Every Dead Thing
Former NYPD detective Charlie “Bird” Parker is on the verge of madness. Tortured by the unsolved slayings of his wife and young daughter, he is a man consumed by guilt, regret, and the desire for revenge. When his former partner asks him to track down a missing girl, Parker finds himself drawn into a world beyond his imagining: a world where thirty-year-old killings remain shrouded in fear and lies, a world where the ghosts of the dead torment the living, a world haunted by the murderer responsible for the deaths in his family—a serial killer who uses the human body to create works of art and takes faces as his prize. But the search awakens buried instincts in Parker: instincts for survival, for compassion, for love, and, ultimately, for killing.
Aided by a beautiful young psychologist and a pair of bickering career criminals, Parker becomes the bait in a trap set in the humid bayous of Louisiana, a trap that threatens the lives of everyone in its reach.
It’s a good idea to avoid reading John Connolly’s debut novel on a full stomach. His descriptions of mutilated murder victims give him honorary membership in the gore wars club. Every Dead Thing is a fast-paced piece of fiction from an author whose regular stomping ground is as a journalist for the Irish Times.
NYPD detective Charlie “Bird” Parker was busy boozing at Tom’s Oak Tavern when his wife Susan, and young daughter Jennifer were mutilated by a killer called the Traveling Man. Consumed by guilt and alcoholism, Charlie soon lost his job, and almost his sanity. Several months on he is sober and ready to get his life back in order. Charlie takes up private investigating. One of his first cases involves the disappearance of a woman called Catherine Demeter. At first this puzzle seems unrelated to the Traveling Man—but Charlie has a gut feeling that the slayer is pulling the strings. “I dreamed of Catherine Demeter surrounded by darkness and flames and the bones of dead children. And I knew then that some terrible blackness had descended upon her.”
The search for Catherine takes Charlie on a whirlwind tour of the South. First to the small Virginian town of Haven, where, some 30 years before, Catherine’s sister Amy was murdered, along with other local children. But the trail turns cold—until a tip from a psychic leads Charlie to the swamplands of Louisiana. The subplots of Catherine’s disappearance, age-old child murders, and the slaying of the Parker family finally unite in the hot, humid terrain. A showdown with the Traveling Man is inevitable.
Every Dead Thing is classic American crime fiction, and it’s hard to believe that John Connolly was born and raised on the Emerald Isle. —Naomi Gesinger
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These days, it seems as if any book featuring a serial killer is inevitably compared to Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs. Indeed, this is exactly what has happened to John Connolly’s Every Dead Thing. Kirkus Reviews says, “Irish journalist Connolly’s first novel is an ambitious, grisly, monstrously overextended foray…deep into Hannibal Lecter territory.” Publishing News ran an article called “In the Steps of Hannibal…” subtitled, “Lecter, that is.” Although meant as compliments, I think comments like these unjustly pigeonhole this riveting novel. While Connolly certainly owes something to Harris, he also owes a considerable debt to other genre authors. Connolly adopts tropes and techniques from these authors, successfully blending these elements to create a unique, satisfying tale of his own.
Several months prior to the main action of Every Dead Thing, NYPD Detective Charlie “Bird” Parker makes a decision that will haunt him for the rest of his life. Fresh from an argument with his wife, Susan, he storms out of the house and heads for a local bar, determined to tie one on. Returning home several hours later, Parker makes a grisly discovery—Susan and his three-year-old daughter Jennifer have been murdered, their faces removed, their mutilated bodies arranged in a position that Parker later discovers is meant to mimic Estienne’s Pieta. Grief stricken, Parker vows vengeance on their killer.
Parker leaves the force to investigate the murders full time. Months later, however, he is no closer to solving the crime. In fact,theonly clue he has to the killer’s identity is one provided by Tante Marie Aguillard, a New Orleans mystic who tells him the killer, whom she calls the Traveling Man, has struck before, and has buried a previous victim in the bayou near her home. Parker isn’t quite sure why he believes her, but is certain she’s telling the truth.
The frustrated Parker is thus almost grateful for the distraction provided by a missing person’s case fed to him by old police friend Walter Cole. Parker’s search for Catherine Demeter, the missing girlfriend of a wealthy Manhattan socialite, leads him to the ironically named small town of Haven, Virginia, where his outsider status and insistent questions open wounds long thought closed. Parker solves the case, but only at the cost of great damage to his person and his psyche. Unknown to him at the time, however, he indirectly moves closer to his ultimate goal—although the connections between the two cases are tenuous, this seemingly unrelated investigation is only the beginning of a tortuous chain of events that will eventually lead him to the Traveling Man. Their final, brutal confrontation is surprising and terrifying—Connolly keeps readers guessing until the very end, stretching nerves to their breaking point.
The first half of the novel evokes both Ross MacDonald and Andrew Vachss, as Parker uncovers secrets that lead to the discovery of a child killer thought dead for over three decades. The second half strays into territory mined successfully by James Lee Burke, as Parker travels to New Orleans for his final confrontation with the Traveling Man. Connolly pays homage to the genre in other ways as well. In the hard-boiled tradition, Parker is sullen, often depressed, but, even so, is always ready with a witty comeback. In a nod to Robert B. Parker, and maybe to Joe Lansdale, Parker’s current flame is a criminal psychologist, his closest allies two tough, black gay men.
Connolly even goes so far as to name certain characters after genre authors. Of course, there’s Charlie Parker, perhaps named for Robert B. Parker or Richard Stark’s famous thief. There’s also police officer Gerald Kersh, FBI agents Woolrich and Ross, and supporting characters Emo Ellison, Evan Baines, and Gunther Bloch.
It’s been reported that Simon & Schuster paid $1 million for the U.S. rights to Every Dead Thing. To my mind, it’s money well spent. Connolly has written a dark, hard-hitting, yet thoughtful thriller, one that advances the genre even as it nods respectfully to its predecessors. Well plotted and solidly crafted, Every Dead Thing is a powerful, often frightening piece of writing, an auspicious debut from a truly gifted storyteller. —Hank Wagner