FACES OF THE GONE by Brad Parks was considered for an Edgar Award as best first novel. This book is set in Newark, NJ, certainly one of the least salubrious locations I can think of. Parks does not try to make the city something other than it is so Newark, with all its poverty and crime, is a character in the story.
The story opens with the execution style murders of four drug dealers who are killed at one of the many vacant lots in the city. The bodies are left in the open so they will be found quickly. “Because punishing the four dealers – all of whom had strayed and broken a vital clause in their contract- wasn’t enough. It had to be made clear to the others in the organization, especially those who might consider straying themselves, that this was the price for disobedience.”
The “Director” wanted maximum publicity and he knew leaving four bodies together would attract the attention of the media whereas one or two might escape notice. Carter Ross, the investigative journalist of the Newark Eagle -Examiner disagrees with the senior reporter and the editor of his paper. They are convinced that the four were involved in the robbery of a nearby bar but Carter thinks that is too simple an explanation. The four had all been in prison and, upon leaving, had begun careers as heroin dealers. But they worked in distinctly different areas of the city. There didn’t seem to be anything to connect them.
As Carter investigates and becomes involved with the families of the dead, he learns about lives that never got started and a life that had promise but got badly derailed. Events take a decidedly frightening turn when Carter’s house is blown up and the homes of the people who gave him information for his article are torched. In that the nearly simultaneous incidents take place within a couple of hours of the story hitting the street, Carter realizes that he has made an enemy of someone who has a clear channel to the newspaper.
Carter Ross might as well be a man from another planet in the neighborhoods of Newark. The product of prep school and Amherst College, the street life is foreign to him but Carter is a man who likes his job and likes getting the stories of people who are victims out to the reading public. Carter believes in the power of the press as an instrument of good and works the story no matter where it takes him.
The relationships between the characters make for a good story especially Carter’s relationship with his editor, Tina, who views Carter as the perfect father for the baby she is desperate to have.
The book is funny especially when the story centers on Carter’s meeting with the Brown Gang who have given up dealing drugs in favor of bootleg movies .
Parks is working on the second book of the series and I look forward to reading it.