Meet Pariche and the rest of the cast.
Jedemiah Joshua Pariche was born high up on the Coconino Plateau in Northern Arizona. A cantankerous bear of man, people find it hard to believe that he really is a distinguished biochemist and university wide professor at the University of California, a position he uses to cause mischief amongst the many place-men and “committee people” he has the misfortune to come across. Although given to getting into fights, he is also a warm, honest soul, often incredulous at what he sees around him and determined not to be brought down by the (acting) Dean and his street hustling sidekick; one of them is a crook and the other, equally as bad, a career committee man.
It is Pariche who persuades Soren to go to Mississippi. He sees him as the person who saved him from almost certain ruin, following the disappearance of his wife, Mildred Hildergaarth Neuman, some ten years before. Now presumed dead, her body has never been found. In coming to terms with his loss, Pariche latched onto the help proffered by Soren, then a newly arrived associate professor at Berkeley and is probably attempting to relive past exploits through his friendship with the younger man.
Soren Alexander Karlsson, an associate professor at Berkeley, is Pariche’s closest friend and it is through him that the main action of the novel takes place. He’s academically gifted, easy-going and inclined to take the least line of resistance. This, though, should not be mistaken for weakness. His avoidance of conflict might be viewed by some as flight, but, when pushed, a stubborn streak reveals itself and he comes out fighting. Presently he is very conflicted. attempting to escape a life he has come to loath and not at all sure of what awaits him in Mississippi. His love life is also a mess, made worse by the experience he’s had at the hands of one of his girlfriends and her mother. Virginia is the real love of his life, although it has taken some time for him to realise this.
Another complication for Soren is his relationship with his mother, Christina Margaret Karlsson. They are close, something best served by keeping a distance. Because of the investigation she is conducting, there are worries for her safety. In her late fifties, Christina is a senior partner in an East Coast law firm and a Massachusetts state senator, currently investigating the activities of a Boston mobster. She is an ambitious woman who has fought her way to the top. It has come at a cost, with little room for relationships and many missed opportunities of being with her son. She is racked with guilt about this.
Virginia Leigh Bradley-Moore Van Buren is a detective with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. She is in her mid thirties and harbours a long standing affection for Soren. She has a beauty that can turn heads and an old monied wholesomeness that appears to belie the reality of her occupation, a detective up to her armpits in murders, robberies and rapes. She’s had a very privileged upbringing, something to be expected of a Bradley-Moore, but there have been tensions, not least with her mother, Elspeth, who thinks that her association with Soren, and her habit of always siding with her father, Wendall, not to mention the job she now does, has all been a betrayal of the family name. She has an ongoing and very close friendship with Christina, who harbours the hope that one day there will be a reconciliation with her son.
Other significant characters
A thirty-something Gerry Garcia look-a-like and attending physician at San Francisco General Hospital. He’s been a friend of Soren’s since their school days. It soon becomes very clear, that, although they were once very close, their friendship is now somewhat strained, and Brad’s cocaine habit has not helped. It has given his already confrontational character a rather wired disposition; an agitatedly destructive bent that is on the way to compromising his position as a distinguished medic. Having to deal with the AIDS crisis, and the ravages it has brought to so many near to him, has not helped. So, as a last-ditch attempt to get him away from all of this, Soren has persuaded him to go with him to Mississippi. Brad’s partner, Martin, is not pleased; being queer and strung out on coke is not the best comportment for someone intent on visiting the Magnolia State.
Geraldine Cassandra Stark
She is a one time partner of Soren’s. Fragile and combustible, driven to despair by her mother, Melissa, it is clear that Soren’s involvement with her has left its mark.
A mafia boss being investigated by Christina; just another hoodlum in a city run by the Irish. A resident of Boston’s North End, Constanze has an appetite for violence. In public he has a sober and respectable appearance, usually dressed in dapper suits, silver cufflinks and yacht club tie; someone who could easily be mistaken for an alumnus of Harvard. In reality he is nothing more than a unreconstructed thug who, not long ago, could be seen on videotape screaming a stream of expletives down a pay phone, outside an establishment that was definitely not a faculty or yacht club. He has an obsessive hatred for Christina “the bitch” who’s had the temerity to publicly humiliate him.
The (acting) Dean of faculty at Berkeley, chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Urban Discontent and Crime, and Pariche and Soren’s arch nemesis. He is also Soren’s boss. Wilson is someone who likes to think of himself as a man of granite countenance, imbued with a sour severity and ruthlessness, but whose florid, rotund physique, and ingratiating disposition towards those in authority, in reality, conveys more than just a hint of supine spine-lessness and greed; of someone on the make. Quick to learn his way around the committees and structures of Berkeley, Wilson has never taught, but has seen to it that he makes himself available to the powerful and the good. It means that people came to see him as the go-to person.
Elijah Mohammed Flaxel X – street hustler and associate of Wilson’s. A petty criminal and drug dealer, Flaxel is street smart and not above the use of the threat of violence to get his way. He is a Sly Stone lookalike, with thin feminine lips, big teeth, and is capable of putting on a good pout when he’s not wearing cocky smile. He is someone eminently suited to the murky waters in which he swims, albeit as a representative of the bottom-feeder variety, always on the lookout for the next meal ticket. He sees Wilson as the ultimate meal ticket.
Squire to the local community down in Mississippi and a long-time friend of Pariche. He is the main force behind “the Institute”, the project he and Pariche have lured Soren into helping out with. He is a very driven man, with an alert expectant expression, who speaks with the cadence of a machine gun. He is someone who could give Pariche a run for his money in the madness stakes; socially liberal with an evangelical gift for oratory, lazily delivered. The product of Vanderbilt, Doleson can easily strike the uninitiated as being just a little deranged. Looking much like Groucho Marx, with the wit to match, he can cuss and swear with the best of them, yet still manage to convey the stately bearing that one usually associates with southern aristocracy. His championing of improved race relations hasn’t endeared him with to some of the more extreme representatives of the community.