The White Road (Charlie Parker Series #4)

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Overview

Hailed as "one of the best" (Toronto Sun) writers of contemporary suspense fiction, international bestselling author John Connolly returns with an electrifying novel featuring his acclaimed private detective, Charlie Parker.
In South Carolina, a young black man faces the death penalty for the rape and murder of Marianne Larousse, daughter of one of the wealthiest men in the state. It's a case that nobody wants to touch, deeply rooted in old evil — and old evil is Charlie ...

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The White Road (Charlie Parker Series #4)

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Overview

Hailed as "one of the best" (Toronto Sun) writers of contemporary suspense fiction, international bestselling author John Connolly returns with an electrifying novel featuring his acclaimed private detective, Charlie Parker.
In South Carolina, a young black man faces the death penalty for the rape and murder of Marianne Larousse, daughter of one of the wealthiest men in the state. It's a case that nobody wants to touch, deeply rooted in old evil — and old evil is Charlie Parker's specialty. He's about to enter a living nightmare, a dreamscape of sorrow haunted by the murderous specter of a hooded woman, by a black car waiting for a passenger that never comes, and by the sinister complicity of both friends and enemies in Larousse's brutal death. Soon, all will face a final reckoning in an unearthly realm where the paths of the living and the dead converge. A place known only as the White Road.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Harlan Coben Darkly brilliant, spellbinding and disturbing....One of the best thriller writers we have.

Rocky Mountain News You don't want to miss a word of this near-perfect story.

Mystery Review [Connolly] combines beautiful language with horrifying images to create gripping novels of suspense.

Romantic Times
Although Connolly hails from Ireland, his uncannily accurate depictions of the U.S. and its people resonate with truth.
Publishers Weekly
"I have learned to embrace the dead and they, in their turn, have found a way to reach out to me." It's becoming increasingly clear from pronouncements such as this that PI Charlie Parker is hardly your garden-variety mystery protagonist. In Connolly's latest spine-tingling opus (after The Killing Kind), readers gain further insights into the soul of this tormented man-a hero of uncommon depth and compulsions. We also learn more about Angel and Louis, Parker's longtime cronies (and gay Odd Couple) who function as Greek chorus, avenging angels and their buddy's conscience. Angel resembles "the runway model for a decorators' convention, assuming that the decorators' tastes veered toward five-six, semiretired gay burglars," while Louis possesses "six feet six inches of attitude, razor-sharp dress sense, and gay Republican pride." (Note to Connolly: how about a spin-off novel for these two idiosyncratic supporting players?) Parker's description of his newest case-"dead people, a mystery, more dead people"-exemplifies his bluntness; true to form, he's never far from a cutting remark or casual wisecrack (hearing that an especially odious character has "found Jesus," Parker observes, "I figure Jesus should be more careful about who finds Him"). When a former colleague who's practicing law in Charleston, S.C., asks for Parker's help on a racially charged murder case, Parker reluctantly leaves his Maine habitat. The South that he encounters is found in no guidebook: it's a pernicious locale where the good old boys are far from good, where country music speaks "of war and vengeance" and where one soulless individual "smelled of slow burning... like the odor left after an oil fire had just been extinguished." Adding eerie overtones to Connolly's intricately plotted tale are more of Parker's musings on the concept of death and the nature of evil-soliloquies often accompanied by spectral visions. The malevolence here is almost palpable (even more so than in Parker's earlier outings). 25-city author tour. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In private detective Charlie Parker's fourth installment (after Every Dead Thing), Connolly continues the disturbing saga of the mentally and physically bruised Parker, who is a magnet for the most evil villains imaginable. Connolly, who lives in Ireland, depicts an America that chills to the bone. Here he interweaves America's brutal history of racism with today's white supremacist movement to create a backdrop for psychotic criminals whose territory includes the supernatural, as well as Maine and the swamps of South Carolina. The wounds of our racial history (for example, lynching), which most Americans would prefer to consider historical anomalies, are presented as evidence of an epic evil that must be confronted if yesterday's and today's victims are to rest. And once again, Charlie Parker is forced to confront his inner demons and those who seek to hurt his loved ones, including his tough and resourceful pregnant girlfriend. Parker still wrestles with his tendency toward moral absolutism, which is, thankfully, not exhibited by his two intriguing friends, Louis and Angel, a gay couple who stamp out evil in their own no-holds-barred fashion. Connolly's other titles in the series should be read in order, as villains reappear in them or are related in unpredictable ways. Recommended for public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/02.]-Lisa Bier, Southern Connecticut Univ., New London Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fourth in the Charlie Parker private-eye series (The Killing Kind, 2002, etc.) by former Dublin journalist Connolly: as ambitiously rich as ever, with lyrically dark watercolors. The explosive plot, with no shortage of violence or death, takes a deeper cut than most thrillers and gathers moral weight as it moves at its own sweet pace, a pace some will find engaging and others windy. Charlie Parker has left his job as an NYPD detective and relocated in Maine, where he still mourns the death of his wife and daughter (Every Dead Thing, 1999) while living with criminal psychologist Rachel Wolfe, the lover who carries his child. The multiplot includes—from the earlier novel—the disappearance of the Aristook Baptists colony of fundamentalists led by the dastardly Rev. Aaron Faulkner, with Parker’s old cohorts Louis and Angel bringing bloody vengeance to bear on racist evildoers never brought to justice, these also woven into the disappearance of young Cassie Blythe, while in South Carolina Parker becomes involved in the possibly wrongful imprisonment and forthcoming trial of Atys Jones, a 19-year-old black man accused of murdering his rich white girlfriend, Marianne Larousse, by beating her with a rock. Then there’s this mysterious old black Cadillac Coup de Ville that keeps showing up, its door opening in the moonlight as if for a ghost to get in, while down in South Carolina Parker’s lawyer friend, Elliot Norton, who is defending Atys, survives a firebombing. When Faulkner calls Parker to his prison cell, the spooky reverend threatens to kill Rachel unless Parker refuses to testify at his trial. And there’s the racist torturer Kitten, who literally is not human and shimmers in thesun. And the dead Cassie, who visits Parker in the night from the astral darkness where she lies. So, not your usual thriller. And the payoff comes singing like eelgrass in a stream. Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743456395
  • Publisher: Pocket Books
  • Publication date: 1/27/2004
  • Series: Charlie Parker Series , #4
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 245,932
  • Product dimensions: 4.19 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

John Connolly is the author of The Wrath of Angels, The Burning Soul, The Book of Lost Things, and Bad Men, among many others. He is a regular contributor to The Irish Times and lives in Dublin, Ireland. For more information, see his website at JohnConnollyBooks.com, or follow him on Twitter @JConnollyBooks.

Biography

John Connolly was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1968 and has, at various points in his life, worked as a journalist, a barman, a local government official, a waiter and a dogsbody at Harrods department store in London. He studied English in Trinity College, Dublin and journalism at Dublin City University, subsequently spending five years working as a freelance journalist for The Irish Times newspaper, to which he continues to contribute.

His first novel, Every Dead Thing, was published in 1999, and introduced the character of Charlie Parker, a former policeman hunting the killer of his wife and daughter. Dark Hollow followed in 2000. The third Parker novel, The Killing Kind, was published in 2001, with The White Road following in 2002. In 2003, John published his fifth novel - and first stand-alone book - Bad Men. In 2004, Nocturnes, a collection of novellas and short stories, was added to the list, and 2005 marked the publication of the fifth Charlie Parker novel, The Black Angel.

John Connolly is based in Dublin but divides his time between his native city and the United States, where each of his novels has been set.

Author biography courtesy of Atria Books.

