Before I say anything else, I will tell you that I am a great fan of Mr. Connolly's Charlie Parker series. In fact, I'm a huge fan of all of Mr. Connolly's writing. My fondness for his books stems from the simple fact that I have found them all incredibly satisfying reads. Not a one has ever disappointed me, and lest you think I'm a blindly enthusiastic fan, I'll tell you that I fully expected NOT to like this one as much as the others, or at least to like it for a whole slew of different reasons.
I'd read that this book was focused on Louis and Angel (Charlie Parker's homicidal, hilarious, homosexual "sidekicks"); I'd read that Parker played only a peripheral role here. So, being the huge Parker fan that I am, I wondered if I'd find this read as satisfying or as well-written when it focused on two people whose dark natures were, at least to me, so much more developed and hard to deny.
I needn't have worried. I finished it in record time and was well-pleased with the book as a whole.
Parker does indeed play a peripheral role. He probably appears in less than 1/6 of the book, and only in a reversal of his usual place in things. He's the Angel/Louis here. He's the one who comes in when trouble hits, but whose character is basically secondary throughout except as it affects other characters (in fact, he is referred to as "the Detective" throughout most of the pages upon which he appears, the result of being seen primarily through the eyes of Willie Brew).
The result of Parker's relative absence is a lighter book, even when it covers the darkest of topics. Parker, you see, might have his funny moments, but his is a tortured spirit. He does terrible things, usually for all the right reasons, but the terrible nature of what he feels compelled to do is never far from him. As a result, spending time with him is often exhausting, sometimes depressing, always thought-provoking. I have loved every Parker book, but I'm not blind to the spiritual challenge reading about him puts before me.
One of the reasons I believe Angel and Louis are so popular is that they can do terrible things as well, but the moral toughness doesn't swallow them whole, doesn't cling to them the way it does to Parker. Their humor, their banter, their cool loyalty--these are all appealing to so many of us.
In this book, we get a lot of background that I, for one, have long wanted. How did Louis become a hired killer? How clearly does Angel see his partner and the violence he holds within him? And, just as important in a National Enquirer kind of way: what kind of life do Louis and Angel live when they're not backing Parker up in some guns-a-blazing way? Do they have any other friends, for crying out loud? Why on earth does Angel wear such incredibly awful clothes? How do he and Angel reconcile their vastly different musical tastes? Does Louis really have such contempt for his partner's humor and clothing?
As Louis tries to deal with a threat on his and his loved ones' lives (and yes, believe it or not, there is more than one loved one in his life, although you won't ever hear him admitting it), we learn about his relationship to his "handler," Gabriel. We learn a bit more about the love Louis and Angel hold for each other (although there's nothing explicit here, folks; I don't imagine we'll ever get taken into that territory by Mr. Connolly, and that's a good thing, in my opinion; the story of these two men isn't, I don't think, one that would show up in the gay equivalent of a Harlequin romance).
More than anything, I really enjoyed the fact that Parker gets to explain a bit about himself without. . .well, without all that angst. His is a (deceptively) simple life here (when this novel begins, Parker has lost his PI license and is tending bar, his personal life still in a kind of limbo), the ultimate role reversal, as I said before.
The novel includes some really tough scenes and some hard-to-stomach history (that's one of Mr. Connolly's strongest skills--his research, and the way he weaves history into his stories--wow) about sundown towns, but this book is far less bleak than the other seven in this series. Usually, the history we get is tied to something that will affect Parker directly, that will in some way add to his moral burden or flesh out (no pun intended) some part of the mystery he's trying to solve in that given book. The result of this is often an oppressive weight, and I can honestly say that I rarely find myself happy at the end of a Parker book; there's just been so much weighing on my spirit as well throughout. Not so here. I do feel the weight of the history that defined who Louis is (both as a black man and as a killer), but it's just. . .different.
Overall--I really enjoyed this. Pick it up, especially if you're a Louis and Angel fan. If you're more a Charlie Parker fan, pick it up so that you can see him through different eyes.