Faces of the Gone (Carter Ross Series #1)by Brad Parks
Investigative reporter Carter Ross finds himself with gruesome front-page news: four bodies in a vacant lot, each with a single bullet hole in the back of the head. In a haste to calm residents, local police leak a story to Carter's colleagues at the Newark Eagle-Examiner, calling the murders revenge for a bar stickup. But while Carter may not come from the
Investigative reporter Carter Ross finds himself with gruesome front-page news: four bodies in a vacant lot, each with a single bullet hole in the back of the head. In a haste to calm residents, local police leak a story to Carter's colleagues at the Newark Eagle-Examiner, calling the murders revenge for a bar stickup. But while Carter may not come from the streets, he knows a few things about Newark's ghettos. And he knows the story the police are pushing doesn't make sense. He enlists the aide of Tina Thompson, the paper's smoking hot city editor, to run interference for him at the office; Tommy Hernandez, the paper's gay Cuban intern, to help him with legwork on the street; and Tynesha Dales, a local stripper, to take him to Newark's underside. Soon, Carter learns the four victims have one connection after all, and knowing this will put him in the path of one very ambitious killer.
Faces of the Gone won the Shamus Award for Best First Novel and the Nero Award for Best American Mystery--it is the first book to receive both awards. The book was named to lists of the year's best mystery debuts by the Chicago Sun-Times and South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
“Brad Parks [has] delivered a first-rate crime thriller....Faces of the Gone is gritty and hard boiled, but with a sly sense of humor. This strong and confident debut is sure to make an appearance on many 'best of' and awards lists. Parks is a bright new talent whom readers will hopefully be able to enjoy for years to come.” David J. Montgomery, Chicago Sun-Times
“[A] commanding, entertaining debut...Faces of the Gone skillfully mixes a gritty hard-boiled mystery with swatches of broad humor that perfectly captures the newsroom culture….Parks' Faces of the Gone ranks with Michael Connelly's The Scarecrow in its depiction of the newspaper industry. Parks, a former reporter at the Star-Ledger in Newark, shows he's made the transition to becoming a novelist with this impressive debut.” Oline H. Cogdill, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
“This is the most hilariously funny and deadly serious mystery debut since Janet Evanovich's One for the Money. Former journalist Parks has learned the art of making words flow and dialog zing. Fans of the NFL's Cleveland Browns will find the Brick City Browns street gang an added delight.” Library Journal (starred review)
“The story and characters make Faces of the Gone a success; the plot plays out with twists, and the characters are drawn with realism. Parks has begun his projected series with a bang.” Richmond Times-Dispatch
“This terrific page-turning debut features a likeable protagonist, engaging supporting characters and some witty and amusing dialogue. Readers will want to see where this compelling tale takes them.” RT Book Reviews (4 stars)
“Parks' writing is graceful and often gripping, and he creates a handful of vivid characters, both journalists and their sources. His portraits of the city and its drug trade, the newspaper, and Carter's journalistic techniques all sound knowing....this could develop into a solid series.” Booklist
Read an Excerpt
Faces of the Gone
By Brad Parks
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2009 Brad Parks
All rights reserved.
If there had only been one dead body that day, I never would have heard about it. From a news standpoint, one dead body in Newark, New Jersey, is only slightly more interesting than planes landing safely at the airport. Assuming it's some anonymous gangbanger—and in Newark it's almost always an anonymous gangbanger—it's a four-paragraph story written by an intern whose primary concern is finishing quickly so he can return to inventing witty status updates on Facebook.
Two bodies is slightly more interesting. The intern has to come up with eight paragraphs, and maybe, if there's someone unfortunate enough to be hanging out in the photo department when an editor wanders by, a picture will run with the story. Three bodies is worth a headline and a picture, even a follow-up or two, though the interest peters out quickly enough.
