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It was Dr. Al-Daini who found the girl, abandoned in the long central corridor. She was buried beneath broken glass and shards of pottery, under discarded clothing, pieces of furniture, and old newspapers used as packing materials. She should have been rendered almost invisible amid the dust and the darkness, but Dr. Al-Daini had spent decades searching for girls such as she, and he picked her out where others might simply have passed over her.
Only her head was exposed, her blue eyes open, her lips stained a faded red. He knelt beside her, and brushed some of the detritus from her. Outside, he could hear yelling, and the rumble of tanks changing position. Suddenly, bright light illuminated the hallway, and there were armed men shouting and giving orders, but they had come too late. Others like them had stood by while this had happened, their priorities lying elsewhere. They did not care about the girl, but Dr. Al-Daini cared. He had recognized her immediately, because she had always been one of his favorites. Her beauty had captivated him from the first moment he set eyes on her, and in the years that followed he had never failed to make time to spend a quiet moment or two with her during the day, to exchange a greeting or merely to stand with her and mirror her smile with one of his own.
Perhaps she might still be saved, he thought, but as he carefully shifted wood and stone he recognized that there was little he could do for her now. Her body was shattered, broken into pieces in an act of desecration that made no sense to him. This was not accidental, but deliberate: he could see marks on the floor where booted feet had pounded upon her legs and arms, reducing them to fragments. Yet, somehow, her head had escaped the worst of the violence, and Dr. Al-Daini could not decide if this rendered what had been visited upon her less awful, or more terrible.
“Oh, little one,” he whispered as he gently stroked her cheek, the first time that he had touched her in fifteen years. “What have they done to you? What have they done to us all?”
He should have stayed. He should not have left her, should not have left any of them, but the Fedayeen had been battling the Americans near the Ministry of Information, the sounds of gunfire and explosions reaching them even as they sandbagged friezes and wrapped foam rubber around the statues, grateful that they had at least managed to transport some of the treasures to safety before the invasion commenced. The fighting had then spread to the television station, less than a kilometer away, and to the central bus station at the other side of the complex, drawing closer and closer to them. He had argued in favor of staying, for they had stockpiled food and water in the basement, but many of the others felt that the risks were too great. All but one of the guards had fled, abandoning their weapons and their uniforms, and there were already black-garbed gunmen in the museum garden. So they had locked the front doors and left through the back entrance before fleeing across the river to the eastern side, where they waited in the house of a colleague for the fighting to cease.
But it did not stop. When they attempted to return over the Bridge of the Medical City they were turned back, and so they stayed with their colleague once again, and drank coffee, and waited some more. Perhaps they had remained there for too long, debating back and forth the wisdom of abandoning what was, for now, a place of safety, but what else could they have done? Yet he could not forgive himself, or assuage his guilt. He had abandoned her, and they had had their way with her.
And now he was crying, not from the dirt and filth but from rage and hurt and loss. He did not stop, not even as booted feet approached him and a soldier shone a flashlight in his face. There were others behind him, their weapons raised.
“Sir, who are you?” asked the soldier.
Dr. Al-Daini did not reply. He could not. All his attention was fixed on the eyes of the broken girl.
“Sir, do you speak English? I’ll ask you one more time: who are you?”
Dr. Al-Daini picked up on the nervousness in the soldier’s voice, but also the hint of arrogance, the natural superiority of the conqueror over the conquered. He sighed, and raised his eyes.
“My name is Dr. Mufid Al-Daini,” he said, “and I am the deputy curator of Roman Antiquities at this museum.” Then he reconsidered. “No, I was the Deputy Curator of Roman Antiquities, but now there is no museum left. Now there are only fragments. You let this happen. You stood by and let this happen.…”
But he was speaking as much to himself as he was to them, and the words turned to ash in his mouth. The staff had left the museum on Tuesday. On Saturday, they learned that the museum had been looted, and then began to return in an effort to assess the damage and prevent any further theft. Someone said that the looting had commenced as early as Thursday, when hundreds of people had gathered at the fence surrounding the museum. For two days, they were free to ransack. Already, there were rumors that insiders had been involved, some of the museum’s own guardians targeting the most valuable artifacts. The thieves took everything that could be moved, and much of what they could not take they attempted to destroy.
