★ ★ ★
The sixth entry in the Charlie Parker series is a slightly different approach. To date, Parker has been involved in cases that touched him or were jobs he willingly took on. In The White Road, Parker began to seriously evaluate his connection to evil though the cases he took on. The Black Angel begins with the christening of his and Rachel’s daughter, and though it is initially played for laughs, it becomes emotionally fraught as Rachel starts to overreact to any hint of danger or John’s connections. The celebration is interrupted by Louis’ aunt seeking him out and enlisting his help in finding her daughter, a prostitute and heroin addict. Parker has one of his premonitions and feels called by both friendship and his inner compulsion to help.
The narrative explores a number of viewpoints getting to the actual beginning of the case, including that of the niece, her pimp, and a killer. As the story progresses, he brings in even more viewpoints, usually not for long. It isn’t always well done or pertinent, and I’d question what his point was. Sometimes it seems as if it is supposed to contribute to the tension, making it clear how awful the antagonists are. Not infrequently the viewpoints are people who are about to die or play only a very limited role. Connolly might also have done it in service of plot points he thinks are necessary (a hotel near the border of Mexico is a brief setting), but I think it actually just confuses the plot and the narrative flow.
Speaking of plot, this one is a bit different. While most of the stories to date have revolved around solving a murder and confronting the killer(s), in this one the mystery of the killer is solved relatively quickly as incidental to a larger goal. There’s a lot of forced situations here (Louis’ aunt taking a bus to Maine, the journalist/art critic having an in to an auction). The plot eventually takes a DaVinci Code type turn that feels somewhat incongruous with where the story actually began. This is also the book where the supernatural/spiritual angle becomes more overt, with Parker’s connection to these evil cases become clear. Connolly plays it cagey, leaving open the possibility for more real-world explanations for those who have trouble believing, but ultimately, it’s the foundation for the series. Less satisfying is the storyline between Parker and Rachel, not necessarily because of the drama, but because it makes so little sense in context of all they’ve been through together. It felt in service of a plot more than congruous.
But I’ll tolerate a lot of plot issues with such beautiful writing. There’s a connection to a kind of effigy art that ends up being a powerful part of the book. A passage from Parker’s reflections on his life:
“The past lies in the shadows of our lives. It is endlessly patient, secure in the knowledge that all we have done, and all that we have failed to do, must surely return to haunt us in the end. When I was young, I cast each day aside unthinkingly, like dandelion seeds committed to the wind, floating harmlessly from the hands of a boy and vanishing over his shoulder as he moved onward along the path toward the sunset, and home…
Now, as I look back over my shoulder at the path that I have taken, I can see that it has become tangled and obscured by undergrowth, where the seeds of past actions and half-acknowledged sins have taken root. Another shadows me along the path. She has no name, but she looks like Susan, my dead wife; and Jennifer, my first daughter, who was killed beside her in our little house in New York, walks with her.”
Overall, a good installment, and likely critical to the series in terms of Parker’s mystical connection to his cases. It could serve as a jumping-in point for people who would like to give the series a try.
The accompanying album includes:
Good Morning by Lullaby for the Working Class
Summer Dress by Red House Painters
Hollow by Hem
Crawl Away by Lambchop
Ne T’en Fuis Pas by Kate Bush
Cattle and Cane by the Go-Betweens
Bordertown by the Walkabouts
Ponce de Leon Blues by Beachwood Sparks
Twist the Knife by Neko Case
Where Are You Now? by Thee More Shallows
November 4am by Pinetop Seven
Blinder by the Hour by The Triffids
Rock of the Lake by Radar Brothers
Happiness by The Blue Nle