But four? Four means real news. Four gets a town buzzing, even a town as blood-jaded as Newark. And four bodies is what I was contemplating that Monday morning in early December as I arrived at the offices of the Newark EagleExaminer and opened up the paper.
We had managed to cram a quick story about it in our late edition. It was done by our night-shift rewrite guy, a man named Peterson who delighted in hyperbolizing gritty crime stories. He quoted a Newark police spokesman as saying four victims, each with a single bullet wound in the back of the head, had been found in a vacant lot next to a church on Ludlow Street.
The police spokesman didn't provide much color, so Peterson created his own, describing the "brazen execution-style slayings" as having "rocked an otherwise quiet Newark neighborhood." The bodies, he wrote, had been "stacked like cordwood in a weed-choked plot." The Newark police had not released the names of the victims, because next of kin had not been notified, so Peterson referred to them as "four John Does" every chance he got.
I was making it through the last of Peterson's compositional flourishes when I heard my editor, Sal Szanto.
"Crrttrr Rssss," Szanto growled. From experience, I knew he was at least attempting to say my name, Carter Ross.
"What's going on, boss?" I said, lurking in his doorway.
Now in his early fifties, Szanto often had trouble with vowels until his voice warmed up a bit. No one could say which of his vices—coffee, cigarettes, or antacid tablets—had taken the letters away.
Sit down. I think. As I entered the office and took the chair across from his desk, Szanto turned away and held up his left hand while coughing forcefully into his right, his jowls jiggling at the effort. He stopped for a moment, started to speak, then hacked a few more times until he finally dislodged the morning phlegm that had rendered him all but unintelligible.
"Ah, that's better," he said. "Anyway, Brodie is really pitching a tent over this Ludlow Street thing."
As far as anyone knew, Harold Brodie—the legendary Eagle-Examiner executive editor who was now pushing seventy—had not gotten an actual hard-on in years. He got stiffies for stories and, sadly for Mrs. Brodie, nothing else. And although they were erections only in the figurative sense, the impact they had on the rest of us was very real. When you heard the phrase "Brodie has a real hard-on for this one"—or any number of colorful derivations on that theme—you knew it was trouble. Once he was turned on to a story it could take days for the old man to tire of it. And, in the meantime, he was going to harass everyone in the newsroom on a half-hourly basis until he got the story he imagined existed.
"I've already sent Whitlow and Hays down there. They're going to do the daily stuff," Szanto said, then aimed a stubby finger at me. "You're going to get to the bottom of what the hell happened down there."
"And how am I going to do that?"
"I don't know. You're my investigative reporter. Figure it out yourself."
I enjoy the title "investigative reporter" because it impresses women in bars. And I was proud to have earned the job at an age, thirty-one, when some of my peers were still slaving away on backwater municipal beats in faraway bureaus. But it's just a line on a business card. It's not like there are files marked "for investigative reporters only." It certainly hasn't made me any smarter.
"So what do we know, besides 'four John Does stacked like cordwood in a weed-choked plot'?" I said, mimicking Peterson's style.
"That one of the John Does is actually a Jane."
"Yeah," Szanto said, wincing as he sipped his still-too-hot coffee. "The police already called to bitch about that this morning."
"So what do you think Brodie wants from this?" I asked.
"You know exactly what he wants: a fascinating story with great art that gives us all piercing insight into the woes of New Jersey's largest city. And he wants it tomorrow."
"How about you give me a week and I'll try to turn in something that doesn't read like it was written by a lumberjack?"
"Hey, if it gets Brodie off my ass, you can rewrite Tuesdays with Morrie for all I care," Szanto said.
"Yeah, maybe I'll do that," I said as I departed his office.
"Tk Hrrrndzzz," Szanto hollered after me.
"Hear that?" I asked Tommy Hernandez, the aforementioned Facebook-obsessed intern.
"Yeah, it sounds like a lawnmower that won't start," he said, then looked at me with something far beyond disdain.