Dr. Al-Daini and some others had gone to the headquarters of the marines and pleaded for help in securing the building, for the staff was fearful that the looters would return, and the U.S. Army tanks at the intersection only fifty meters from the museum had refused to come to their aid, citing orders. They were eventually promised guards by the Americans, but only now, on Wednesday, had they come. Dr. Al-Daini had arrived just shortly before them, for he had been one of those assigned the role of liaison with the soldiers and the media, and he had spent the previous days being passed up and down the military ranks and providing contacts for journalists.
Carefully, he raised the head of the broken girl, youthful yet ancient, the paint still visible on her hair and mouth and eyes after almost four thousand years.
“Look,” he said, still weeping. “Look at what they did to her.”
And the soldiers stared for a moment at this old man covered in white dust, a hollow head in his hands, before moving on to secure the looted halls of the Iraq Museum. They were young men, and this operation was about the future, not the past. No lives had been lost, not here. These things happened.
After all, there was a war on.
DR. AL-DAINI WATCHED THE soldiers go. He looked around and saw a swatch of paint-spattered cloth lying by a fallen display case. He checked it and found it to be relatively clean, so he placed the head of the girl upon it, then wrapped the cloth carefully around her, tying a knot with the four corners so that he might more easily carry her. He stood wearily, the head now hanging from his left hand, like an executioner bearing to his potentate the evidence of the ax’s work. So lifelike was the girl’s expression, and so troubled and shocked was Dr. Al-Daini, that he would not have been surprised had the severed neck begun to bleed through the material, casting red drops like petals upon the dusty floor. All around him were reminders of what had once been, absences like open wounds. Jewelry had been taken from skeletons, their bones scattered. Statues had been decapitated, so that the most striking aspect of them might more easily be carried away. Curious, he thought, that the girl’s head, exquisite as it was, should have been overlooked, or perhaps it was enough for whomever had broken her that her body was ruined, enough to have removed a little beauty from the world.
The scale of the destruction was overwhelming. The Warka vase, a masterpiece of Sumerian art from about 3500 B.C., and the world’s oldest carved stone ritual vessel, was gone, hacked away from its base. A beautiful bull-headed lyre had been reduced to kindling as the gold was stripped from it. The Bassetki statue base: gone. The statue of Entema: gone. The Warka mask, the first naturalistic sculpture of a human face: gone. He passed through room after room, replacing all that was lost with phantasms, ghosts of themselves—here, an ivory seal, there a bejeweled crown—so that what had once been was superimposed over the wreckage of the present. Even now, still nearly numb at the extent of the damage that had been done, Dr. Al-Daini was already cataloging the collection in his mind, trying to recall the age and provenance of each precious relic in case the museum’s own records might no longer be available to them when they began the seemingly impossible task of recovering what had been taken.
Dr. Al-Daini stopped walking. He swayed slightly, and his eyes closed. A soldier passing by asked him if he was okay and offered him water, a small gesture of kindness that Dr. Al-Daini was unable to acknowledge, so grave was his disquiet. Instead, he turned to the soldier and gripped his arms, a movement that might well have ended his troubles on the spot had the soldier in question had his finger on the trigger of his gun.
“I am Dr. Mufid Al-Daini,” he told the soldier. “I am a deputy curator here at the museum. Please, I need you to help me. I have to get to the basement. I must check something. It is very, very important. You must help me to get through.”
He gestured at the shapes of the armed men ahead of them, beige figures in the darkened hallways. The young man before him looked doubtful, then shrugged.
