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Fri September 14, 2007
Night Rain: A Mike Connolly Mystery
A lowlife loser named Dibber Landry (given name Dilbert) is waiting in his family's house on the north side of Dauphin Island for the eye of the hurricane to arrive. He then quickly gets into his motorboat and rides to the south side of the island to loot houses that have been evacuated. Things are going fine until, after gathering up items of value in the Marchand family house, Dibber comes upon a corpse.
By Don Noble
Joe Hilley's fourth Mike Connolly mystery begins well. A lowlife loser named Dibber Landry (given name Dilbert) is waiting in his family's house on the north side of Dauphin Island for the eye of the hurricane to arrive. He then quickly gets into his motorboat and rides to the south side of the island to loot houses that have been evacuated. Things are going fine until, after gathering up items of value in the Marchand family house, Dibber comes upon a corpse. He panics and flees, leaving fingerprints behind, and then pawns some loot he has stolen. The loot is traced. Dibber is arrested for murder, and Dibber's father hires Mike Connolly to defend him.
Of course, Dibber didn't do it. Connolly knows this from the start, and probably so does the overzealous DA, but occasionally DAs want to arrest somebody, convict somebody, and get their names in the papers.
In investigating the murder, Connolly, a fifty-five-year-old divorced, recovering alcoholic attorney, discovers quite a lot. He learns, with difficulty, who the corpse is. And further investigations take him into a money laundering operation which is a function of a really large meth lab on the outskirts of Mobile. He also uncovers evidence relevant to old crimes, and they are Byzantine, that is to say, familial, in nature?child abuse, patricide, false paternity, cover-ups, and crooked lawmen.
As Connolly unravels the knots in the Marchand family rope, he also has to deal with his own history. Connolly learns more about his own father and his mother, who abandoned him, and the uncle who raised him.
Now sober but very troubled, Connolly harbors a fierce anger against his mother and talks about it with his friend, Father Scott of St. Pachomius Episcopal Church. Father Scott and religion in general play a much smaller role in this novel than in Hilley's first two, where there were miracles and whirlwinds. Father Scott serves more as sounding board and therapist. He counsels Connolly to let go of his fury at his mother and allow the Holy Spirit to help him heal, so he will no longer be a struggling recovering alcoholic, but rather a person who used to have a drinking problem. Not bad advice, and, I am happy so say, as close to metaphysics as this mystery novel gets.
I have come to like Connolly and, like many readers, enjoy fiction that takes you through familiar scenes, from Bayou La Batre to Dauphin Island to Airport Boulevard. I was amused by Hilley's thumbnail description of Bayou La Batre: "A rough and tumble fishing town . . . . Life there was an odd and intriguing mixture of ritual, superstition and debauchery." Hilley obviously knows more about Bayou La Batre than most of us do!
Hilley is a retired Mobile attorney who clearly loves writing these thrillers. He knows his territory, and he has created a passable hero. The plots, however, even after being solved, are still a little unclear, and Hilley is dead in love with a couple of literary tics. In his last book, Hilley had Connolly eat at the Port City Diner about fifty times. There is still too much of the diner, but even more irritating is Connolly's car, a 1959 Chrysler which has become a minor character in these novels and not in a good way, since the car never says anything interesting. Chapter 27 ends, "Connolly turned away and walked to the Chrysler." Chapter 30 ends, "He opened the car door and got in the Chrysler," and you would not believe how many chapters begin with Connolly in his beloved car. This is a really minor point, but finally, once noticed, fairly irritating.
All in all, however, Hilley's novel is pleasing. And the future novels are looming. Will Connolly get back with his ex-wife, Barbara? How about his relationships with his uncle and his mother? Stand by. I am perfectly confident we will soon know more.
Don Noble's book reviews can be heard each Monday on Alabama Public Radio at 7:35 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Recently retired as English professor at The University of Alabama, Don's specialties are Southern and American literature. Don also hosts Bookmark on Alabama Public Television.