"How many times do I have to tell you that a wristwatch is an accessory and it should match your belt?" he demanded.
Tommy is only twenty-two, but he's blessed with a great reporter's instinct of noticing every small detail. He's handy to have on the streets, because he's second-generation Cuban-American and speaks flawless Spanish. He's also gay as the Mardi Gras parade.
"Come on, Tommy," I said. "Let's go embrace another beautiful day in Newark."
The abandoned lot on Ludlow Street was, true to Peterson's imagination, a sorrowful little patch of earth covered in dried weeds. The neighborhood around it wasn't bad, by Newark standards. Most of the houses appeared to be owner occupied and decently maintained, with either newish siding or fresh paint. The church, St. Mary's Catholic, was a century-old stone building with a tidy rectory next door. There was public housing across the street, but they were newly constructed town houses, the kind that wouldn't go to seed for at least another decade. Weequahic Golf Course, a charming little cow pasture county residents could play for fifteen bucks, was maybe two blocks down the street.
"This place is pretty decent," I said as Tommy and I pulled to a stop on Ludlow. He cast me a sideways glance.
"Yeah, let's start an upscale day spa here," he cracked.
"Okay, fair point," I corrected myself. "But look around. There's no one just hanging out. The cars are all gone. The people in this neighborhood work during the day."
"How far are we from Seth Boyden?"
The Seth Boyden projects were a festering den of urban despair. Even the toughest reporters got jittery about going there during the day. Going there after dark put you on the short list for a mugging.
"Three or four blocks," I said.
"Think it could have been someone from there? A lot of Blood sets hanging around."
"Could be. But would some Blood really go through the trouble of marching four people all the way down here? Those guys are hit-and-run types."
Tommy, who had written up nearly every shooting in Newark over the past six months, knew that as well as I did. We were really just stalling. The car was being buffeted by gusts of wind and neither of us was real keen to face them. A cold front had barreled down from Canada overnight and the winter season was giving New Jersey its first slap. Which figured. It's a meteorological fact that as soon as the weather gets extreme—in either direction—it coincides with me having to do manon-the-street reporting. I've spent most of my career either sweating or shivering.
"I don't suppose the story will come to us in here, will it?" I asked.
"You know, for a superstar investigative reporter, you're a real pussy sometimes," Tommy said.
Grunting, I willed myself out of the car, across the street, and into the vacant lot. The Newark police's Crime Scene Unit had already retreated back to the warmth of their precinct. A few strips of windblown yellow tape were the only sign they had ever been there.
I gingerly picked my way toward the fence that lined the back of the lot, where a makeshift shrine was already forming. In the past few years, these shrines had become a ubiquitous part of the city landscape. As soon as some way-too-young kid gets gunned down, his boys come with candles and other mementos to memorialize the spot where he fell. If the victim is a Blood, you'll see red bandanas and "BIP"—Blood in Peace—spray-painted somewhere nearby. If he's a Crip, the bandanas will be blue and the graffiti will have some kind of number (Crip sets often have numbers). The Latin Kings decorate in black and gold, and so on.
I had interviewed kids who bragged about how big their shrines would be when they got killed. They talked about it with a nonchalance that was chilling.
This shrine was small, so far. But it would undoubtedly grow over the next few days. Four bouquets of flowers, one for each victim, had already been attached to the fence. One of the bouquets had a card attached. I turned it over to read the inscription.
"Wanda," it read. "May you rest in peace forever. Love, Tynesha."
Tommy had walked up behind me. As I stared dumbly, Tommy was scribbling something in his pad.
"Let's find out who Tynesha is," he said as he copied the name of the florist.
"Good plan," I said, slightly chagrined the intern thought of it before I did.
"Someone's gotta do your work for you," he shot back.
Richard Whitlow approached us from the sidewalk, stepping carefully through the waist-high weeds. A beefy, dark-skinned black guy, he had been covering Newark for more than a decade and was, how to put it, a little bit inured to violent death. His greeted us with, "Hey, make sure you don't slip on the blood puddle."