“You’ll have to let go of my shoulders first, sir,” he said. He couldn’t have been more than twenty or twenty-one, but there was an assurance to him, an ease more appropriate to an older man.
Dr. Al-Daini stepped back, apologizing for his presumption. The name on the soldier’s uniform read “Patchett.”
“Do you have some identification?” asked Patchett.
Dr. Al-Daini found a museum badge, but the lettering was in Arabic. He searched in his wallet and found a business card, Arabic on one side, English on the other, and handed it across. Squinting slightly in the poor light, Patchett examined it, then returned it.
“Okay, let’s see what we can do,” he said.
DR. AL-DAINI HAD TWO titles in the museum. As well as being deputy curator of Roman Antiquities, a job description that did insufficient justice to the depth and breadth of his knowledge or, indeed, the additional responsibilities that he had shouldered unofficially and without remuneration, he was also the curator of Uncataloged Items, another name that barely hinted at the extent of the Herculean labors involved. The museum’s inventory system was both ancient and complicated, and there were tens of thousands of items that had yet to be included. One part of the museum’s basement was a labyrinth of shelves piled high with artifacts, boxed and unboxed, most of them, or most of the tiny fraction that had been cataloged by Dr. Al-Daini and his predecessors, of little monetary value, yet each one a marker, a remnant of a civilization now changed beyond recognition, or departed utterly from this world. In many ways, this basement was Dr. Al-Daini’s favorite part of the museum, for who knew what might be discovered here, what unsuspected treasures might be revealed? So far, in truth, he had found few indeed, and the trove of uncataloged items remained as great as it ever had, for with every shard of pottery, every fragment of a statue that was formally added to the museum’s records, ten more seemed to arrive, and so, as the body of what was known became greater, so too did the mass of the unknown. A lesser man might have regarded it as a fruitless task, but Dr. Al-Daini was a romantic when it came to knowledge, and the thought that the store of what remained to be discovered was forever increasing filled him with joy.
Now, flashlight in hand, the soldier Patchett behind him with another light, Dr. Al-Daini passed through the canyons of the archives, his key redundant, for the door had been smashed open. The basement was stiflingly hot, and there was a sharp smell in the air left by the burning foam that the looters had used as torches, since the electricity had stopped working before the invasion, but Dr. Al-Daini barely noticed. His attention was fixed on one spot, and one spot only. The looters had made their mark here too, overturning shelves, scattering the contents of boxes and crates, even setting fire to records, but they must have realized quickly that there was little worthy of their attentions, and so the damage was less. Yet some items were clearly missing, and as Dr. Al-Daini moved deeper into the basement, his anxiety increased, until at last he came to the place that he had sought, and stared at the empty space on the shelf before him. He almost gave up then, but there was still some hope.
“Something is missing,” he told Patchett. “I beg of you, help me to find it.”
“What are we looking for?”
“A lead box. Not very big.” Dr. Al-Daini held his hands about two feet apart. “Plain, with a simple clasp and a small lock.”
And so together they searched the unlocked areas of the basement as best they could, and when Patchett was recalled by his squad leader Dr. Al-Daini continued to look, all that day and into the night, but there was no sign of the lead box.
If one wants to hide an item of great value, surrounding it with the worthless is a good way to do so. Better yet if one can swathe it in the poorest of garbs, disguising it so well that it can remain in plain sight and yet not attract even the slightest of glances. One might even catalog it as that which it is not: in this case, a lead casket, Persian, sixteenth century, containing a smaller, unremarkable sealed box, apparently made of iron painted red. History: unknown. Provenance: unknown. Value: minimal.
All lies, especially the last, for if one got close enough to that box within a box, one might almost have thought that something inside it was speaking.
No, not speaking.
THE DOG HEARD THE call, and came warily to the top of the stairs. She had been sleeping on one of the beds, which she knew that she was not supposed to do. She listened, but picked up on nothing in the voice to suggest that she might be in trouble. When the call came again, and she heard the sound of her leash jangling, she took the stairs two at a time, almost falling over her own legs with excitement when she reached the bottom.
