It has taken me far too long to read this book, but it did serve as a lovely Christmas treat so it’s not all bad. I’m delighted to finally share my thoughts on The Dirty South by John Connolly, his. latest Charlie Parker novel. I love this series and the chance to catch up with Parker in some of his earliest days is an absolute treat. Here’s what the book is all about:
About the Book
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.
Oh how I have loved being back in Charlie Parker’s world. This book feels like a classic Parker novel, and by that I mean that there is no underlying otherworldly element that strives to derail Parker and right some centuries old wrong. This is just Parker up against a very human and corporeal foe with a penchant for killing and displaying young women in a very grotesque manner. The book is set in the period following the murder of Parker’s wife and daughter, before the majority of the action from Every Dead Thing occurs. It is not so much a sequel but more of a filling in of the gaps between the time when. Parker discovered his family and left the Police force behind, to the point at which he was finally able to track down the person responsible for the murder.
The Parker we meet in this novel is a broken man, but a determined one. On the hunt for the person who butchered his family, he is tracking murders across the country that have even a passing resemblance to the level of violence inflicted on his wife. His search brings him to Arkansas and the town of Cargill, a place down on its fortunes for some considerable time, but now quite as much as the three young women who have been murdered over the past few years. Now one thing you can be sure of is that if Parker is involved, then this is no straightforward case and there will be few people happy with his involvement in the investigation. Parker is just one of those guys. And that is definitely the case in Cargill, where local Police are at odds with the view of the County Sheriff when it comes to the difference between murder and accidental death.
I love the way in which John Connolly has set up this story, giving readers who are new to the series enough of an impression of what has happened in Charlie Parker’s life, the way in which he remains haunted by his wife and daughter and compelled to right by them and all of the other victims. Although deep in the shadows of his own grief, there is a conscience and integrity about Parker which prevents him driving away, even when he knows that stopping to assist in this case will do nothing to help him find his family’s murderer. That’s is what makes him such a likeable character, one you want. to follow on his journey, as it is definitely not his overwhelmingly sunny personality. Everything that makes him such a brilliant character is present, although tinged with that absolute darkness we saw in Every Dead Thing as he has not yet had time to begin to come to terms with his loss. He is driven by a need for vengeance, and when combined with an unspoken desire to meet his own end, he makes a formidable foe.
The case that we are faced with is very dark, reflecting the very nature of the town itself and the way in which years of neglect and poverty have pushed the inhabitants to the very edge. The author has done a brilliant job of portraying small town America, the place that is close to dying and is gambling all its final chips on red – red being a major investment that will bring jobs and prosperity to the town. Because of this Parker, and the Cargill police headed up by Chief Evander Griffin, have it all against them in trying to solve a very recent murder – even in as much as making sure. the case is even recorded as such. It adds a layer of conflict to an already difficult investigation and soon sees Parker with a new set of adversaries who are keen to derail him and the investigation. It doesn’t take much for Parker to get people’s backs up and he certainly manages it with aplomb in this book.
Full of the usual rich imagery and scene setting that we have come to expect from this author, I was absolutely absorbed by the narrative and drawn into the rich history of the county and the town’s inhabitants. I could picture every aspect of the town the surrounding county and although I am sure much of what was written is embellished and employs more than a touch of artistic licence, I felt as though I knew much more about the state and state politics than I had before. John Connolly uses this skill, his beautiful way with words, to not only set the scene but also to drive the tension and atmosphere, which veers from fraught to emotional with a real ease. This is a relatively long book at 480 pages, but it never felt it, the pacing and the action pitched just right to keep me invested from the off, with my heart breaking for Parker all over again with the raw feeling of his loss so very apparent. And although he is far from his usual home in the North East, we still get to see some of the people we know and love, a big smile on my face from the moment Parker makes one all important call. And … the guy who gets the hackles up, but if you haven’t read the rest of the series, I will leave it there.
If you like a thriller that has an edge of darkness, in which the action and tension is high, the understated cynical nature of the main character so astutely portrayed, predators who will make your hackles rise, and a mystery so carefully shared that you are kept guessing until the very end, then you need to read this book. If you love Charlie Parker, then you need to read it. If you haven’t read any of the other books … Well maybe read Every Dead Thing first, at least the opening few chapters. You’ll get a good measure of the man then and what happens or is discussed in the book won’t be such a surprise. But be prepared. John Connolly pulls no punches. This is a dark series but pulled together in a way that is so addictive and just leaves me wanting more.
About the Author
John Connolly was born in Dublin in 1968. His debut -EVERY DEAD THING – swiftly launched him right into the front rank of thriller writers, and all his subsequent novels have been Sunday Times bestsellers. He is the first non-American writer to win the US Shamus award. (For Every Dead Thing). In 2007 he was awarded the Irish Post Award for Literature.