The White Road by John Connolly

Read  August 2017
Recommended for fans of atmospheric writing, thrillers
★    ★    ★    ★   

“To invite me into their lives was to admit failure and allow death its provenance, for I was the one who arrived when all hope was gone, offering nothing but the possibility of a resolution that would bring with it more grief and pain and a knowledge that perhaps would make ignorance appear like a blessing. The only consolation in all that would occur was that some small measure of justice might begin to accrue from my involvement, that lives might continue with some small degree of certainty restored: the certainty that the physical pain of a loved one was at an end, and that somebody cared enough to try to discover why that pain had been visited on them at all.”

Charlie Parker is still finding his way, but he is coming to understand that his form of justice has jagged edges. Louis, one of Parker’s best friends, knows even more about Charlie’s form of justice than he does: “He [Parker] had chosen his own first faltering steps toward some form of salvation over the wishes, perhaps even the needs, of his friend, and Louise could not find it in him to blame Parker for this. Even Angel did not blame him: he merely wished that it were otherwise.”

The beginning is a bit like following a trail of breadcrumbs, as Connolly recounts the public lynching of a black man in 1964, Louis settling up old debts, a retired guard in the Carolina swamp plotting revenge and Parker trying to bring closure on the case of Cassie Blythe. Parker is back to his normal cases, leaving white crime behind, but still trying to stay close to home with Rachael pregnant with their child. He seems almost desperate for normalcy, but can’t escape the ghosts of the dead and his feeling of obligation. To make matters worse, Faulkner, the evil preacher from the last story, is about to be freed from jail, and Parker, Louis and Angel know they’ll be first on his list.

A lawyer friend from NYPD days calls from South Carolina, wanting Parker to find information exonerating his client, Artys Jones, a poor black man, from the rape and murder of a white woman. The woman, Marianne Larousse, is the daughter of a man who virtually owns the the area with tobacco, oil wells, mining and factories, so despite Marianne and Artys seeing each other, no one is inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“The history of these two families, the Larousses and the Joneses, the blood spilled and lives destroyed, meant that it could never be anything as pure as luck or coincidence that drew them together. Over more than two centuries they had bound themselves, each to the other, in a pact of mutual destructiveness only partly acknowledged on either side, fueled by a past that allowed one man to own and abuse another.”

Wrapped around and threaded through the case in Carolina of the dead woman is the history of racism in the south. It was chilling coincidence that I read this as #45 talked about ‘both sides doing wrong’ at a white supremacist rally where a peaceful counter-protestor was killed. It was clear that Connolly did a lot of research about hate groups in the Southern U.S. as a connection develops between the Neo-Nazi movements, the white supremacists and the fringe. It is rare to learn so much from a thriller, but it gave a horrifying feel of realness about the story, that different kinds of crazy might align themselves together to consolidate a power base.

Much more would run the risk of spoiling. I thought that this was a much stronger book than the previous ones for me, with better balance between the evil and the philosophy. The setting was extremely well done, from an endless swampy wilderness, to a run down industrial area. The mystery had a couple of solid twists, making it satisfactory on that level as well. If anything, this reminded me of a more horrific Tana French (these Irish!). Definitely not one I read before bedtime, at the risk of adrenaline twitches. There’s even a tiny bit of humor mixed in, as one of Parker’s contacts is looking for help finding a date in return for a professional favor. My only complaint would be that the resolution to all the threads (but not the mystery) felt rushed and over convenient, with an odd switch into third person omniscient that contrasted uncomfortably with the Parker’s first person and the occasional cut of third person limited used in the rest of the story. Overall, though, that was a minor complaint that only stood out because the rest of it was so interesting and full. I’ll definitely move on to the next.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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