"You journalists are so insensitive with your gallows humor," I joked back.
"I wish I was kidding. Check it out," he said, pointing to a bare patch of dirt that, sure enough, appeared to have been stained by something dark and red.
"Oh, nasty," Tommy said.
"Yeah, poor suckers bled out right there," Whitlow said, shaking his head.
"Police told you anything new?" I asked.
"Finally got the names out of them."
"They mean anything to you?"
"Nah. Not until I figure out their street names," Whitlow said. Aliases littered the hood like so much trash, especially among those who were employed in what you might call the city's informal economy. Your friendly neighborhood drug dealer could be known by up to a half-dozen different aliases, which bore scant resemblance to his real name. Depending on the name the police settled on, the victim's own mother might not recognize it. Or she might be the only one who recognized it.
"What names did they give you?"
Whitlow flipped open his notebook and shoved the page toward me so I could copy them down: Wanda Bass, Tyrone Scott, Shareef Thomas, Devin Whitehead. I had to press hard on my pen. The ink was already freezing.
"Cops say anything else?"
"Around ten, there were four shots, bang, bang, bang, bang," Whitlow said, turning to the next page in his notebook. "No one called the cops or even thought much of it because there's a bar down the street and people are always coming out drunk, shooting off their guns for the hell of it."
I always found strange comfort that the American propensity for mixing alcohol and firearms cut across racial, socioeconomic, and cultural divides, from rural redneck to ghetto gangbanger to skeet-shooting blue blood.
"Around eleven, some guy came out of the bar and happened to see four people lying in the back of the lot," Whitlow continued, flipping more pages as he went.
"He told the cops he thought they were homeless and he was going to roust them and take them to a shelter, on account of the cold. Then he got close, saw the blood, and made the call."
"Wow, there are helpful citizens after all," I interjected.
"Yeah, anyway, that's about all I can tell you, other than that my ass is about to freeze off," Whitlow said, storing his notepad back in his jacket. "I got enough to write a daily. Hays is working some of his cop sources trying to get stuff out of them. Let me know if you find anything interesting around here."
Tommy and I decided to work the streets, which can be a wonderful source of information for the reporter who doesn't mind the trial-and-error method of walking up to random people until you bump into one who knows something.
Which is not to say it's easy. As a rule, Newark residents don't trust anyone. They especially don't trust anyone who looks official, be they cops, politicians, or newspaper reporters. And they doubly don't trust white folks, who are usually only there to arrest them or scam them.
Therefore, for someone of my pallor and profession, milking information from the streets involved bridging that rather huge chasm of natural distrust. Some white reporters running in the hood try to "act black"—talk the vernacular, quote rappers, dress like they're going on BET—but that was never going to work for me.
The fact of the matter is I'm Carter Ross, born to an upper-middle-class family in the privilege of Millburn, one of New Jersey's finer suburbs. I was raised by two doting parents alongside an older brother who's now a lawyer and a younger sister who's now a social worker. We vacationed down the shore every summer, skied in Vermont every winter, and were taught to view Newark as the kind of place you heard about but did not visit. I was sheltered by some of New Jersey's best prep schools until age eighteen, whereupon I went to Amherst College and spent four years around some of the nation's most elite students. I just don't have any street in me.
And anyone could see it. The things that allow me to blend into the tasteful décor at any of New Jersey's better suburban shopping malls—my side-parted brown hair, my preference for button-down-collared shirts and pressed slacks, my awkwardly upright carriage, my precise diction and bland anywhere-in-America accent—made me a circus freak in the hood. Most people I pass on the street are polite enough to merely stare. A few openly point. People are constantly asking me if I'm lost.
Yet through the years, I had come to realize a simple fact of reporting: if you approach people with respect, listen hard, and genuinely try to understand their point of view, they will talk to you, no matter how different your background is. So that's what I attempt to do.