Good To Know

Some fun and fascinating facts gleaned from our interview with Connolly:

"I once worked as a debt collector, although I didn't know it at the time. I was just delivering the letters for a courier company, and only discovered they were final notices when a little man chased me out of his sawmill with an ax."

"I did my graduate thesis on the first closure of Jerusalem to the Palestinians, during the course of which I a) was involved in a car crash on the Gaza Strip, which provided the residents with their entertainment for the day; b) was imprisoned briefly by Egyptian immigration officials, an experience I can heartily advise everyone to avoid; and c) discovered that I was a worse photographer than a writer, as none of my pictures came out."

"While interviewing my idol, James Lee Burke, for The Irish Times, I managed to get lost in the Rattlesnake Wilderness while out walking with Burke. His dogs found me. Eventually."

"I can cook a pretty good Cajun meal. I know a bit about wine, but only South African wine." "I love going to the movies, but think cell phones have made it a less enjoyable experience than before. In fact, I think cell phones have made life that little bit less bearable, and I can't imagine how awful it will be when people can use them on aeroplanes. In the last couple of books I've written, people have died terrible deaths because of their fascination with cell phones. I always feel a little calmer after I've killed someone in print."

"Rather embarrassingly, the only pseudonym I've used is a woman's name. Earlier this year, one of the editors at Hodder Ireland, the Irish arm of my U.K. publisher, announced that she was putting together a book of stories, entitled Moments, for tsunami relief, with all of the contributions to be written by female writers. She asked if I might be interested in submitting a story under a pseudonym, just to see if anyone would spot the interloper. I agreed to try, although admittedly there was alcohol taken at the time and had she asked me to swim naked down the Amazon with ‘Pirahna Food' written on my back I would probably have agreed to that as well. The story was called ‘The Cycle' and appeared under the pseudonym ‘Laura Froom' in the book, which was the name of the vampire in one of the short stories in my Nocturnes collection. So there: my secret shame has been revealed."

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    1. Hometown:
      Dublin, Ireland
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 31, 1968
    2. Place of Birth:
      Dublin, Ireland
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Trinity College Dublin, 1992; M.A. in Journalism, Dublin City University, 1993
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Prologue

They are coming.

They are coming in their trucks and their cars, plumes of blue smoke following them through the clear night air like stains upon the soul. They are coming with their wives and their children, with their lovers and their sweethearts, talking of crops and animals and journeys they will make; of church bells and Sunday schools; of wedding dresses and the names of children yet unborn; of who said this and who said that, things small and great, the lifeblood of a thousand small towns no different from their own.

They are coming with food and drink, and the smell of fried chicken and fresh-baked pies makes their mouths water. They are coming with dirt beneath their nails and beer on their breath. They are coming in pressed shirts and patterned dresses, hair combed and hair wild. They are coming with joy in their hearts and vengeance on their minds and excitement curling like a snake in the hollow of their bellies.

They are coming to see the burning man.

The two men stopped at Cebert Yaken's gas station, "The Friendliest Little Gas Station in the South," close by the banks of the Ogeechee River on the road to Caina. Cebert had painted the sign himself in 1968 in bright yellows and reds, and every year since then he had climbed onto the flat roof on the first day of April to freshen the colors, so that the sun would never take its toll upon the sign and cause the welcome to fade. Each day, the sign cast its shadow on the clean lot, on the flowers in their boxes, on the shining gas pumps, and on the buckets filled with water so that drivers could wipe the remains of bugs from their windshields. Beyond lay untilled fields, and in the early September heat the shimmer rising from the road made the sassafras dance in the still air. The butterflies mixed with the falling leaves, sleepy oranges and checkered whites and eastern tailed-blues bouncing upward in the wake of passing vehicles like the sails of brightly colored ships tossing on a wild sea.

From his stool by the window, Cebert would look out on the arriving cars, checking for out-of-state tags so that he could prepare a good old Southern welcome, maybe sell some coffee and doughnuts or shift some of the tourist maps, the yellowing of their covers in the sunlight signaling the approaching end of their usefulness.

Cebert dressed the part: he wore blue overalls with his name sewn on the left breast, and a Co-Op Beef Feeds cap set way back on his head like an afterthought. His hair was white and he had a long mustache that curled exotically over his upper lip, the two ends almost meeting on his chin. Behind his back folks said that it made Cebert look like a bird had just flown up his nose, but they didn't mean nothing by it. Cebert's family had lived in these parts for generations and Cebert was one of their own. He advertised bake sales and picnics in the windows of his gas station and donated to every good cause that came his way. If dressing and acting like Grandpa Walton helped him sell a little more gas and a couple of extra candy bars, then good luck to Cebert.

Above the wooden counter, behind which Cebert sat day in, day out, seven days each week, sharing the duties with his wife and his boy, was a bulletin board headed: "Look Who Dropped By!" Pinned to it were hundreds of business cards. There were more cards on the walls and the window frames, and on the door that led into Cebert's little back office. Thousands of Abe B. Normals or Bob R. Averages, passing through Georgia on their way to sell more photocopy ink or hair-care products, had handed old Cebert their cards so that they could leave a reminder of their visit to the Friendliest Little Gas Station in the South. Cebert never took them down, so that card had piled upon card in a process of accretion, layering like rock. True, some had fallen over the years, or slipped behind the coolers, but for the most part if the Abe B.'s or Bob R.'s passed through again, with a little Abe or Bob in tow, there was a pretty good chance that they would find their cards buried beneath a hundred others, relics of the lives that they had once enjoyed and of the men that they had once been.

But the two men who paid for a full tank and put water in the steaming engine of their piece-of-shit Taurus just before five that afternoon weren't the kind who left their business cards. Cebert saw that straight off, felt it as something gave in his belly when they glanced at him. They carried themselves in a way that suggested barely suppressed menace and a potential for lethality that was as definite as a cocked gun or an unsheathed blade. Cebert barely nodded at them when they entered and he sure as hell didn't ask them for a card. These men didn't want to be remembered, and if, like Cebert, you were smart, then you'd pretty much do your best to forget them as soon as they'd paid for their gas (in cash, of course) and the last dust from their car had settled back on the ground.

Because if at some later date you did decide to remember them, maybe when the cops came asking and flashing descriptions, then, well, they might hear about it and decide to remember you too. And the next time someone dropped by to see old Cebert they'd be carrying flowers and old Cebert wouldn't get to shoot the breeze or sell them a fading tourist map because old Cebert would be dead and long past worrying about yellowing stock and peeling paint.

So Cebert took their money and watched as the shorter one, the little white guy who had topped up the water when they pulled into the gas station, flicked through the cheap CDs and the small stock of paperbacks that Cebert kept on a rack by the door. The other man, the tall black one with the black shirt and the designer jeans, was looking casually at the corners of the ceiling and the shelves behind the counter loaded high with cigarettes. When he was satisfied that there was no camera, he removed his wallet and, using leather-gloved fingers, counted out two tens to pay for the gas and two sodas, then waited quietly while Cebert made change. Their car was the only one at the pumps. It had New York plates and both the plates and the car were kind of dirty, so Cebert couldn't see much except for the make and the color and Miss Liberty peering through the murk.

"You need a map?" asked Cebert, hopefully. "Tourist guide, maybe?"

"No, thank you," said the black man.

Cebert fumbled in the register. For some reason, his hands had started to shake. Nervous, he found himself making just the kind of inane conversation that he had vowed to avoid. He seemed to be standing outside himself, watching while an old fool with a drooping mustache talked himself into an early grave.

"You staying around here?"

"No."

"Guess we won't be seeing you again, then."

"Maybe you won't."

