Monday, November 03, 2014

Haunted Maine Town, Haunted Investigator: THE WOLF IN WINTER, John Connolly

Each new death in our lives echoes against the earlier ones, and sets them ringing in us like a string of bells, brushed by a passing hand. Sometimes it's gentle music -- and sometimes discordant. But I have never been to a funeral, or read an obituary, without thinking of some long-passed friend or relative, and feeling an amplified loss.

How much more so must it be for a private investigator like Charlie Parker of Maine, who's seen so many tragedies. As THE WOLF IN WINTER from John Connolly opens, he and his partners in, well, vengeance maybe, or crime protection, think they've finally cornered a criminal mastermind who's killed one of their friends. There will be many chapters to go before the impact of the scene comes back into the action -- and the next chapter, from the point of view of a wolf just arriving from Canada into Maine in bitter cold, will also seem obscure for a while. But if you're a series reader, you're already aware, in the echo with earlier Charlie Parker investigations, that the wolf could parallel either a psychopathic killer or, in the sense that it's alone with its wounds, Charlie himself.

Then the action takes over.

A homeless man in Portland, Maine, Jude, has been trying to track down his daughter. It looked like he was finally about to have "family" again -- and then his daughter disappeared, and the treatment center further north where she'd been recovering is baffled, too. Then Jude dies, in circumstances that Charlie quickly realizes are staged murder ... and in a way that leaves Charlie Parker the emotional legacy of taking Jude's "missing persons" case. Where did that young woman vanish?

All paths lead to the historic rural town of Prosperous, Maine, which appears to have struck a virtual deal with a devil to prosper for centuries, against the odds. The town's leadership is ingrown and odd; the minister of its gargoyle-decorated and peculiar church even more so. Charlie attempts to call Pastor Warraner into his own mission:
"I'm searching for a missing girl. If she's alive, she's in trouble. If she's dead, someone else is. As an individual who professes to be a man of god, I'd suggest that your compassion is currently misdirected."

Warraner plunged his  hands into the pockets of his jeans as though he feared the damage he might otherwise inflict on me. He was a big man, and strong as well. If he got his hands on me, he'd do some harm. Of course, I'd shatter one of his knees before he got that close, but it wouldn't look good on my résumé. Still, all of his weight was on his left leg, which was ramrod straight. If he moved, I'd take him.

Warraner breathed deeply to calm himself and recover his dignity. The moment passed.

"You know nothing of my god, Mr. Parker," he said solemnly.
But Charlie has already guessed a lot about what's wrong in the town, and if he still has a hope of finding the missing girl, it's small, and growing fainter.

Between the steady increase of suspense, the tension in Charlie himself, and the sense that Charlie and his own friends are going to have to tackle an entire town, this thriller kept me racing from one chapter to the next. Except there are also deep things here, and not just under the town's motivations. Here's the scrap from late in the book that convinced me I'll be reading this one again, and again:
He believed that men created gods as much, if not more, than gods created men. If this old god existed, it did so because there were men and women who permitted it to continue to exist through their beliefs. They fed it, and it, in turn, fed them.
It's necessary to accept that level of presence of the "paranormal" in this page-turner, and maybe a wee bit more, but ... I'm a hard-core, non-paranormal reader, and THE WOLF IN WINTER struck me as making complete sense. When the wolves of greed and pride are loose in the landscape, there's going to be an echo, a response.

Those bells are ringing again.

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