Damien Patchett quieted the dog by raising his finger, and attached the leash to her collar. Although it was warm outside, he wore a green combat jacket. The dog sniffed at one of the pockets, recognizing a familiar scent, but Damien shooed her away. His father was over at the diner, and the house was quiet. The sun was about to set, and as Damien walked the dog through the woods toward the sea, the light began to change, the sky bleeding red and gold behind him.
The dog bit at the leash, unused to being restricted in this way. Usually, she was given free roam on her walks, and she indicated her displeasure by tugging hard. She was not even allowed to stop and sniff scents, and when she tried to urinate she was dragged along, causing her to yelp unhappily. There was a nest of bald-faced hornets in a birch tree nearby, a gray construct now quiet, but in the daytime a buzzing mass of aggression. The dog had been stung earlier in the week when she went to investigate the tree’s sap lick, where a yellow-bellied sapsucker had cleared the bark to feed, leaving a useful source of sweetness for assorted insects, birds, and squirrels. She began to whine as they drew close to the birch, recalling her pain and desirous of giving its source a wide berth, but he calmed her by patting her and changing direction, easing her away from the site of her mishap.
As a boy, Damien had been fascinated by bees, and wasps, and hornets. This colony had formed in the spring when the queen, roused from months of sleep after mating the previous fall, began to mix wood fiber with saliva, creating a pole of paper pulp to which she gradually added the hexagonal cells for her young: first the females from the fertilized eggs, then the males from her virgin eggs. He had kept track of each stage of its development, just as he used to do when he was a boy. It was the aspect of female rule that he had always found most interesting, for he came from an old-fashioned family where the men made the decisions, or so he had always believed until, as he grew older, he began to recognize the infinite subtle ways in which his mother, and his grandmothers, and various aunts and cousins, had manipulated the males to their satisfaction. Here, in this gray nest, the queen could be more open in her government, giving birth, creating defenders of the hive, feeding and being fed, even keeping her young warm by her own shivers, the warm air created by the actions of her body becoming trapped in a bell-shaped chamber of her own creation.
He stared back at the shape of the nest, almost invisible now among the leaves, as though reluctant to leave it. His sharp eyes picked out spider webs, and ants’ nests, and a green caterpillar scaling a bloodroot, and each creature gave him pause, and each sight he seemed to store away.
They could smell the sea when Damien stopped. Had anyone been there to see him, it would have been clear that he was weeping. His face was contorted, and his shoulders convulsed with the force of his sobs. He looked round, right and left, as if expecting to glimpse presences moving between the trees, but there was only birdsong and the sound of waves breaking.
The dog’s name was Sandy. She was a mutt, but more retriever than anything else. She was now ten years old, and she was as much Damien’s dog as his father’s, despite the son’s long absences, loving both equally just as they loved her. She could not understand her younger master’s behavior, for he was usually tolerant of her in ways that even his father was not. She wagged her tail uncertainly as he squatted beside her and tied her leash to the trunk of a sapling. Then he stood and removed the revolver from his pocket. It was a .38 Special, a Smith & Wesson Model 10. He had bought it from a dealer who claimed that it had come from a Vietnam vet who was down on his luck, but who Damien subsequently discovered had sold it to feed the cocaine habit that had eventually claimed his life.
Damien put his hands to his ears, the gun in his right hand now pointing to the sky. He shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut. “Please, please stop,” he said. “I’m begging you. Please.”
His mouth curled down, snot running from his nose, as he removed his hands from his head and, trembling, pointed the gun at the dog. It was inches from her muzzle. She leaned forward and sniffed it. She was used to the smell of oil and powder, for Damien and his father had often taken her to hunt birds with them, and she would bring back the bodies in her jaws. She wagged her tail expectantly, anticipating the game.