There was a tone in the man's voice that made Cebert look up from the register. Cebert's palms were sweating. He flicked a quarter up with his index finger and felt it slide around in a loop in the hollow of his right hand before rattling back into the register drawer. The black man was still standing relaxed on the other side of the counter but there was a tightness around Cebert's throat that he could not explain. It was as if the visitor were two people, one in black jeans and a black shirt with a soft Southern twang to his voice, and the other an unseen presence that had found its way behind the counter and was now slowly constricting Cebert's airways.

"Or maybe we might pass through again, sometime," he continued. "You still be here?"

"I hope so," croaked Cebert.

"You think you'll remember us?"

The question was spoken lightly, with what might have been the hint of a smile, but there was no mistaking its meaning.

Cebert swallowed. "Mister," he said. "I've forgotten you already."

With that, the black man nodded and he and his companion left, and Cebert didn't release his breath until their car was gone from sight and the shadow of the sign cast itself, once again, on an empty lot.

And when the cops came asking about the men a day or two later, Cebert shook his head and told them that he didn't know nothing about them, couldn't recall if two guys like them had passed through that week. Hell, lot of people passed through here on the way to 301 or the interstate, kept the place going like a turnstile at Disney World. And anyway, all them black fellers look alike, you know how it is. He gave the cops free coffee and Twinkies and sent them on their way and had to remind himself, for the second time that week, to release his breath.

He looked around at the business cards arrayed on every previously blank stretch of wall, then leaned over and blew some dust from the nearest bunch. The name Edward Boatner was revealed. According to his card, Edward sold machine parts for a company out of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Well, if Edward came through here again, he could take a look at his card. It would still be there, because Edward wanted to be remembered.

But Cebert didn't remember nobody that didn't want to be remembered.

He might have been friendly, but he wasn't dumb.

A black oak stands on a slope at the northern edge of a green field, its branches like bones set against the moonlit sky. It is an old, old tree; its bark is thick and gray, deeply furrowed with regular vertical ridges, a fossilized relic stranded by a long-departed tide. In places, the orange inner bark has been exposed, exuding a bitter, unpleasant scent. The shiny green leaves are thick upon it: ugly leaves, deep and narrow, with bristle-tipped teeth at the ends of the lobes.

But this is not the true smell of the black oak that stands at the edge of Ada's Field. On warm nights when the world is quieted, hand-on-mouth, and the moonlight shines palely on the scorched earth beneath its crown, the black oak discharges a different odor, alien to its kind yet as much a part of this solitary tree as the leaves on its branches and the roots in its soil. It is the smell of gasoline and burning flesh, of human waste and singeing hair, of rubber melting and cotton igniting. It is the smell of painful death, of fear and despair, of final moments lived in the laughter and jeering of onlookers.

Step closer, and the lower parts of its branches are blackened and charred. Look, see there, on the trunk: a cloven groove deep in the wood, now faded but once bright, where the bark was suddenly, violently breached. The man who made that mark, the final mark he left upon this world, was born Will Embree, and he had a wife and a child and a job in a grocery store that paid him a dollar an hour. His wife was Lila Embree, or Lila Richardson that was, and her husband's body — after the ending of the final, desperate struggle that caused his booted foot to strike so hard against the trunk of the tree that he tore the bark from it and left a pit deep in its flesh — was never returned to her. Instead his remains were burned and the crowd took souvenirs of the blackened bones from his fingers and toes. Someone then sent her a photograph of her dead husband that Jack Morton of Nashville had printed up in batches of five hundred to be used as postcards, Will Embree's features twisted and swollen, the figure standing at his feet grinning as the flames from the torch leap toward the legs of the man Lila loved. His corpse was dumped in a swamp and the fish stripped the last of the charred flesh from his bones until they came apart and were scattered across the mud on the bottom. The bark never reclaimed the breach made by Will Embree and it remained exposed for ever after. The illiterate man had left his mark on the sole monument to his passing as surely as if it had been carved in stone.

There are places on this old tree where no leaves ever grow. Butterflies do not rest upon it, and birds do not nest in its branches. When its acorns fall to the ground, fringed with brown hairy scales, they are left to decay. Even the crows turn their black eyes from the rotting fruit.

Around the trunk, a vine weaves. Its leaves are broad, and from each node springs a cluster of small green flowers. The flowers smell as if they are decomposing, festering, and in daylight they are black with flies drawn by the stench. This is Smilax herbacea, the carrion flower. There is not another one like it for a hundred miles in any direction. Like the black oak itself, it is alone of its kind. Here, in Ada's Field, the two entities coexist, parasite and saprophyte: the one fueled by the lifeblood of the tree, the other drawing its existence from the lost and the dead.

And the song the wind sings in its branches is one of misery and regret, of pain and passing. It calls over untilled fields and one-room shacks, across acres of corn and mists of cotton. It calls to the living and the dead, and old ghosts linger in its shade.

Now there are lights on the horizon and cars on the road. It is July 17, 1964, and they are coming.

They are coming to see the burning man.

Virgil Gossard stepped into the parking lot beside Little Tom's Tavern and belched loudly. A cloudless night sky stretched above him, dominated by a yellow killer moon. To the northwest, the tail of the constellation Draco was visible, Ursa Minor below it, Hercules above, but Virgil was not a man to take time to look at the stars, not when he might miss a nickel on the ground in the process, and so the shapes that the stars had taken were lost on him. From the trees and the bushes the last of the field crickets sounded, undisturbed by traffic or people, for this was a quiet stretch of road, with few houses and fewer folk, most having abandoned their homes for more promising surroundings many years before. The cicadas were already gone and soon the woods would prepare for the winter quiet. Virgil would be glad when it came. He didn't like bugs. Earlier that day, a piece of what looked like greenish lint had moved across his hand while he lay in bed and he had felt the brief sting as the masked hunter, scouring Virgil's filthy sheets for bedbugs, bit into him. The thing was dead a second later, but the bite was still itching. That was how Virgil was able to tell the cops what time it was when the men came. He had seen the green numerals on his watch glowing as he scratched at the bug bite: 9:15 P.M.

There were only four cars in the lot, four cars for four men. The others were still in the bar, watching a rerun of a classic hockey game on Little Tom's crappy TV, but Virgil Gossard had never been much for hockey. His eyesight wasn't so good and the puck moved too fast for him to follow it. But then everything moved too fast for Virgil Gossard to follow. That was just the way of things. Virgil wasn't too smart, though at least he knew it, which maybe made him smarter than he thought. There were plenty of other fellas thought they were Alfred Einstein or Bob Gates, but not Virgil. Virgil knew he was dumb, so he kept his mouth shut and his eyes open, best he could, and just tried to get by.

He felt an ache at his bladder and sighed. He knew he should have gone before he left the bar but Little Tom's bathroom smelled worse than Little Tom himself, and that was saying something, seeing as how Little Tom smelled like he was dying from the inside out, and dying hard. Hell, everybody was dying, inside out, outside in, but most folks took a bath once in a while to keep the flies off. Not Little Tom Rudge, though: if Little Tom tried to take a bath, the water would leave the tub in protest.

Virgil tugged at his groin and shifted uncomfortably from his right foot to his left, then back again. He didn't want to go back inside, but if Little Tom caught him pissing on his lot then Virgil would be going home with Little Tom's boot stuck up his ass and Virgil had enough troubles down there without adding a damn leather enema to his burdens. He could take a leak by the side of the road farther on down the way; but the more he thought about it the more he wanted to go now. He could feel it burning inside of him: if he waited any longer...

Well, hell, he wasn't going to wait. He pulled down his zipper, reached inside his pants, and waddled over to the side wall of Little Tom's Tavern just in time to sign his name, which was about as far as Virgil's education extended. He breathed out deeply as the pressure eased and his eyes fluttered closed in a brief ecstasy.

