"A clever mixture of quest and chase, written in prose that unfolds at warp speed, and rarely fails to sing."
"Terrifically exciting, tightly plotted . . . written in an uncommonly fine, supple, sensuous prose."
"Tremendous stuff, as Connolly's novels always are."
Mark Timlin, Independent on Sunday
Parker joins forces with an old enemy to stop a deadly and mysterious smuggling operation.
The border between Maine and Canada is porous. Anything can be smuggled across it: drugs, cash, weapons, people. Now a group of disenchanted former soldiers has begun its own smuggling operation, and what is being moved is infinitely stranger and more terrifying than anyone can imagine. Anyone, that is, except private detective Charlie Parker, who has his own intimate knowledge of the darkness in men's hearts. But the soldiers' actions have attracted the attention of the reclusive Herod, a man with a taste for the strange. And where Herod goes, so too does the shadowy figure that he calls the Captain. To defeat them, Parker must form an uneasy alliance with a man he fears more than any other, the killer known as the Collector . . .
War is a mythical happening . . . Where else in human experience,
except in the throes of ardor . . . do we find ourselves transported
to a mythical condition and the gods most real?
— James Hillman, A Terrible Love of War
Baghdad, April 16, 2003
It was Dr. Al-Daini who found the girl, abandoned in the long central corridor. She
was buried beneath broken glass and shards of pottery, under discarded clothing,
pieces of furniture, and old newspapers used as packing materials. She should have
been rendered almost invisible amid the dust and the darkness, but Dr. Al-Daini had
spent decades searching for girls such as she, and he picked her out where others
might simply have passed over her.
Only her head was exposed, her blue eyes open, her lips stained a faded red. He
knelt beside her, and brushed some of the detritus from her. Outside, he could hear
yelling, and the rumble of tanks changing position. Suddenly, bright light illuminated
the hallway, and there were armed men shouting and giving orders, but they had come
too late. Others like them had stood by while this had happened, their priorities lying
elsewhere. They did not care about the girl, but Dr. Al-Daini cared. He had
recognized her immediately, because she had always been one of his favorites. Her
beauty had captivated him from the first moment he set eyes on her, and in the years
that followed he had never failed to make time to spend a quiet moment or two with
her during the day, to exchange a greeting or merely to stand with her and mirror her
smile with one of his own.
Perhaps she might still be saved, he thought, but as he carefully shifted wood
and stone he recognized that there was little he could do for her now. Her body was
shattered, broken into pieces in an act of desecration that made no sense to him. This
was not accidental, but deliberate: he could see marks on the floor where booted feed
had pounded upon her legs and arms, reducing them to fragments. Yet, somehow, her
head had escaped the worst of the violence, and Dr. Al-Daini could not decide if this
rendered what had been visited upon her less awful, or more terrible.
“Oh, little one,” he whispered as he gently stroked her cheek, the first time that
he had touched her in fifteen years. “What have they done to you? What have they
done to us all?”
He should have stayed. He should not have left her, should not have left any of
them, but the Fedayeen had been battling the Americans near the Ministry of
Information, the sounds of gunfire and explosions reaching them even as they
sandbagged friezes and wrapped foam rubber around the statues, grateful that they
had at least managed to transport some of the treasures to safety before the invasion
commenced. The fighting had then spread to the television station, less than a
kilometer away, and to the central bus station at the other side of the complex,
drawing closer and closer to them. He had argued in favor of staying, for they had
stockpiled food and water in the basement, but many of the others felt that the risks
were too great. All but one of the guards had fled, abandoning their weapons and
their uniforms, and there were already black-garbed gunmen in the museum garden.
So they had locked the front doors and left through the back entrance before fleeing
across the river to the eastern side, where they waited in the house of a colleague for
the fighting to cease.
But it did not stop. When they attempted to return over the Bridge of the
Medical City they were turned back, and so they stayed with their colleague once
again, and drank coffee, and waited some more. Perhaps they had remained there for
too long, debating back and forth the wisdom of abandoning what was, for now, a
place of safety, but what else could they have done? Yet he could not forgive himself,
or assuage his guilt. He had abandoned her, and they had had their way with her.
And now he was crying, not from the dirt and filth but from rage and hurt and
loss. He did not stop, not even as booted feet approached him and a soldier shone a
flashlight in his face. There were others behind him, their weapons raised.
“Sir, who are you?” asked the soldier.
Dr. Al-Daini did not reply. He could not. All his attention was fixed on the eyes
of the broken girl.
“Sir, do you speak English? I’ll ask you one more time: who are you?”
Dr. Al-Daini picked up on the nervousness in the soldier’s voice, but also the
hint of arrogance, the natural superiority of the conqueror over the conquered. He
sighed, and raised his eyes.
“My name is Dr. Mufid Al-Daini,” he said, “and I am the deputy curator of
Roman Antiquities at this museum.” Then he reconsidered. “No, I was the deputy
curator of Roman Antiquities, but now there is no museum left. Now there are only
fragments. You let this happen. You stood by and let this happen . . .”
But he was speaking as much to himself as he was to them, and the words
turned to ash in his mouth.