Over the next three hours, I learned a lot about the neighborhood: how the vacant lot had once been home to a crack house, until the city got its act together and tore it down; how the public housing across the street, which had been slapped together by a developer known to be cozy with the mayor, was already falling apart; how the bar down the street, the Ludlow Tavern, just kept getting rougher, with the patrons leaving their knives at home and bringing their guns instead.
But I didn't learn anything about the four victims, which suggested they weren't from this part of town. Most Newark neighborhoods were tighter than outsiders realized, with familial connections that went back generations. If someone from the neighborhood got killed, you could always find a cousin or a friend—or a cousin of a friend whose aunt was distantly related to the victim's stepmother. Something. But I had struck out.
By the time I was done canvassing and had returned to the vacant lot, a truck from a New York TV station had pulled up outside the church. No doubt, they were ready to lend great insight and understanding with their ferociously dogged reporting, which would consist of taking off just as soon as they had collected one usable five-second sound bite from the first "concerned citizen" they could find.
I don't want to launch into too much of a rant against local television reporters. But if I were a modern-day Noah, I'd take the bacteria that causes the clap on my ark before I took one of them.
Excerpted from Faces of the Gone by Brad Parks. Copyright © 2009 Brad Parks. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Brad Parks is a winner of the Shamus and Nero Awards. A former reporter for The Washington Post and The Star-Ledger, he is now a full-time author living in Virginia, where he is at work on the next Carter Ross adventure.
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Discovering a promising new writer is one of the real joys of reading. It's part of the excitement that keeps us going back to the bookstore time and again, even though we inevitably suffer our share of disappointments. There's no need to worry with author Brad Parks, however, as he's delivered a first-rate crime thriller. Although FACES OF THE GONE is Parks' first novel, his prior career as a journalist well prepared him for this engaging story of Carter Ross, a reporter for the (fictional) Newark Eagle-Examiner. A quadruple homicide is front page news even in crime-ridden Newark, and Ross is determined to pursue the story no matter the cost. FACES OF THE GONE is gritty and hard boiled, but with a sly sense of humor. This strong and confident debut is sure to make an appearance on many "best of" and awards lists. Parks is a bright new talent whom readers will hopefully be able to enjoy for years to come.
Reading over half of a novel while hyped up on cough drops and missing a night’s sleep because you’ve been traveling for approximately 20 hours, as you fly into and out of Chicago (in the middle of a winter storm) and out of Boston (before the big one hits) and you end up being stuck on parked planes for a total of three hours (added up from two occasions) and add a Las Vegas redeye to your traveling regime may not have been the best course of action for my retention ability, but FACES OF THE GONE managed to help me keep my sanity, prevented me from screaming at gate agents and flight attendants and fellow travelers and relentless chatterboxes and unhappy babies and also kept me from hurling myself out of a plate glass window and onto the tarmac in front of a 737. So it has that going for it. Carter Ross may suck at relationships and cry in front of female companions with virtually no provocation, but he still manages to have a certain charm and debonair nature, even if he has trouble getting laid from a woman who wears a biological clock around her left wrist. And he may not always know where the story is going, but he can expertly run in place or skip a meal or two if it gets him a little closer to the prized front page. He may not always have the best way of communicating either, along with a few of his companions and colleagues, but at the end of the day he’s still the best man for the job. Even if he manages to get himself in the middle of some serious crap, he’s not about to back up or back down. He injects a bit of wit in Newark, instead of the current drug of choice, and he finds himself amidst a cast of characters that need little introduction. If I ever find myself on the streets of Newark, I’ll barrel through stoplights and intersections in an armored vehicle with bulletproof glass and an MK47 riding shotgun. The story didn’t click for me right away, but once I shoved my hand in The Stuff, I managed to find my high just fine and even found myself enjoying the ride, despite the traveling situation that had developed between Massachusetts and New Mexico. Stuffing your carryon full of books helps ease this pain tremendously. Robert Downs Author of Falling Immortality: Casey Holden, Private Investigator
