It’s always fun to find a new author; someone who’s created an environment and characters outside our usual reading zone. The irony of this particular case is that I found Brad Parks almost exactly where he should have been found: walking down a street in Newark, New Jersey, the haunt of his newspaper reporter protagonist, Carter Ross. I guess it was serendipity that had us each park our cars almost simultaneously in front of the venue that had been chosen for his Meet the Author site, a local bar on Halsey Street. I had seen his picture so he was easy to spot and since we were both early and nobody has ever called me shy, I introduced myself. I found him friendly, open and charming.
On my drive down to Newark, all of a twenty minute foray from the suburbs, I tried to explain to myself why I was doing this. I do not “collect” authors or autographed books unless they belong to friends. (The only exception is Phillipa Gregory, but that’s another story.) Often I finish an award winning book and my only response is “what were they thinking?” Not so with Faces of the Gone, Parks’s first book in what is now a series of three, and Carter Ross. Grabbed, nearly by accident from the new books shelf at my local library, I was hooked, and tempted by the notion that their creator might be something more than a well-publicized author. I just knew I had to meet him.
Part of the thing that drew me is that I know Newark. I had been professionally involved in the schools there when the riots occurred in the 1960s. Since then, I’ve been in and out for various reasons and I’m fairly confident the city has gotten a bad rap. The place Parks writes about is the Newark I know. Nothing there is clearly one thing or another. It’s gritty, challenged and challenging, sad, and striving for something better. So are its human occupants; except for the ones who are so totally corrupt and evil that they use their power to amass more power and clearly not for good. But that’s what makes an interesting tale from the storyteller’s—and the reader’s—point of view.
I found the characters in these books to be as real and approachable as Parks himself. Carter Ross must be Parks’s alter ego and I also suspect his avatar as well in the sense that Ross embodies the principles that move Parks’s life. Just watching Parks interact with former colleagues and friends from the Newark Star Ledger, (yes, he is a former newspaper reporter) was enough to convince me of his genuineness and friendliness. It wasn’t a persona put on for a stray, almost-groupie! The man is clearly having a lot of fun meeting people and promoting his books. He also has a wicked sense of humor.
I have great hope for this series. Parks is a talented writer who has carefully honed Newark as one of his characters. My guess is that a city that was founded in the 1600s might get worn down and weary but has enough energy in it to drive a thoughtful and observant writer. The series now includes not only Faces of the Gone, but Eyes of the Innocent and the new book, The Girl Next Door. Start with Faces . . . and enjoy the ride!
Joan Tuohy lives, writes, and reads in New Jersey.