Something cold touched him behind his left ear and his eyes quickly opened wide again. He didn't move. His attention was focused on the feel of the metal on his skin, the sound of liquid on wood and stone, and the presence of a large figure behind his back. Then the voice spoke:

"I'm warnin' you, cracker: you get one drop of your sorry-ass piss on my shoes and they gonna be fittin' you up for a new skull before they put you in that box."

Virgil gulped.

"I can't stop it."

"I ain't askin' you to stop. I'm ain't askin' you nothin'. I am tellin' you: do not get one drop of your rotgut urine on my shoes."

Virgil let out a little sob and tried to move the flow to the right. He'd only had three beers but it seemed like he was peeing out the Mississippi. Please stop, he thought. He glanced a little to his left and saw a black gun held in a black hand. The hand emerged from a black coat sleeve. At the end of the black coat sleeve was a black shoulder, a black lapel, a black shirt, and the edge of a black face.

The gun nudged his skull hard, warning him to keep his eyes straight ahead, but Virgil still felt a sudden rush of indignation. It was a nigger with a gun, in the parking lot of Little Tom's Tavern. There weren't too many subjects upon which Virgil Gossard had strong, fully formed opinions, but one of them was niggers with guns. The whole trouble with this country wasn't that there were too many guns, it was that too many of those guns were in the hands of the wrong people, and absolutely and positively the wrong people to be carrying guns were niggers. The way Virgil figured it, white people needed guns to protect themselves from all the niggers with guns while all the niggers had guns to shoot other niggers with and, when the mood took them, white folks too. So the solution was to take away the guns from the niggers and then you'd have fewer white folks with guns because they wouldn't have so much to be scared about, plus there'd be fewer niggers shooting other niggers so there'd be less crime too. It was that simple: niggers were the wrong people to be handing out guns to. Now, near as Virgil could figure it, one of those selfsame wrong people was currently pressing one of those misplaced guns into Virgil's skull, and Virgil didn't like it one little bit. It just proved his point. Niggers shouldn't have guns and —

The gun in question tapped Virgil hard behind the ear and the voice said:

"Hey, you know you talkin' out loud, right?"

"Shit," said Virgil, and this time he heard himself.

The first of the cars turns into the field and pulls up, its headlights shining on the old oak so that its shadow grows and creeps up the slope behind it like dark blood spilling and spreading itself across the land. A man climbs out on the driver's side then walks around the front of the car and opens the door for the woman. They are both in their forties, hard-faced people wearing cheap clothes and shoes that have been mended so often that the original leather is little more than a faded memory glimpsed through patches and stitching. The man takes a straw basket from the trunk, a faded red check napkin carefully tucked in to cover its contents. He hands the basket to the woman, then retrieves a tattered bedsheet from behind the spare tire and spreads it on the ground. The woman sits, tucking her legs in beneath her, and whips away the napkin. Lying in the basket are four pieces of fried chicken, four buttermilk rolls, a tub of coleslaw, and two glass bottles of homemade lemonade, with two plates and two forks tucked in beside them. She removes the plates, dusts them carefully with the napkin, then lays them on the bedsheet. The man eases himself down beside her and removes his hat. It is a warm evening and already the mosquitoes have begun to bite. He slaps at one and examines its remains upon his hand.

"Sum'bitch," he says.

"You watch your mouth, Esau," says the woman primly, carefully dividing up the food, making sure that her husband gets the breast piece because he is a good, hardworking man despite his language and he needs his food.

"Beg pardon," says Esau as she hands him a plate of chicken and coleslaw, shaking her head at the ways of the man she has married.

Behind and beside them, more vehicles are pulling up. There are couples, and old folks, and young boys of fifteen and sixteen. Some are driving trucks, their neighbors sitting in back fanning themselves with their hats. Others arrive in big Buick Roadmasters, Dodge Royal hardtops, Ford Mainlines, even a big old Kaiser Manhattan, no car younger than seven or eight years old. They share food, or lean against the hoods of their cars and drink beer from bottles. Handshakes are exchanged and backs are slapped. Soon there are forty cars and trucks, maybe more, in and around Ada's Field, their lights shining on the black oak. There are easily one hundred people gathered, waiting, and more arriving every minute.

The opportunities to meet up in this way don't come along so often now. The great years of the Negro barbecue have been and gone, and the old laws are buckling under the pressures imposed from without. There are some folks here who can remember the lynching of Sam Hose down in Newman in 1899, when special excursion trains were laid on so that more than two thousand people from far and wide could come see how the people of Georgia dealt with nigger rapists and killers. It didn't matter none that Sam Hose hadn't raped anyone and that he'd only killed the planter Cranford in self-defense. His death would serve as an object lesson to the others, and so they castrated him, cut off his fingers and his ears, then skinned his face before applying the oil and the torch. The crowd fought for fragments of his bones and kept them as tokens. Sam Hose, one of five thousand victims of mob lynchings in less than a century: rapists some, or so they said; killers others. And then there were those who just talked big, or made idle threats when they should have known better than to shoot their mouths off. Talk like that risked getting all sorts of folks riled up and causing no end of trouble. That kind of talk had to be stifled before it became a shout, and there was no surer way of quieting a man or a woman than a noose and a torch.

Great days, great days.

It is about 9:30 P.M. when they hear the sound of the three trucks approaching, and an excited buzz spreads through the crowd. Their heads turn as the headlights scour the field. There are at least six men in each vehicle. The middle truck is a red Ford, and in the bed a black man sits hunched, his hands tied behind his back. He is big, six seven or more, and the muscles in his shoulders and back are hard and bunched like melons in a sack. There is blood on his head and face, and one eye is swollen closed.

He is here.

The burning man is here.

Virgil was certain that he was about to die. His big mouth had just helped him into a heap of trouble, maybe the last trouble he'd ever have to endure. But the good Lord was smiling upon Virgil, even if He wasn't smiling so hard as to make the — beg pardon, the gunman, go away. Instead, he could feel his breath on his cheek and could smell his aftershave as he spoke. It smelled expensive.

"You say that word again and you better enjoy that leak, 'cause it will be the last one you ever take."

"Sorry," said Virgil. He tried to force the offending word from his brain, but it came back each time with renewed force. He began to sweat.

"Sorry," he said again.

"Well, that's all right. You finished down there?"

Virgil nodded.

"Then put it away. An owl might figure it for a worm and carry it off."

Virgil had a vague suspicion that he'd just been insulted, but he quickly tucked his manhood into his fly just in case and wiped his hands on his trousers.

"You carrying a gun?"

"Nope."

"Bet you wish you were."

"Yep," admitted Virgil, in a burst of sudden and possibly ill-advised honesty.

He felt hands on him, patting him down, but the gun stayed where it was, pressed hard against his skin. There was more than one of them, Virgil figured. Hell, there could be half of Harlem at his back. He felt a pressure on his wrists as his hands were cuffed tightly behind him.

"Now turn to your right."

Virgil did as he was told. He was facing out onto the open country behind the bar, all green as far as the river.

"You answer my questions, I let you walk away into those fields. Understand?"

Virgil nodded dumbly.

"Thomas Rudge, Willard Hoag, Clyde Benson. They in there?"

Virgil was the kind of guy who instinctively lied about everything, even if there didn't seem to be any percentage in not telling the truth. Better to lie and cover your ass later than tell the truth and find yourself in trouble from the start.

Virgil, true to character, shook his head.

"You sure?"

Virgil nodded and opened his mouth to embellish the lie. Instead, the clicking of the spittle in his mouth coincided perfectly with the impact of his head against the wall as the gun pushed firmly into the base of his skull.

