. The events here might conceivably happen outside of a Thomas Harris novel. Connolly is still a wonderful scene-setter: Maine is as vividly described as if Connolly and Stephen King had shared brews on a porch and dissected the state. Parker’s gay sidekicks, Louis and Angel, are some of the coolest in modern thrillers. (One is a black dandy hitman, one a white thieving slob, and their banter provides much needed comic relief.)
The problems that remain:
Excessive descriptions of what every random, colorful, unimportant crook wears. Female characters exist merely to feel sexual attraction for Parker and/or get kidnapped, abducted, raped, and gored.
Along the way, Connolly drops grandiloquent meditations on “right” and “wrong” that toy with absolutism, even as his wonderfully flawed characters resist the author’s world view. Aside from Connolly’s skills as a craftsman, which keep on developing from novel to novel, this may the be series’ secret asset, and the reason why I’m bound to read the third book. Characters may spout self-righteous platitudes about lines being drawn between good and evil, but they themselves skip and hop over the lines when convenient, as humans are wont to do. In some ways, the characters are livelier than their beliefs.
You decide how you enjoy wise, self-aware speeches like the one below. I dig, but it might seem much too new-age-savvy for some folks, specially since it’s coming from a career criminal:
“Suffering isn’t enough, Bird,” said Angel softly. “So he’s suffered: big fuckin’ deal. Get in line with the rest of us suckers. It’s not enough to suffer, and you know that. What matters is that you understand that others suffer, and some of them suffer worse than you could ever do. The nature of compassion isn’t coming to terms with your own suffering and applying it to others: it’s knowing that other folks around you suffer and, no matter what happens to you, no matter how lucky or unlucky you are, they keep suffering. And if you can do something about that, then you do it, and you do it without whining or waving your own fuckin’ cross for the world to see. You do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
Why not go out on the other Charlie “Bird” Parker, keeping things dark and dancey?