an incredible first novel by Parks. i cant wait to see what carter ross has got in store next
FACES OF THE GONE BY Brad Parks is one of the books that was considered for an Edgar Award as best first novel. This book is set in Newark, NJ, certainly one of the least salubrious locations I can think of. Parks does not try to make the city something other than it is so Newark, with all its poverty and crime, is a character in the story. The story opens with the execution style murders of four drug dealers who are killed at one of the many vacant lots in the city. The bodies are left in the open so they will be found quickly. "Because punishing the four dealers - all of whom had strayed and broken a vital clause in their contract- wasn't enough. It had to be made clear to the others in the organization, especially those who might consider straying themselves, that this was the price for disobedience." The "Director" wanted maximum publicity and he knew leaving four bodies together would attract the attention of the media whereas one or two might escape notice. Carter Ross, the investigative journalist of the Newark Eagle -Examiner disagrees with the senior reporter and the editor of his paper. They are convinced that the four were involved in the robbery of a nearby bar but Carter thinks that is too simple an explanation. The four had all been in prison and, upon leaving, had begun careers as heroin dealers. But they worked in distinctly different areas of the city. There didn't seem to be anything to connect them. As Carter investigates and becomes involved with the families of the dead, he learns about lives that never got started and a life that had promise but got badly derailed. Events take a decidedly frightening turn when Carter's house is blown up and the homes of the people who gave him information for his article are torched. In that the nearly simultaneously incidents take place within a couple of hours of the story hitting the street, Carter realizes that he has made an enemy of someone who has a clear channel to the newspaper. Carter Ross might as well be a man from another planet in the neighborhoods of Newark. The product of prep school and Amherst College, the street life is foreign to him but Carter is a man who likes his job and likes getting the stories of people who are victims out to the reading public. Carter believes in the power of the press as an instrument of good and works the story no matter where it takes him. The relationships between the characters make for a good story especially Carter's relationship with his editor, Tina, who seems to see Carter as the perfect father for the baby she is desperate to have. The book is funny especially when the story centers on Carter's meeting with the Brown Gang who have given up dealing drugs in favor of bootleg movies. Parks is working on the second book of the series and I look forward to reading it
Glad to have found this author. Hope his other books in this series are just as entertaining
I keep reading the same authors and saw that this new book was by a Virginian, so gave it a try. Was really pleased. I read mysteries all the time, but do not think I have read one about a reporter. Enjoyed it, good fast read and good plot. Will definitely read his second book.
I had to read this as an assignment for school and thought it would be a bore! This book turned out to be a suspenseful page turner! Definitely a must read!
I liked this story. Maybe because I live very close to Newark, I feel like I was one of characters on this book.
Fast moving story, thoroughly likable hero. A little light as far as being thrilling but well written plot. Good start and hoping his next book will be even better.
In Newark four men were assassinated with a bullet to their respective head and left in an empty lot. The cops assume the mass murders are connected to a robbery at a nearby bar. The media jumps on what the cops tell them. Thus Newark Eagle-Examiner investigative reporter Carter Ross sees the killings in his paper. He disagrees with the official take and begins to work the streets. The four victims seem to have no connection beyond living in Jersey. He has editor Tina Thompson, Cuban-American intern Tommy Hernandez and stripper Tynesha Dales to assist him as one of the victims was an exotic dancer. Still he struggles to connect the dots and is unaware the Director is watching the thirty something journalist. The lead pairing of the reporter vs. the Director makes for an enjoyable fast-paced investigative thriller with ironically the audience identifying the killer before the cops or the journalist can. From the opening mass murder scene until the final confrontation that fans anticipate, Faces of the Gone is action-packed throughout as the Director continues his gruesome business patiently waiting for Carter and his team to stumble onto who he is. Harriet Klausner