by John Connolly
Recommended Ages: 14+
He has nearly finished remodeling the house his grandfather left him in the Portland, Maine, suburb of Scarborough, and is making a little money as a private investigator, when a brush with a small-time crook named Billy Purdue draws him into a web of robbery, kidnapping, contract killings and serial murder. Literally haunted by ghosts of the victims – which he has been able to see since a voodoo priestess touched his mind during his previous case – Bird can't let go of this case until he finds justice for the woman who hired him to help her collect child support from Billy and for their toddler son, both horribly murdered. Meanwhile, he seems to be the only sleuth on the case who doesn't think Billy Purdue did it – although he is clearly guilty of something. Somehow, whatever Billy did has drawn the notice of a lot of bad people. Somehow, it is connected to a shoot-out that killed eight men in Portland and the simultaneous suicide of an elderly woman in Maine's north woods. Somehow, by taking the wrong money from the wrong people, he has set colossal forces on course for collision.
And so, Bird must head north, toward the edge of civilization. He must steer his way between a pair of hitmen who are after a jolt of sexual sadism as much as they are after money; a brutal gangster who wants his money back, and the even higher-level gangsters who want to take it out of him; a local police chief who hasn't forgiven Bird or his wife for having an affair together years ago; an ex-cop ex-partner and ex-friend who doesn't want to know Bird anymore, but whose wife believes that only Bird can find their missing daughter; and lurking in the deepest shadows behind them all, a serial killer who has lain dormant for so long that his name, Caleb Kyle, has become synonymous with the bogeyman that parents use to keep their kids in line. "Go to sleep now, or Caleb Kyle will get you." Only, he might be real. He might be the thread that connects all these other dangerous things. He might be the most dangerous thing of all, an evil so deep and lasting that he blighted the life of Bird's grandfather and apparently isn't done blighting lives.
Bird is a complex guy. He's trying his best to hunt evil and protect the innocent, but he has to make compromises with his conscience along the way. He frequently finds himself a not entirely willing guest of high-level crime bosses. He consorts with a semi-retired burglar and his boyfriend, a semi-retired contract killer. He makes common cause with people who, under other circumstances, would just as soon kill him or have nothing to do with him. Everywhere he turns, bodies drop and blood puddles on the ground. In an indirect sense, he's a danger to everyone he gets close to. And don't even ask about his love life, which will always be haunted (again, literally) by his late wife Susan and is complicated by lingering feelings for another man's wife and for an expert in criminal psychology who, after hunting a serial killer with him, has been rethinking all of her life choices.
Wherever he goes, Bird carries with him an atmospheric depression of doom and tragedy which, one suspects, might suck him in and go "pop," leaving no trace. But until it does, it works in his favor as his sensitivity to the other side, which he acknowledges out loud in this book for the first time, actually nudges him toward the scent of the evil he is trying to track down. When he catches up to it, whether he survives the maelstrom of horror and violence will be partly up to him, partly luck and partly what he learns from the apparitions that come along for the ride. Part paranormal thriller, part detective story, and laced throughout with atmospherics and lyricism – sometimes riding up to the edge of pretentiousness – this book heaps onto one's senses the impressions of a remarkable place, striking personalities, humming suspense, gory shocks, brooding horrors and reach-down-the-back-of-your-shirt creepy crawlies, with just enough hope of a happy(ish) ending to keep you from dropping it and running away.
This 2000 book is the second of going-on 18 Charlie Parker novels by a sometime journalist from Dublin, Ireland. The series started with 1999's Every Dead Thing and continues, after this, with The Killing Mind. The latest book, due to be released in October 2020, is titled The Dirty South. Connolly, who pretty much established a new genre with this series, has also written novels titled Nocturnes, Night Music, Bad Men, The Book of Lost Things and He, as well as the "Samuel Johnson vs. The Darkness" trilogy of YA fantasy-horror novels and a sci-fi trilogy, "Chronicles of the Invaders," co-authored with Jennifer Ridyard.