“No,” said Damien. “No, don’t make me do it. Please don’t.”
His finger tightened on the trigger. His whole arm was shaking. With a great effort of will, he turned the gun away from the dog, and screamed at the sea, and the air, and the setting sun. He gritted his teeth and freed the dog from her leash.
“Go!” he shouted at her. “Go home! Sandy, go home!”
The dog’s tail went between her legs, but it was still wagging slightly. She didn’t want to leave. She sensed that something was very wrong. Then Damien ran at her, aiming a kick at her behind but pulling it at the last moment so that it made no contact. Now the dog fled, retreating toward the house. She paused while Damien was still in sight of her, but he came at her again, and this time she kept going, stopping only when she heard the gunshot.
She cocked her head, then slowly began to retrace her steps, anxious to see what her master had brought down.
© 2010 John Connolly
Posted July 6, 2010
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The book begins in the chaos that follows the fall of Bagdad as looters swarm the city carrying away whatever they can, including many priceless antiquities from the city's museums. One item contains an ancient evil that if released, would plunge the world into darkness forever. And it has found its way to Charlie Parker's New England territory.
Parker, a former NYPD cop turned private investigator has been asked by the father of an Iraq war veteran, who recently took his own life to check on the well-being of an employee. While one thing doesn't appear to have anything to with the other, both incidents are as intricately woven together as an ancient tapestry.
Through rich, evocative prose, John Connolly creates a world that is both seductive and terrifying. Parker is a man with many personal demons. Haunted by the savage slaughter of his wife and daughter, he carries around their ghosts, bother figuratively and literally. They live in the "honeycomb" world that serves as a thin and too often breached veil between good and evil, and visit Parker in the half-light between night and day. Parker often crosses the moral boundaries that separate him from his targets and then must learn to live with the gradual darkening of his own soul. He is so compelling a character that just watching him go through an ordinary day alone would make good fiction.
But Parker's days are like no one else's. They are filled with the pursuit of evil so depraved; most of us would hide under beds with our eyes tightly shut, frightened to draw breath for fear of being discovered. And that's what makes John Connolly's books that rare, wonderful find in fiction: a combination of a strong protagonist and gripping plots that keeps you up all night turning pages, afraid to turn out the light. Toss in Connolly's gift for rich, luminary prose and by the time you finish the books you are starved for more.
If you haven't read any of the Charlie Parker series yet, set aside your evenings and weekends for the next couple of months and start with the first one, Every Dead Thing. First, go buy a nightlight and a good deadbolt.
14 out of 14 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 5, 2010
In Baghdad, looters steal the treasures from the Museum of Antiquities. Only a locked box is left behind. American soldiers are among those ransacking the country's valuables bringing them home when their tour ends.
In 2009 in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, highly decorated soldier Damien Patchett rushes outside his home with his dog Sandy. He struggles with control and forces his loyal canine to flee before pulling the trigger of the gun he holds. His distraught father hires private detective Charlie Parker to learn why his son and two other retuning vets from his unit recently committed suicide. The case turns eerie even for a man who lives partially in the paranormal. Charlie learns of the illegal cargo and of a sinister smuggling operation run between the Great North Woods that straddle Canada and the United States. Knowing he will need help, he enlists his two buddies Louis and Angel to assist him as he deals with a dying Herod, a malevolent shadowy Captain and disenchanted veterans back from the desert.
This is a great Charlie Parker thriller; perhaps the best in several years as John Connolly cleverly blends the ancient with the modern. Fast-paced, the exhilarating story line focuses on evil from ancient Sumerian times and the previous Administration's ignoring the needs of returning soldiers many of who suffer with untreated PTSD. The suicide rate of soldiers and marines are very high in spite of some super efforts by the military to prevent this from happening. The Whisperers is Mr. Connolly in top form as he condemns chicken hawks that demand war but refuse to pay for it inside a strong action-packed tale.
