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"The Dirty South" | Reviewed by Joan Kletzker

“The Dirty South,” by John Connolly, is a murder mystery thriller in spades. Actually, the book focuses on several murders.

The story takes place in Cargill, Arkansas, in 1999 the poorest and smallest town in the state located in the middle of Burdon County. Several young women have been found tortured and murdered there. One was discovered several years ago and two bodies were recently found.

Charlie Parker, a former NYPD detective, has had his life turned upside down because his wife and daughter were killed, and he is searching for their killer. He winds up in Cargill’s jail, unwilling to offer any information about himself.

The main characters in the book are Evan Griffin, the police chief in Cargill, and Jurel Cade, the deputy sheriff of the county. The supporting cast is made up of Cade’s family, the rest of the police department and the town itself. There are good souls in Cargill, but some very unsavory folks too. The town’s citizens are poverty stricken; cooking and selling meth seems to help some people earn a bit of an income. The bars are decrepit, not much to speak of, and there are a couple of rundown motels. The town is impoverished because the timber industry that thrived there came to a halt in the 80s.

Jurel Cade’s family owns most of the county, including the state representatives and many of those in the judicial/law enforcement professions. There is hope on the horizon for Cargill. A major corporation is ready to build a new research and manufacturing facility in the South, the company having close ties with the Clinton White House. Burdon County seems to be an ideal place for the corporation. Many, especially the Cades, are planning to profit from this investment.

Griffin, the chief, talks Parker into staying and helping solve the murders. Griffin does not want the county sheriff’s office, Jurel Cade, to be in charge of the investigations, which turn out to have many twists and turns. No one really trusts anyone and everyone seems willing to do anything to protect their own skins.

Resentment and anger are everywhere. As the story moves forward, stories are revealed. Parker provides fresh eyes and thinking. He notices things the locals do not comment on, either from habit or hoping the problem will go away. He makes people uncomfortable. He is not welcomed and eventually his life is threatened. Evidence is found missing in the investigations of one of the murders. A labyrinth of clues is offered, and people who know too much are murdered, their bodies disappearing.

“The Dirty South” ends, as all good thrillers do, with a twist and a surprise.

Connolly has written several books featuring Charlie Parker. This one reveals how Parker’s career as a private investigator began. This is the first thriller I’ve read about the investigator but it won’t be the last. Though “The Dirty South” is long, the chapters are short and the story moves very quickly. I do caution you, though. The description of the torture doesn’t leave much to the imagination. I advise not reading this thriller before bedtime.

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