Connolly writes detective-style mysteries with a dash of supernatural elements. The trouble is, neither Parker, nor the reader, is entirely sure what might just be unusual and what might be somewhat otherworldly. Parker, his lead character, has been haunted by the ghosts of his wife and child since they were killed, and once again, Parker is struggling with their ghosts. They’re real enough that others can sense them, although his estranged wife, Rachel, points out that in her perception, ghosts are kept alive by people refusing to let go of the past. Parker is still at their house in Maine, taking small jobs like the one for Rebecca, who has a stalker. It turns out that the stalker has a somewhat sympathetic cause, trying to find Rebecca’s father, a psychologist who worked with abused children, and who was last seen about the same time as his own daughter. Parker, empathetic both to woman in distress and parents of missing children, finds himself drawn deep into the case.
“I turned. A man appeared to be standing among the tress. If I looked directly at him I could see only branches and spots of moonlight where I thought he was standing, but he seemed to appear more clearly when I looked at him with my peripheral vision, or if I tried not to focus on him at all. He was there, though. Walter’s reaction was evidence of that, and I still recalled the events of the night before: the glimpse I had caught of something at the edge of the forest before it faded away; a child’s voice whispering from the shadows; words scrawled on a dusty windowpane.”
I literally had to take breaks from this book. Not because it was horrific, but because it was so intense. While building the plot tension, Connolly creates a vivid world with lush description. There are tiny moments of humor that made me smile, almost gratefully, with the opportunity to provide breathing space. Here’s one tiny bit, right before Parker heads into an emotionally fraught interview in a Supermax.
“His uniform was starched and pressed, and everything that was supposed to gleam did so spectacularly. There was a little more gray in his mustache than before, but I decided not to point that out. Beneath his gruff exterior, I sensed there was a sensitive child just waiting to be hugged. I didn’t want to hurt his feeling, singular.
‘Back again,’ he said, in a tone that suggested I was forever bothering him by knocking on the door at all hours of the day and night, demanding that I be let in to play with the other kids.
‘Can’t stay away from men in jails,’ I said.
‘Yeah, we get a lot of that here,’ he replied.
That Joe Long. What a kidder. If he was any drier, he’d have been Arizona.”
There’s also solid social commentary snuck in about Supermax prisons, mental health, and the complicated issues around child abuse. As always, the lovely writing encouraged me to go slow, to linger on each image. I wanted to find out the end, but yet dreaded the final confrontation, the solution that I knew would be terrible and heart-wrenching. Without doubt, I’ll go on to the next book, but I might wait a spell before doing so.