Peggy Blair. Hungry Ghosts. Toronto: Simon & Schuster, 2015.
How does she do it? ... weaving parallels between Cuba and native reservations in Canada ... often subtle, sometimes surprising? The novel is really two stories. Ricardo Ramirez of the Havana Major Crimes Unit and Charlie Pike of the Rideau Regional Police Force — whom you will remember if you read Blair's The Poisoned Pawn when they collaborated — are each pursuing his own case. The sub-theme of murdered aboriginal women could not be more current. Beyond that, I'm in awe of Blair's informative knowledge of Ojibwa culture and their modern issues (some readers will recognize the similarity to Grassy Narrows Reserve). At the same time, we witness the constant privations of daily living in shabby, impoverished Havana.
Ramirez is dealing with murdered women whose identities have been disguised. Visited by ghosts of the dead (not too intrusively; they don't speak), he solves some daring vandalism as well as finding a killer. No less compelling is Pike's hunt through the native society he had left years ago. Complicated and clever. Ramirez and Pike do not personally communicate until the last pages. Hungry Ghosts is more than a crime novel, it's a cultural journey. Read it, mystery fans: just read it!
One-liner: "Sometimes I feel like I'm one broken-down truck and a dead dog away from being a country-and-western song." (140)
Hungry ghosts in Cuba:
They drove past a camello. It was on its way in from the countryside, spewing clouds of black exhaust. The buses were made of old bus parts, wagons, and recycled train compartments welded together, the centre portion raised in a hump. They were hot and uncomfortable, and crammed with hundreds of passengers.
Ramirez looked in his side-view mirror at the dead woman. The glass was stained with rust, discoloured from salt air. His cracked rearview mirror had disappeared a week or two earlier, no doubt recycled by the same thief who had discovered that Ramirez's car doors no longer locked. It was almost easier to travel to China than to find a replacement for a Chinese car.
Degrees of impossibility, thought Ramirez. Like the dead woman sitting in the back seat, looking out the window, and the dead man he'd found in the washroom admiring himself. They were impossible too. And yet they seemed so real. (55)
The same youngster who stowed Charlie Pike's baggage clambered into the pilot's seat. It made Pike uncomfortable knowing that the tiny plane would be flown by someone not much older than his battered luggage. But he was uncomfortable flying at the best of times. His father's clan‒the Pikes–came from the water, not the air. Pike was Wolf Clan by his Mohawk mother. Wolves weren't supposed to fly either. (58)
Now his mother wandered, Pike believed, severed from everything important to her. But her soul had been stripped from her bones long before the cancer took her, when Canadian bureaucrats had decided a full-blooded Mohawk woman was white because of the race of a man she'd once married.
"I talked to the clan mothers at Oka. That's where her mother was born. They said the band councils don't represent the Haudenosaunee, only white man's laws. They told me I could put her ashes in The Pines, where the Haudenosaunee used to bury their dead. That's where she is now." (159)
A river runs through the reserve:
"There's mercury in the drinking water?" Jones said. "Oh my God, she's been drinking gallons of tea every day." (323)
Paula Hawkins. The Girl on the Train. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2014.
How many people go through life clothed in lies, fooling other people and themselves? Just about everyone, judging by the main characters in this fast-moving, fascinating bestseller. Three women and two men: are any of them what they seem? Having inappropriately injected herself into the lives of two different couples, Rachel feels compelled to reconstruct one of her alcoholic blackouts — it might help solve a crime. But her blundering behaviour has no credibility with anyone, including the police. Her ex-husband and his new wife are tired of her harassment, her obsession with losing his love. Their neighbours have been secretly observed by Rachel from a distance; when they enter the picture she begins to realize the folly of her perfect fantasy.
Brilliantly constructed, the narrative passes between Rachel and Megan and Anna. It's unclear who is the unstable one. Or all three? Each struggles with who I am not. As layers of lies and revisionism peel away, anger and fear surge among them. The men in the story are seen only through their eyes. Hawkins has created a masterpiece of self-revelation and suspense.
.. the job itself is utterly beneath me, but then I seem to have become beneath me over the past year or two. (251)
I didn't want him to leave his wife; I just wanted him to want to leave her. (286)
All those plans I had ‒ photography courses and cookery classes ‒ when it comes down to it, they feel a bit pointless, as if I'm playing at real life instead of actually living it. I need to find something that I must do, something undeniable. I can't do this, I can't just be a wife. I don't understand how anyone does it ‒ there is literally nothing to do but wait. Wait for a man to come home and love you. Either that, or look around for something to distract you. (31)
Maybe it was then. Maybe that was the moment when things started to go wrong, the moment when I imagined us no longer as a couple, but a family; and after that, once I had that picture in my head, just the two of us could never be enough. (58)
I don't remember when I started believing it could be more, that we should be more, that we were right for each other. But the moment I did, I could feel him start to pull away. (286)
Sometimes I wonder if I've done or said terrible things, and I can't remember. And if ... if someone tells me something I've done, it doesn't even feel like me. It doesn't feel like it was me who was doing that thing. And it's so hard to feel responsible for something you don't remember. So I never feel bad enough. I feel bad, but the thing that I've done ‒ it's removed from me. It's like it doesn't belong to me. (190)
"Let's not get the police involved unless we really need to."
I think we really do need to. I can't stop thinking about that smile she gave us, that sneer. It was almost triumphant. We need to get away from here. We need to get away from her. (143)