"See," whispered the voice, "we goin' in there anyhow. If we go in and they ain't there, then you got nothin' to worry about, least until we come lookin' for you to start askin' you again where they at. But we go in there and they sittin' up at the bar, suckin' on some cold ones, then there are dead folks got a better chance of bein' alive tomorrow than you do. You understand me?"

Virgil understood.

"They're in there," he confirmed.

"How many others?"

"Nobody, just them three."

The black man, as Virgil had at last begun to think of him, removed the gun from Virgil's head and patted him on the shoulder with his hand.

"Thank you..." he said. "I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name."

"Virgil," said Virgil.

"Well, thank you, Virgil," said the man, then brought the butt of the gun down hard on Virgil's skull. "You been great."

Beneath the black oak, an old Lincoln has been driven into place. The red truck pulls up beside it and three hooded men climb from the bed, pushing the black man onto the ground before them. He lands on his stomach, his face in the dirt. Strong hands yank him to his feet and he stares into the dark holes of the pillowcases, crudely burnt into the fabric with matches and cigarettes. He can smell cheap liquor.

Cheap liquor and gasoline.

His name is Errol Rich, although no stone or cross with that name upon it will ever mark his final resting place. From the moment he was taken from his momma's house, his sister and his momma screaming, Errol had ceased to exist. Now all traces of his physical presence are about to be erased from this earth, leaving only the memory of his life with those who have loved him, and the memory of his dying with those gathered here this night.

And why is he here? Errol Rich is about to burn for refusing to buckle, for refusing to bend his knee, for disrespecting his betters.

Errol Rich is about to die for breaking a window.

He was driving his truck, his old truck with its cracked windshield and its flaking paint, when he heard the shout.

"Hey, nigger!"

Then the glass exploded in on top of him, cutting his face and hands, and something hit him hard between the eyes. He braked suddenly, and smelled it upon himself. In his lap, the cracked pitcher dumped the remains of its contents on his seat and on his pants.

Urine. They had filled a pitcher between them and thrown it through his windshield. He wiped the liquid from his face, his sleeve coming away wet and bloody, and looked at the three men standing by the roadside, a few steps away from the entrance to the bar.

"Who threw that?" he asked. Nobody answered, but, secretly, they were afraid. Errol Rich was a strong, powerful man. They had expected him to wipe his face and drive on, not to stop and confront them.

"You throw that, Little Tom?" Errol stood before Little Tom Rudge, the owner of the bar, but Little Tom wouldn't meet his eyes. " 'Cause if you did, you better tell me now else I'm gonna burn your shit heap down to the ground."

But still there was no reply, so Errol Rich, who always did have a temper on him, signed his death warrant by taking a length of timber from the bed of his truck and turning to the men. They backed off, waiting for him to come at them, but instead he threw the timber, all three feet of it, through the front window of Little Tom Rudge's bar, then climbed back in his truck and drove away.

Now Errol Rich is about to die for a pane of cheap glass, and a whole town has come to watch it happen. He looks out on them, these God-fearing people, these sons and daughters of the land, and he feels the heat of their hatred upon him, a foretaste of the burning that is to come.

I fixed things, he thinks. I took what was broken and made it good again.

The thought seems to have come to him almost out of nowhere. He tries to shake it away, but, instead, it persists.

I had a gift. I could take an engine, a radio, even a television, and I could repair it. I never read a manual, never had no formal training. It was a gift, a gift that I had, and soon it will be gone.

He looks out at the crowd, at the expectant faces. He sees a boy, fourteen or fifteen, his eyes bright with excitement. He recognizes him, recognizes too the man with his hand on the boy's shoulder. He had brought his radio to Errol, hoping to have it fixed in time for the Santa Anita because he liked to listen to the horse races. And Errol had repaired it, replacing the busted speaker cone, and the man had thanked him and paid him a dollar extra for coming through for him.

The man sees Errol looking at him, and his eyes flick away. There will be no help for him, no mercy from any of these people. He is about to die for a broken window, and they will find someone else to repair their engines and their radios, although not as well, and not as cheaply.

His legs tied, Errol is forced to hop to the Lincoln. They drag him onto the roof, these masked men, and they put the rope around his neck while he kneels. He sees the tattoo on the arm of the largest man: the word "Kathleen" spelled out on a banner held by angels. The hand tightens the rope. The gasoline is poured over his head, and he shivers.

Then Errol looks up and says the last words anyone will ever hear from him on this earth.

"Don't burn me," he asks. He has accepted the fact of his death, the inevitability of his passing on this night, but he does not want to burn.

Please Lord, don't let them burn me.

The tattooed man splashes the last of the gasoline into Errol Rich's eyes, blinding him, then climbs down to the ground.

Errol Rich starts to pray.

The small white man entered the bar first. A smell of stale, spilled beer hung in the air. On the floor, dust and cigarette butts formed drifts around the counter, where they had been swept but not cleaned up. There were blackened circles on the wood where soles had stamped out thousands of embers, and the orange paint on the walls had blistered and burst like infected skin. There were no pictures, just generic beer company signs that had been used to cover the worst of the damage.

The bar wasn't too big, certainly no more than thirty feet in length and fifteen across. The counter itself was on the left and shaped like the blade of an ice skate, the curved end nearest the door. At its other extreme there was a small office and storage area. The toilets were beyond the bar, beside the back door. Four booths stood against the wall to the right, a pair of round tables to the left.

There were two men sitting at the counter, and one other man behind the bar. All three were probably in their sixties. The two at the bar wore baseball caps, faded T-shirts beneath even more faded cotton shirts, and cheap jeans. One of them had a long knife on his belt. The other had a gun concealed beneath his shirt.

The man behind the bar looked like he might have been strong and fit once, a long time ago. There was bulk on his shoulders, chest, and arms that was now masked by a thick layer of fat, and his breasts were pendulous as those of an old woman. There were old yellow sweat stains beneath the arms of his white short-sleeved shirt, and his trousers hung low on his hips in a way that might have been fashionable on a sixteen-year-old but was ridiculous on a man fifty years older than that. His hair was yellow white but still thick, and his face was partially obscured by a week's growth of scraggly beard.

All three men were watching the hockey game on the old TV above the bar, but their heads turned in unison as the new arrival entered. He was unshaven, wearing dirty sneakers, a loud Hawaiian shirt and creased chinos. He didn't look like he belonged anywhere above Christopher Street, not that anybody in this bar knew where Christopher Street was, exactly. But they knew this man's type, yes they did. They could smell it on him. Didn't matter how unshaven he was, how shabbily he dressed; this boy had "fag" written all over him.

"Can I get a beer?" he asked, stepping up to the bar.

The bartender didn't make any move for at least a full minute, then took a Bud from the cooler and placed it on the bar.

The small man picked up the beer and looked at it as if seeing a bottle of Bud for the first time.

"You got anything else?"

"We got Bud Light."

"Wow, both kinds."

The bartender looked unimpressed.

"Two-fifty." This wasn't the kind of place that ran a tab.

He counted out three bills from a thick roll, then added another fifty cents in change to bring the tip up to a dollar. The eyes of the three men remained fixed on his slim, delicate hands as he replaced the money in his pocket, then they returned their gazes to the hockey game. The small man took a booth behind the two drinkers, leaned into the corner, then put his feet up and directed his face toward the TV. All four men remained in those positions for about five minutes, until the door again opened softly and another man entered the bar, an unlit Cohiba in his mouth. He was so quiet that nobody even noticed him until he was four feet from the counter, at which point one of the men looked to his left, saw him, and said:

"Little Tom, there's a colored in your bar."

Little Tom and the second man dragged themselves away from the TV to examine the black man who had now taken a stool at the lower end of the L-shaped bar.

