Journalist Brad Parks' commanding, entertaining debut featuring an investigative reporter briskly delves into the politics of drug dealing, the value of street reporting and an insider's look at the newspaper industry. Faces of the Gone skillfully mixes a gritty hard-boiled mystery with swatches of broad humor that perfectly capture the newsroom culture.
Carter Ross is a 31-year-old reporter for the Eagle-Examiner in Newark, N.J., and relishes getting out of the office and onto the streets. When four people are killed execution-style, their bodies dumped in a vacant lot, Carter refuses to believe police reports that this was the result of a bar robbery. The story is front-page news even for "a town as blood-jaded as Newark."
As Carter works to find the link among the victims, alternating chapters that focus on a drug lord who calls himself "the Director" fuel the tension.
Faces of the Gone illustrates life in Newark's inner city without cliches, showing the differences between the urban neighborhoods and the suburbs where Carter grew up. Scenes with the victims' families, especially a mother who knew her daughter's flaws but still believed in her, are heartbreakingly accurate.
As he works the story, the "incurably ink-stained" Carter immerses himself in the intrigues, banter and personalities of the newsroom. Parks also gleefully shows the friction between newspaper and TV reporters.
Carter is an engaging character with more personality layers for readers to uncover, making him ripe to carry a series. Although he comes from an upper-class background, Carter relates well to those who live in the inner city. But Parks doesn't make Carter an unrealistic superhero — he's just a reporter who has uncovered an amazing story. Supporting characters add substance.
Faces of the Gone ranks close to Michael Connelly's The Scarecrow in its depiction of the newspaper industry. Parks, a former reporter at the Star-Ledger in New Jersey, makes the transition to novelist with this impressive debut.