6 out of 9 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 23, 2012
Good Story and I really enjoy reading anything by John Connolly. Charlie Parker keeps getting better and better as Mr. Connolloy peels back the Onion that is CHarlie Parker. I look forward to the next book in the Series.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 10, 2012
Posted August 20, 2012
It didnt capture my attention from the beginning, i was expecting it to be as it was rated "thriller" but a just got a feeling of this author to have copied short comments from other books and put it together in this one, it would had been a good book if he had spent more time on the pandora box and the demonic side of the whisperers but instead he focused more on nonesense character profiles... i wanted to put it down but i had already paid for it so i finished and the end wasnt as thrilling either.. maybe this wasnt his best yet and will try reading one more of this author hopefully he has better work in other storiesWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 15, 2012
I stumbled across John Connolly & i read his 1st in the charlie parker series & now im onto book 9... i love john connollys writing, i love the characters & i love charlie parker, louis & angel...
Posted February 25, 2012
This is my first John Connolly novel but not my last! Great Story, great characters, from the first page I was hooked and didn't want anything else but to turn the next and the next page. John Connolly so easily brings his characters into your world that you want to know them and follow their story. I really loved this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 18, 2010
Posted July 30, 2010
I was highly disappointed by this book. It so wasn't what I thought it would be. I find his writing endless and pointless. The only good part was the last chapter. In the future a bit more mystery, and supernatural and a little less BS about American politics...written by someone who's not even American.
I read for escapism. I most certainly didn't get it with this. What a Piece of garbage that I can't even regift...Thanks for nothing Mr. Connelly.
0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 23, 2010
Only a handful of authors truly make it look effortless to spin captivating words; expressing an astonishing range of emotions, constructing believable-if that is their intent-situations and intricate characters on paper. John Connolly is one of the small few to thrive in this arena. His intelligent and believable characters are painted in such a thought-provoking way that you never second-guess their reality, even while they are all but a whisper of your nightmares.
Private detective Charlie Parker doesn't have enough work to keep him busy or keep his mind occupied until he is hired to look into an undemanding case of domestic violence. The case-Parker soon finds out-is merely a ruse to seek information in an unrelated incident of suicide.
The father of the decorated soldier is searching for the reasons behind his son's unexpected death and believes that the thread of violence began within the ranks of his military unit. What should have been a simple case becomes a high stakes game of hide-and-seek as Parker discovers these resentful soldiers will stop at nothing to conceal what they have brought home even though its plan is to destroy them in the end.
A unique mix of mystery, suspense and paranormal makes an enticing and terrifying cocktail as only Connolly can.
Reviewed by Shannon Raab with Suspense Magazine
Posted July 17, 2010
I have been an avid Connolly fan since I first stumbled upon his books in a used bookstore. I have recommended this series to countless I know yet I am loathe to do so in this case.
While I suppose his choice of side storyline is noble and needed, it left the rest of the story and great characters wanting for more input and page time. I don't want to give anything away for those who haven't read it yet, so I won't go further into plot or story.
Connolly did his best characters a huge disfavor with this book; unlike all the rest in this series, his characters did not really develop. Little insight was gained to them, with the blatent exception of Charlie's interactions with the therapist.
I will continue to read the series because I almost came away with a feeling that this book was just filler. I hope it was, instead of being an example of things to come from Connolly. I bought it on my Nook as soon as it was availible because I am normally such a huge Connolly fan, but I wish I could get my money back.
Posted July 13, 2010
Soldiers from the war in Iraq are committing suicide left and right. Charlie, a private investigator who used to work as an NYPD cop, is the one looking in on these deaths. He makes a startling discovery when he realizes that these soldiers may have killed themselves over an artifact they confiscated from a museum during their tour.
WOW! John really knows how to deliver! This is an amazing, quick read that leaves you breathless. I absolutely loved it.
Posted December 13, 2011
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