"Whiskey, please," he said.

Little Tom didn't move. First a fag, now a nigger. This was turning into quite a night. His eyes moved from the man's face to his expensive shirt, his neatly pressed black jeans, and his double-breasted overcoat.

"You from out of town, boy?"

"You could say that." He didn't even blink at the second insult in less than thirty seconds.

"There's a coon place couple of miles down the road," said Little Tom. "You'll get a drink there."

"I like it here."

"Well, I don't like you here. Get your ass out, boy, before I start takin' it personal."

"So I don't get a drink?" The man sounded unsurprised.

"No, you don't. Now you going to leave, or am I gonna have to make you leave?"

To his left, the two men shifted on their stools in preparation for the beating that they hoped to deliver. Instead, the object of their attention reached into his pocket, produced a bottle of whiskey in a brown paper bag, and twisted the cap. Little Tom reached under the counter with his right hand. It emerged holding a Louisville Slugger.

"You can't drink that in here, boy," he warned.

"Shame," said the black man. "And don't call me 'boy.' The name is Louis."

Then he tipped the bottle upside down and watched as its contents flowed along the bar. It made a neat turn at the elbow of the counter, the raised lip preventing the liquid from overflowing onto the floor, and seeped past the three men. They looked at Louis in surprise as he lit his cigar with a brass Zippo.

Louis stood and took a long puff on his Cohiba.

"Heads up, crackers," he said, and dropped the flaming lighter into the whiskey.

The man with the tattoo raps sharply on the roof of the Lincoln. The engine roars and the car bucks once or twice like a steer on a rope before shooting away in a cloud of dirt, dead leaves, and exhaust fumes. Errol Rich seems to hang frozen for a moment in midair before his body uncurls. His long legs descend toward the ground but do not reach it, his feet kicking impotently at the air. A spluttering noise comes from his lips, and his eyes bulge as the rope draws tighter and tighter around his neck. His face becomes congested with blood and he begins to convulse, red drops now speckling his chin and chest. A minute goes by and still Errol struggles.

Below him, the tattooed man takes a branch wrapped in linen doused with gasoline, lights it with a match, then steps forward. He holds the torch up so Errol can see it, then touches it to Errol's legs.

Errol ignites with a roar, and somehow, despite the constriction at his throat, he screams, a high, ululating thing filled with terrible agony. It is followed by a second, and then the flames enter his mouth and his vocal cords begin to burn. He kicks again and again as the smell of roasting meat fills the air, until at last the kicking stops.

The burning man is dead.

The bar flared, a small wall of flame shooting up to scorch beards, eyebrows, hair. The man with the gun at his belt leaped back, his left arm covering his eyes while his right reached for his weapon.

"Ah-ah," said a voice. A Glock 19 was inches from his face, held firm in the grip of the man in the bright shirt. The other's hand stopped instantly, the gun already uncovered. The small man, whose name was Angel, yanked it from its holster and held it up so that he now had two guns inches from the barfly's face. Near the door, Louis's hand now contained a SIG, trained on the man with the knife in his belt. Behind the bar, Little Tom was dousing the last of the flames with water. His face was red and he was breathing hard.

"The fuck you do that for?" He was looking at the black man, and at the SIG that had now moved to level itself at the center of his chest. A change of expression flickered in Little Tom's face, a brief candle flame of fear that was quickly snuffed out by his natural belligerence.

"Why, you got a problem with it?" asked Louis.

"I got a problem with it."

It was the man with the knife at his belt, brave now that the gun was no longer aimed at him. He had strange, sunken features: a weak chin that lost itself in his thin, stringy neck, blue eyes buried deep in their sockets, and cheekbones that looked like they had been broken and flattened by some old, almost forgotten impact. Those dim eyes regarded the black man impassively while his hands remained raised — away from his knife, but not too far away. It seemed like a good idea to make him get rid of it. A man who carries a knife like that knows how to use it, and use it fast. One of the two guns now held by Angel made an arc through the air and came to rest on him.

"Unclasp your belt," said Louis.

The knife man paused for a moment, then did as he was told.

"Now pull it out."

He grasped it and pulled. The belt caught once or twice before it freed the scabbard and the knife fell to the floor.

"That's good enough."

"I still got a problem."

"Sorry to hear that," Louis replied. "You Willard Hoag?"

The sunken eyes betrayed nothing. They remained fixed on the interloper's face, unblinking.

"I know you?"

"No, you don't know me."

Something danced in Willard's eyes. "You niggers all look the same to me anyways."

"Guessed you'd take that point of view, Willard. Man behind you is Clyde Benson. And you — " The SIG lifted slightly in front of the bartender. "You Little Tom Rudge."

The redness in Little Tom's face was due only partly to the heat of the burning liquor. There was fury building in him. It was there in the trembling of his lips, in the way his fingers were clasping and unclasping. The action made the tattoo on his arm move, as if the angels were slowly waving the banner with the name "Kathleen."

And all of that anger was directed at the black man now threatening him in his own bar.

"You want to tell me what's happening here?" asked Little Tom.

Louis smiled.

"Atonement, that's what's happening here."

It is ten after ten when the woman stands. They call her Grandma Lucy, although she is not yet fifty and still a beautiful woman with youth in her eyes and few lines on her dark skin. At her feet sits a boy, seven or eight years old, but already tall for his age. A radio plays Bessie Smith's "Weeping Willow Blues."

The woman called Grandma Lucy wears only a nightdress and shawl, and her feet are bare, yet she rises and walks through the doorway, descending the steps into the yard with careful, measured strides. Behind her walks the little boy, her grandson. He calls to her — "Grandma Lucy, what's the matter?" — but she does not reply. Later she will tell him about the worlds within worlds, about the places where the membrane separating the living from the dead is so thin that they can see one another, touch one another. She will tell him of the difference between daywalkers and nightwalkers, of the claims that the dead make upon those left behind.

And she will talk of the road that we all walk, and that we all share, the living and the dead alike.

But for now she just gathers her shawl closer to her and continues toward the edge of the forest, where she stops and waits in the moonless night. There is a light among the trees, as if a meteor has descended from the heavens and is now traveling close to the ground, flaming and yet not flaming, burning and yet not burning. There is no heat, but something is ablaze at the heart of that light.

And when the boy looks into her eyes, he sees the burning man.

"You recall Errol Rich?" said Louis.

Nobody responded, but a muscle spasmed in Clyde Benson's face.

"I said, do you recall Errol Rich?"

"We don't know what you're talking about, boy," said Hoag. "You got the wrong men."

The gun swiveled, then bucked in Louis's hand. Willard Hoag's chest spat blood through the hole in his left breast. He stumbled backward, taking a stool with him, then landed heavily on his back. His left hand scrambled at something unseen on the floor, and then he was still.

Clyde Benson started to cry, and then it all went down.

Little Tom dived to floor of the bar, his hands seeking the shotgun beneath the sink. Clyde Benson kicked a stool at Angel, then ran for the door. He got as far as the men's room before his shirt puffed twice at the shoulder. He stumbled through the back door and disappeared, bleeding, into the darkness. Angel, who had fired the shots, went after him.

The crickets had grown suddenly quiet and the silence in the night had a strange anticipatory quality, as though the natural world awaited the inevitable outcome of the events in the bar. Benson, unarmed and bleeding, had almost made it to the edge of the parking lot when the gunman caught up with him. His feet were swept from under him and he landed painfully in the dirt, blood flecking the ground before him. He began to crawl toward the long grass, as if by reaching its cover he might somehow be safe. A boot caught him under the chest, skewering him with white hot pain as he was forced onto his back, his eyes squeezing shut involuntarily. When they opened again, the man in the loud shirt was standing over him and his gun was pointed at Clyde Benson's head.

