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4.0 out of 5 stars A gory but wonderful debut, Aug. 10 2002
This review is from: Every Dead Thing (Mass Market Paperback)
As other reviewers have noted, it's continually surprising to realize that the author of one of the most American and most accomplished crime thrillers in recent years is actually an Irish journalist. John Connolly only rarely shows his Irish, lyrical side in passages such as this, on page two: "There is a light breeze blowing and my coattails play at my legs like the hands of children."

And so begins a descent into an unforgettable tale of madness. Connolly expertly engages the reader from the first page by interspersing two POVs of his main character, Charlie "Bird" Parker, the present tense, the italicized past tense of the night Parker found the horribly mutilated corpses of his wife and children, and the third impersonal voice of the police report. At first, the reader may suspect that the present tense POV is that of the killer and perhaps Connolly may have counted on this to further shrink the gap between the evil mind and its analogue.

The Traveling Man is one of the more intriguing serial killers in latter day fiction, one drawn with the skill of an established master of the genre. The identity of the killer is a true surprise, not a mean feat considering today's sophisticated reader, although the clues are placed throughout the book with the judiciousness of an M. Night Shyamalan.

It should be noted that the murder scenes should not be read by those with weak stomachs and there aren't too many books that come to memory requiring such an advisory. But just when the jaded reader thinks that every atrocity has already been committed by real life killers or imagined by novelists, John Connolly has come from Ireland with a unique perspective on the genre. Perhaps Connolly's outsider mentality is what separates EVERY DEAD THING from many of the serial killer books being penned by lesser-talented American authors.

It made me groan to see that Connolly, as with his literary grandfathers Hammett and Chandler, continually puts his protagonist in situations until I half expected Parker to find another mangled corpse on his way to the bathroom. The body count and bewildering array of killers (Oh no, the Traveling Man isn't the only one) may turn off readers with milder sensibilities and not as easily-suspended disbeliefs.

The two main plots remained separated for too long, which risks inspiring boredom and impatience in the reader. There are also far too many male characters in the book, especially the cops, and despite the book's length, Connolly didn't take enough care with their delineation to make them very distinctive to the reader. Angel and Louis, the gay hit men, are certainly a breath of fresh air and are treated with the dignity they deserve.

Connolly's Parker cracks wise with the best of them and the jokes tend to be better and funnier than Robert Parker's Spenser. "Bird" Parker is a reluctant PI in the mold of Easy Rawlins or Troy Soos's Mickey Rawlings but he is a much better delineated character than either and still better than most in the too-vast detective universe. Parker is an unimaginably tortured man, one who has no problem going over the line and taking a life with the tenuous ability go back to the side of compassion. With clipped and bloodied wings, he is an earthbound enforcer for St. Jude.

I hope that the next two books will be more judiciously edited. Only Connolly's ferocious wit and sheer mastery of plot advancement kept this book from being a midlist beach thriller. This highly intelligent and erudite novel, with its unusually poetic cops and FBI agents, is some of the best entertainment you can buy for [amt]. I fully intend on following the series.
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