The Dirty South

Written by John Connolly

Review written by John Parker

John Parker is a Graduate-qualified English/Spanish Teacher, owner and director of CHAT ENGLISH, an English Language Centre in Avilés on the north coast of Spain . A voracious reader, he has particularly loved horror fiction for many years.

The Dirty South
Hodder and Stoughton
RRP: £20.00
Released: August 20 2020

It’s 1997 and we are in Burdon County, Arkansas. Former Arkansas governor Bill “Bubba” Clinton has been POTUS for five years. Clinton was born in the aptly-named town of Hope, Arkansas and it is hope for a new and better future that lies behind the motivations of many of the more villainous characters in this fine novel by John Connolly. As is stated in the second chapter, Burdon County might not be high on Bubba’s list for federal grants but they were on the list at least!

A stranger enters the town of Cargill and soon finds himself behind bars after an encounter with Police Chief Evander Griffin. This outsider is asking questions about the killing of a local black girl called Patricia Hartley and, after not being very forthcoming in his answers, he finds himself detained in the local jail. It is, of course, Charlie Parker but not the Parker we last saw in the magnificent novel A Book of Bones but a much younger, angrier Parker, out for vengeance on the man who slaughtered his wife and daughter.  A younger Parker whose rage is something that needs to be reined in to avoid needless confrontations like the one at the start of this book  which leads him to be arrested for not very much at all. A man whose rage can lead to murder.

There is a large cast of well-developed secondary characters as is typical in a Connolly book. The police department is run by a tough but considerate man called Griffin who is very much a protector of his town, not averse to bending the law a little if he believes the end justifies the means. In many ways, he acts as a foil for Charlie. He is the type of policeman that Charlie could have been under different circumstances. The antagonists in this story, apart from the killer are a family headed by 80-year-old Delane “Pappy” Cade and his three adult children Jurel, Delphia and Nealus. Jurel is an arrogant, humourless man, Sheriff of the County who is prone to ignore the law when it suits him. Big money is just around the corner for the area as Kovas Industries, which makes missile components, is on the point of opening a massive plant which, should they choose Cargill for its new factory,  will revive the economy and make many people rich.  Then there is the conflicted preacher, Reverend Mathan Pettle, Tilon Ward, who discovers the body of Donna Lee Kerrigan, the brilliantly named enforcer  Pruit Dix, the slimy, dangerous creature that is Leonard Cresil and many more.  Importantly, Cargill and Burdon County are places you can believe exist. John’s prose beautifully builds up a picture of a real community, situated next to the dark and forbidding Lake Caragol (The Black Lake) from which the town takes its name and from thereon you are drawn in as you learn the history of the area. This is fine writing indeed from Mr Connolly.       

Connolly has said on more than one occasion, including with Shots in an interview that in general, people are not intentionally evil; they simply have different motivations and most likely feel that what they do is right. This is certainly the case in this novel.  It is a change from the more supernatural elements we have become accustomed to, although it is Charlie’s dead wife and daughter who ultimately make him decide to help in the investigation. Overall, it’s a great character study of a Southern town while also being an exciting whodunit murder investigation.     

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