"Don't do this," said Benson. "Please."

The younger man's face was impassive.

"Please," said Benson. He was sobbing. "I repented of my sins. I found Jesus."

The finger tightened on the trigger, and the man named Angel said:

"Then you got nothing to worry about."

In the darkness of her pupils the burning man stands, the flames shooting from his head and arms, his eyes and mouth. There is no skin, no hair, no clothing. There is only fire shaped like man, and pain shaped like fire.

"You poor boy," whispers the woman. "You poor, poor boy."

The tears begin to well up in her eyes and fall softly onto her cheeks. The flames start to flicker and waver. The burning man's mouth opens and the lipless gap forms words that only the woman can hear. The fire dies, fading from white to yellow until at last there is only the silhouette of him, black on black, and then there is nothing but the trees and the tears and the feel of the woman's hand upon the boy's own — "Come, Louis." — as she guides him back to the house.

The burning man is at peace.

Little Tom rose up with the shotgun to find the room empty and a dead man on the floor. He swallowed once, then moved to his left, making for the end of the counter. He got three steps when the wood splintered at the level of his thigh and the bullets ripped through him, shattering his left femur and his right shin. He collapsed and screamed as his wounded legs impacted on the floor, but still managed to empty both barrels through the cheap wood of the bar. It exploded in a shower of shot and splinters and shattering glass. He could smell blood and powder and spilled whiskey. His ears rang as the noise faded, leaving only the sound of dripping liquid and falling timber.

And footsteps.

He looked to his left to see Louis standing above him. The barrel of the SIG was pointing at Little Tom's chest. He found some spittle in his mouth and swallowed. Blood was fountaining from the ruptured artery in his thigh. He tried to stop it with his hand but it sprayed through his fingers.

"Who are you?" asked Little Tom. From outside came the sound of two shots as Clyde Benson died in the dirt.

"Last time: you recall a man named Errol Rich?"

Little Tom shook his head. "Shit, I don't know..."

"You burned him. You ought to know."

Louis aimed the SIG at the bridge of the bartender's nose. Little Tom raised his right arm and covered his face.

"I remember! I remember! Jesus. Yes, I was there. I saw what they did."

"What you did."

Little Tom shook his head furiously.

"No, you're wrong. I was there, but I didn't hurt him."

"You're lying. Don't lie to me, just tell me the truth. They say confession is good for the soul."

Louis lowered the gun and fired. The top of Little Tom's right foot disappeared in a blur of leather and blood. He shrieked then as the gun moved toward his left foot, the words erupting from his gut like old bile.

"Stop, please. Jesus, it hurts. You're right, we did it. I'm sorry for what we did to him. We were younger then, we didn't know no better. It was a terrible thing we did, I know it was." His eyes pleaded with Louis. His whole face was bathed in sweat, like that of a man melting. "You think a day don't go by when I don't think about him, about what we did to him? You think I don't live with that guilt every day?"

"No," said Louis. "I don't."

"Don't do this," said Little Tom. A hand reached out in supplication. "I'll find a way to make up for what I did. Please."

"I got a way that you can make up for it," said Louis.

And then Little Tom Rudge was dead.

In the car they disassembled the guns, wiping every piece down with clean rags. They scattered the remains of the weapons in fields and streams as they drove, but no words were exchanged until they were many miles from the bar.

"How do you feel?" asked Louis.

"Numb," Angel replied. "Except in my back. My back hurts."

"How about Benson?"

"He was the wrong man, but I killed him anyway."

"They deserved what they got."

Angel waved his assurance away as a thing without substance or meaning.

"Don't get me wrong. I got no problem with what we just did back there, but killing him didn't make me feel any better, if that's what you're asking. He was the wrong man because when I pulled that trigger, I didn't even see Clyde Benson. I saw the preacher. I saw Faulkner."

There was silence for a time. Dark fields went by, the hollow shapes of brokeback houses visible against the horizon.

It was Angel who spoke again.

"Bird should have killed him when he had the chance."

"Maybe."

"There's no maybe about it. He should have burned him."

"He's not like us. He feels too much, thinks too much."

Angel sighed deeply. "Feeling and thinking ain't the same thing. That old fuck isn't going away. As long as he's alive, he's a threat to all of us."

Beside him, Louis nodded silently in the darkness.

"And he cut me, and I swore that no one would ever cut me again. No one."

After a time, his companion spoke softly to him.

"We have to wait."

"For what?"

"For the right time, the right opportunity."

"And if it doesn't come?"

"It will come."

"Don't give me that," said Angel, before repeating his question. "What if it doesn't come?"

Louis reached out and touched his partner's face gently.

"Then we will make it ourselves."

Shortly after, they drove across the state line into South Carolina just below Allendale, and nobody stopped them. They left behind the semiconscious form of Virgil Gossard and the bodies of Little Tom Rudge, Clyde Benson, and Willard Hoag, the three men who had taunted Errol Rich, who had taken him from his home, and who had hanged him from a tree to die.

And out on Ada's Field, at the northern edge where the ground sloped upward, a black oak burned, its leaves curling to brown, the sap hissing and spitting as it burst from the trunk, its branches like the bones of a flaming hand set against the star-sprinkled blackness of the night sky.

Copyright © 2003 by John Connolly

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 32 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2004

    Outstanding but 4 stars

    When I first began to read this book. I could not grasp where the story would take me. I am very glad that I kept on reading. This is one weird story and I have yet to understand certain characters. With that said, I still enjoyed the book. Although, the author tends to be a little 'wordy' at times. This certainly is not an 'edge of your seat' novel. But, still is good enough to warrant a place in my library.. And, all of us in South Carolina are not as bad as this book makes us out to be...

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 9, 2012

    definitely a fast read.

    Charlie Parker is at his best and as we all suspect has an ability to communicata with other entities. eeerie.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 15, 2011

    Higly recommended series.

    The book should be titled The White Knuckles. It's a harrowing ride through crime storytelling. Another great Charlie Parker addition. If you like Patricia Cornwell or Dennis LeHane this is a great series to add to your collection. Along with his less than honest sidekicks Charlie Parker continues to solve the unsolvable. Very down to earth funny writing.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Filler book between #3 and #5

    After reading the 3 previous Charlie Parker books (in order), I was expecting more of an adventure rather than trying to patch together needless information about Charlie's partners-in-crime, that had little to do with the direction I was hoping John Connolly was taking me. At the beginning I expected and received the story plot quickly, but instead of advancing at a steady pace and reveiling more current crucial storyline, it seemed to come to a plateau for long periods. I appreciated the semi-historical accounts John put into his story, but I would have liked to see him reach for more authenticity on a touchy subject, or not at all. I will certainly read #5, hoping to add more stimulation back into reading his books.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2005

    Not as good as his previous three Bird novels

    White Road disappointed me. It was very cliche and Connolly is too good a writer to rely on cliches. And he relied on them heavily throughout the entire novel. It also carried a very obvious plot line, which again, was disappointing. From the outset I knew what this was all about and how it would end. What should have been surprises.....weren't. Plus the wrap-ups were half-baked, I wanted much more detail about who got what in the end (as far as vengence and justice were concerned). Overall, this wasn't his best work. I'm hoping that his new 'Bird' novel (Black Angel) will be better, because Charlie, Rachel, Louis and Angel are great characters that I enjoy reading about.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2004

    beware if this is your first 'bird' feeding!!!

    only when i realized that the author had built this novel on characters and situations in prior works, did i begin to find the enjoyment i sought in such reading. this necessitated beginning with the first of connolly's charlie parker books and going forward. having followed that bent, this book became clearer and i grew accustomed to the author's style. this work is less than its three precedents, however; yet it is still worth reading BUT ONLY IF YOU HAVE DIGESTED THE INITIAL TRIO IN SEQUENCE.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2003

