Faces of the Gone
by Brad Parks
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312574772
Date: 08 December 2009 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Four drug dealers belonging to the same drug syndicate are blindfolded and executed in a vacant lot in the slums of Newark, New Jersey. Mug shots of the dead (a.k.a. faces of the gone) are distributed to other dealers as a warning not to violate their contracts with the Director.
Handsome, congenial Carter Ross, an investigative reporter for The Newark Eagle-Examiner, discovers they were all selling the same brand of heroin labeled "The Stuff." After publishing his discovery, he soon finds himself the target of a psychotic, pyromaniac drug lord. His home is blown up along with the businesses and residents of several of his sources. Ross races to discover the true identity of the Director in order to save his life and the lives of his coworkers.
Faces of the Gone is a highly entertaining debut mystery from Brad Parks, former journalist for The Washington Post and The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger. Refreshingly humorous, it has several scenes that made me laugh out loud. Carter Ross is a riot. He narrates the story, providing much comic relief as he takes the reader along with him during his investigation of the four slayings. A host of zany characters aid him. Even his dumb cat, Deadline, is described as having been last in line when they were handing out brains. I kept thinking Ross is the male version of Mary Tyler Moore. Attractive, with a big heart, he is compassionate towards his fellow human being. He feeds the homeless and takes a stripper out to dinner.
The fictitious Newark Eagle-Examiner could be the setting for a new television sitcom. There is the gorgeous city editor, Tina Thompson, whose biological clock is about to explode. Obsessed with getting pregnant, she is Ross's romantic interest who provides him with shelter after his home explodes. The young Puerto Rican intern, Tommy Hernandez, is a flamboyant, wise cracking gay man who is obsessed with fashionable clothes. He assists Ross with surveillance, albeit in a bumbling manner. Ross's boss is Sal Szanto, a type of gruff, stressed out Lou Grant from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Then there is the legendary executive editor, Harold Brodie, who is older than Moses. Every office has an employee who should've retired many years ago but doesn't have a life outside of work. Various exotic strippers, homeless bums and bootleg video dealers serve as informants; they round out the bizarre, but hilarious, assortment of characters that can be found in Faces of the Gone.
This novel is not a comedy by any means. It contains some graphic violence that is very deplorable. There are some very tense scenes, especially towards the end when Ross finally meets the Director, an evil, despicable character who leads a double life. An egomaniac, he believes his plan is foolproof; he thinks he'll never get caught. There are also some very sad, emotionally touching scenes, especially the one where Ross accompanies Miss. B to the mortuary; she wants to view the corpse of her daughter, Wanda Bass, one of the dealers who violated her contract with the Director and paid the ultimate price.
A wonderful blend of mystery and comedy, Faces of the Gone was a pleasure to read; I'm glad I had the opportunity to meet Ross Carter and his zany coworkers at The Newark Eagle-Examiner. Handsome, funny and well-educated, Brad Parks resembles the hero of his debut novel. However, Parks is married with two children and lives in my home state of Virginia. His coverage of a quadruple homicide in Newark provided the inspiration for Faces of the Gone. He is busy at work on its sequel. I can't wait to read more journalistic adventures of the eccentric employees of The Newark Eagle-Examiner. I've made a place for them in my heart and you will too.