It is 1997, and someone is slaughtering young black women in Burdon County, Arkansas.
But no one wants to admit it, not in the Dirty South.
In an Arkansas jail cell sits a former NYPD detective, stricken by grief. He is mourning the death of his wife and child, and searching in vain for their killer. He cares only for his own lost family.
But that is about to change . . .
Witness the becoming of Charlie Parker.
(P) 2020 Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
Another Jeff Harding triumph
Irish author best known for a series now numbering 19 (20 depending on how you classify a novella that appeared in a short story collection back in the day) about anti-hero NYC detective Charlie Parker, who carries considerable personal baggage (don’t they all?). As distinct from his namesake Michael, this Mr Connolly injects paranormal elements (especially ghosts of the protagonist’s murdered wife and kid) into traditional American crime fiction, which explains why Every Dead Thing (1999), won both the Shamus award for best first private eye novel and the Bram Stoker first novel award (for horror writing) in 2000, and why I have tended to avoided them. This one, a prequel to the series, was touted as straight crime, which is what convinced me to give it a go.
The setting is rural Arkansas in the latter part of the Clinton presidency. A perennial backwater town is counting on being lifted from the mire of poverty by aerospace investment they were allegedly promised by Slick Willie during his quest for the White House (and before Whitewater). One rich family headed by a ruthless man now in his dotage controls most of the county including law enforcement, which obliges wth a cover up after someone brutally murders a black girl. Our boy blows into town, chasing down leads in pursuit of the dude who offed his missus and child. When a second black girl gets dead, same M.O., a small town sheriff with moral fibre is determined to investigate. He gets off to a bad start with our boy before enlisting him to the cause. Stuff happens. Charlie talks to his dead wife a bit, although not enough to put me off. Twists, turns, swamp, more murders, another swamp for the big reveal, the end.
Abundant familiar tropes, not that there’s anything wrong with that if they’re as well executed as they are here (in contrast to my puns). The staccato style is reminiscent of Jack Reacher novels, punctuated by ironically erudite descriptions and observations that sparkled in the audio version narrated by the great Jeff Harding (who also narrates the Reacher books).
The audio version was excellent. I was less impressed by the sample of the text version I read. #19 in the series is out now. I’m not tempted at present. That might change if we have another lockdown.