    AN INTRIGUING STORY

    Dublin born and bred novelist John Connolly is Irish to the core - a bit fey, a tad dark, and extremely gifted. His initial offering 'Every Dead Thing' (1999) won the Shamus Award for the best first novel, and his third 'The Killing Kind' garnered raves. So will 'The White Road.' According to Mr. Connolly his recurring protagonist Detective Charlie 'Bird' Parker may have a good bit of the author in him. This is 'probably typical of a lot of novelists who choose to write in the first person,' he said. 'We tend to imbue our lead character with many of our own qualities, although we only admit to the good ones.' Whatever the case and wherever Parker came from he's a standout. '....Parker is a flawed man,' Mr. Connolly continues. 'He is capable of violence, and is often tempted by the possibility that he can turn his back on a case, if he chooses, and make his own life a little easier. He is stopped by his own guilt, his own desire to be a better man, and by visions of the lost.' Surely that's an apt description of Parker in this tale. A southern millionaire's daughter is raped and sadistically murdered. She is found in a south Carolina swamp; her black boyfriend is arrested and a trial date is set. Race is a salient issue in 'The White Road'; hatreds never buried seek reprisal. Only Parker would tackle a case such as this. Little does he know that he not only endangers himself but also the lives of his lover and his unborn child. John Connolly skillfully probes the American psyche with the clear eyed view of an outsider, while he spins an intriguing story that will keep most of us burning the midnight oil.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2003

    Gripping!

    This fourth in the Charlie Parker series has all the evil characters we've come to expect from a Parker outing, as well as an enormous amount of historical (both real and fictional) background on racial abuses in the south. While the writing is lyrical and the characters are fully fleshed, The White Road doesn't have quite the power of the previous books. The plot hinges on a motive (which I will not give away) that didn't ring true or believable to me for bringing Parker into the case of Atys Jones's forthcoming murder trial. There's plenty of activity in swampy settings; Louis and Angel come to the forefront this time out. And there's enough torture, gore, murder and mayhem to satisfy readers who've come to expect a thoroughly disturbing adventure from Connolly. The glue that is intended to hold the plot together is a little thin, leaving cracks and gaps in the whole. Entertaining but not quite up to the very high standard the author has set with his previous books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2003

    Disappointing...

    I'm only 3/4 of the way through this book and perhaps the ending will redeem it, but I found it full of stereotypical characters, cliches, and cutesy little colloquialisms intended to be humorous. It was so irritating that it spoiled my enjoyment of the narrative storyline. I wish just once I could read a thriller without the predictable coarse language, trips to strip joints, and such. If the dialogue is supposed to be true-to-life, I must live in a different world...

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    exhilarating Parker tale

    South Carolina lawyer Elliot Norton calls his pal Charlie Parker to help him with a case in which his client a black man has been accused of murdering his white girlfriend, the daughter of wealthy powerful parents. Charlie would like to help his friend, but is concerned about leaving his pregnant girlfriend Rachel alone. He fears that their enemy Reverend Aaron Faulkner will retaliate for the deaths of his murderous son and daughter though he is standing trial for killing his congregation members and other people. Charlie reluctantly travels to South Carolina, but arranges for Rachel¿s protection while he is away. In the South, Charlie becomes involved in a world where hatred is the norm and the pretrial may prove deadly for the defense team. Though perilous, Charlie investigates the case that leads him to several other murders and a trip to hell down THE WHITE ROAD coaxed by a malevolence beyond anything he ever faced before even while evil stalks Rachel back in Maine. John Connolly provides an exhilarating Parker tale as the audience receives more than an investigative novel. Readers obtain a taste of the historical South cleverly interwoven into the drama as well as a powerful crime story occurring in two states. Parker is at his best as he tries to solve a mystery, stay alive, keep his friend and client safe, and struggle with being in two places at the same time in order to insure no harm comes to his beloved. Readers will want to travel THE WHITE ROAD and when attaining the final destination will look for previous Parker treks (see THE KILLING KIND). Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2002

    A FANTASIC READ THAT DESERVES BESTSELLER RECOGNITION!!

    If you enjoyed EVERY DEAD THING, DARK HOLLOW, and THE KILLING KIND, then you¿re going to love John Connolly¿s newest ¿Charlie `Bird¿ Parker¿ novel, THE WHITE ROAD. It begins a few months after THE KILLING KIND ends. Charlie and a very pregnant, Rachel, are still together, living in a new home and contemplating the birth of their child. The Reverend Aaron Faulkner is soon to be tried for the murders of his congregation, as well as the deaths of several other people. When Charlie gets a phone call from an old friend, Elliot Norton, who¿s now a lawyer in South Carolina and is representing a black man who has been wrongfully accused of murdering his white girlfriend, he finds himself hesitant to leave Rachel. The word is that there isn¿t enough evidence to convict Faulkner and that he may be released from prison in the immediate future. If so, neither Charlie nor Rachel will be safe. The good reverend believes in payback, and he intends to get revenge for the death of his murderous son and daughter by having the detective and his woman killed in the most hideous manner. Still, Charlie can¿t ignore a plea for help from his friend in South Carolina. Arranging for Rachel to be watched, he flies down to the southern state and steps into a boiling caldron filled with hate, racism, death, the Dixie Mafia, the Klan, and an evil force that wants retribution against him for the deaths of its many followers. As Charlie puts his life on the line by investigating the murder of Marianne Larousse and the long, dark history that has existed between her wealthy family and the family of her boyfriend, Atys Jones, he sets in motion a series of events that will lead to a blood bath on the grandest scale. Even Louis and Angel may not be good enough to save Charlie this time around, or rescue Rachel from the evil that¿s stalking her back in Maine. To save the woman he loves and to right a terrible wrong, Charlie will have to travel the White Road and face the supernatural entity that waits for him at the end of it. No one will walk away from this unscathed. THE WHITE ROAD is a grand slam of a novel that delivers with full force! It¿s written with such poetry, such honesty and truth to character, that I¿m left in awe of Mr. Connolly¿s sheer craftsmanship as an author. As only the Irish can, he writes with an elegance of style that¿s simply a pleasure to read. I even find myself reading aloud at times, soaking in the beauty of his words and sentences that so clearly bring to life the characters of his noels. Charlie Parker is now ready to start over with Rachel and his unborn child, putting the past behind him, hoping that the spirits will leave him and his family alone. Louis and Angel are on a quest for vengeance. Louis is determined to kill the men who destroyed his family so many years ago in Georgia, while Angel still has to come to grips with the torturous experience he had at the hands of Aaron Faulkner¿s son, Mr. Pudd. Angel understands that no one is safe unless the Reverend Faulkner is finally put down like a mad dog, and he¿s more than willing to do it, if Charlie won¿t. Also, except for maybe Thomas Harris, no other author is able to capture the pure essence of evil that lurks so deep within the darkness of humanity as well as John Connolly does. The characters of Cyrus Nairn and Mr. Kittim will once again give the reader goose bumps on the arm, and the spirit of Mr. Pudd and his recluse spiders are always in the background, watching and waiting for the demise of our reluctant hero. Like Mr. Connolly¿s three previous novels, THE WHITE ROAD is a journey into the dark night of the soul. It will have you questioning the way we treat others who are different; yet, at the same time, it will also show the goodness in people who are willing to stand up and fight the evil that seeks to destroy us. As I understand it, THE WHITE ROAD will be the last Charlie `Bird¿ Parker novel for the next year or so. Read this book, savor its sharp twists and turns,

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