Finally Connolly lives up to the promise in The Lovers, book 8 in the Charlie Parker series. It is a mystery series that often borders on horror, a genre I prefer not to linger in, however, something about Connolly’s writing is so evocative, so full of humanity that I keep returning to his writing. I think it might almost be the mirror-image of much I enjoy, perhaps because it centers around some of the most basic–but darkest–of emotions.
‘There is a dark resource within all of us, a reservoir of hurt and pain and anger upon which we can draw when the need arises. Most of us rarely, if ever, have to delve too deeply into it. That is as it should be, because dipping into it costs, and you lose a little of yourself each time,a small part of all that is good and honorable and decent about you.”
Charlie Parker is a haunted man. The reader was never quite sure if they are literal haunts in the first two books, but in this book it becomes clear that his visions are meaningful and real. Charlie is bumming around his grandfather’s house in Maine, working out, doing white collar investigative work, when he’s approached by a wealthy businessman and former senator to investigate the apparent suicide of Grace Peltier, a graduate student researching local cults. At the same time, a mass grave is uncovered in a nearby development, and Parker starts seeing a young boy in broken eyeglasses with a wooden sign hung round his neck. He attempts to meet with the leader of The Fellowship, a splinter religious group, but it seems to consist of an office front and nothing more. As he persists, he attracts the attention of the antagonistic Mr. Pudd and far, far too many spiders. Oh, by the way, this entire book is a trigger for the arachnophobic.
Narrative is thankfully linear, with intermittent interruptions from Grace’s thesis as a way of giving the background on the Fellowship. Not a bad technique, mostly because it doesn’t read anything like a real thesis–more like a local tale (I imagine those who have actually written a thesis in anthropology/sociology would be snerking and chortling at these sections). It serves to emphasize both the hope of people who follow a devout path, and the unscrupulousness of many of the leaders.
I enjoy Connolly’s writing, a balanced combination of world-building, action and both internal/external dialogue. I thought many passages resonant with emotional truths, albeit difficult ones. Again, Connolly doesn’t live in the ‘happy’ side of the human experience, but in the world of loss, pain, and this time, a touch of hope, and the setting reflects this focus.
“I should have felt pain, I thought. I should have felt the old agony. But instead, I experienced only a strange, desperate gratitude for this place, for the two fat old dogs and for the unsullied memories which they had left me. For some things should never be allowed to fade away… a place should be found for them in the present and the future so that they become a precious part of oneself, something to be treasured instead of something to be feared.”
Oh yes–and the spiders. Those passages are horrific, and I confess to speed-reading because heaven almighty, I did not need those images seared in my brain. But they are.
Characterization feels full, if somewhat archetypal. Charlie is considering progressing his relationship with Rachel, an arc continued from the last book. There’s a number of characters that amble in and out, and I thought they felt solid, even with short visits. The father of the woman, Curtis Peltier; the mobster Al Z, reflecting on a long and storied career; the former roommate, daffy Ali Wynn; and a handful of law enforcement agents; all give a nice flavor to the story and the investigation of the missing woman. Parker’s best friends are a pair of killers, Angel and Louis, and the three of them account for 90% of the humorous moments in the story. Parker is notably world-weary, as well as focused on concepts of vengeance and justice, and it gives him a certain cavalier approach when dealing with others. When a client accuses Parker’s work of being ‘sleazy,’ Parker notes:
“Mr. Hoyt had sex in the afternoon with a woman. Neither of them is married. What they did wasn’t sleazy… Your company paid me to listen in on them, and that’s where the sleaze part came in.”
Overall, solid, evocative and nice contrast to some of my more lighthearted reads that still represents a ethos I can appreciate. As it has enough balance to the characters, plot and setting I’ll go on to the next. Other reviews recommend reading the two relatively closely together, so I have it waiting at the library.