23 May 2015

Library Limelights 84

Stephen King. Mr. Mercedes. New York: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2014.
Stephen King is not just a horror-meister, of course; he's a talented writer in any genre and this detective novel is a fine example. Brady is a mass murderer, never caught, who goads retired Mid-west cop Bill Hodges into pursuing him again. The reader is privy to the minds of both detective and criminal as they race to outguess and outwit each other. Teenaged scholar Jerome and unstable, middle-aged Holly end up being Hodges' only assistants in preventing another disaster. Hodges' former partner, still a working policeman, is unaware of the secret drama in his own domain. Amid the growing tension, King deftly inserts a sweet love story.

The author has an acknowledged penchant for detail, particularly when a psychologically unbalanced individual is involved. So much so that the perp's repulsive home life is probably TMI for most readers. Will Hodges' analytical experience be enough to identify Brady in time? I found myself asking who is going to have the last word when all is said and done! But only one question, really: Stephen, whatever happened to rock star concerts having a less-known band to open for them?

One-liner: They're wondering if I'm riding into the Kingdom of Dementia on the Alzheimer's Express ... . (73)

Old friends have lunch:
They thump each other on the back the requisite number of times and Pete tells him he's looking good."You know the three Ages of Man, don't you?" Hodges asks.Pete shakes his head, grinning."Youth, middle age, and you look fuckin terrific."Pete roars with laughter and asks if Hodges knows what the blond said when she opened the box of Cheerios. Hodges says he does not. Pete makes big amazed eyes and says, "Oh. Look at the cute little doughnut seeds!"Hodges gives his own obligatory roar of laughter (although he does not think this is a particularly witty example of Genus Blond), and with the amenities thus disposed of, they sit down. (48-50)

Brady muses on the 9/11 terrorists:
Those clowns actually thought they were going to paradise, where they'd live in a kind of eternal luxury hotel being serviced by gorgeous young virgins. Pretty funny, and the best part? The joke was on them ... not that they knew it. What they got was a momentary view of all those windows and a final flash of light. After that, they and their thousands of victims were just gone. Poof. Seeya later, alligator. Off you go, killers and killed alike, off you go into the universal null set that surrounds one lonely blue planet and all its mindlessly bustling denizens. Every religion lies. Every moral precept is a delusion. Even the stars are a mirage. The truth is darkness, and the only thing that matters is making a statement before one enters it. Cutting the skin of the world and leaving a scar. That's all history is, after all: scar tissue. (323)


Karin Fossum. In the Darkness. 1995. London: Harvill Secker, 2012.
Note the dates above: Fossum is not the only excellent Scandinavian author to suffer what one reviewer dubbed the "TOOO syndrome" Translated Out Of Order![1] It's not the first Fossum I've read but it happens to be the first in her (Norwegian) Inspector Konrad Sejer series. It begins with Eva, the artist, discovering a dead body in the river; it's a man who went missing six months before. She's clearly terrified and does not report it. Sejer has a more recent murder case that possibly ties into the drowned body. Midway, the story backtracks into more detail that was largely predictable. In fact, we get so much detail that I felt it detracted from the suspense it was intended to create. Also, thanks to Eva's wandering thoughts, I found myself skipping through tedious paragraphs. Therefore I wasn't crazy about this book but it won't stop me picking up another Fossum later in the series when she found her chops.

To the nursing home:
He always had to psych himself up before he went, needed that extra bit of energy. It was lacking now, but a fortnight had passed since his last visit. He straightened up and nodded to the caretaker who was just coming along with a stepladder on his shoulder, he had a relaxed swing to his walk and a contented smile on his face, the sort of man who loved his job, who lacked nothing in life and who perhaps never understood what everyone else was making such a fuss about. Extraordinary. There aren't many expressions like that, Sejer thought, and suddenly caught sight of his own gloomy face in the glass door facing him. I'm not especially happy, he thought suddenly, but then I've never been very concerned about it either. (88)

The suspect panics:
He'd found the note. After six months he'd found the note.
The police had handwriting experts, they could find out who's written it, but first they had to have something to compare it with, and then they could study each little loop, the joins and circles, dots and dashes, a unique pattern which revealed the writer, with every characteristic and neurotic tendency, perhaps even sex and age. They went to college and studied all this, it was a science. (114)

[1] Jeremy Megraw, 10 July 2013, "A guide to Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer," Crime Fiction Lover (http://www.crimefictionlover.com/2013/07/a-guide-to-karin-fossums-inspector-sejer/ : accessed 8 April 2015).

Jussi Adler-Olsen. The Purity of Vengeance. New York: Dutton/Penguin, 2013.
Timely translation tells you how highly Adler-Olsen is regarded. In Copenhagen's police department Q, Carl Mørck is juggling more cases than ever, not all of them consigned to the cold past. In fact a couple of them feel like a conspiracy against himself. The accidental death of his uncle many years ago, a recent acid-throwing attack, and the ever-present haunting of a police shoot-out are enough to occupy him. Not to worry, his eccentric assistants Rose and Assad keep him focused on what's important ― the suspicious disappearance of five people on the same day in 1987.

The repeat characters (this is fourth in a series) are irresistible. Their humour leavens the balance with the gritty social message about übermensch and eugenics. Adler-Olsen has an exceptionally fine way of dealing with society's marginalized or forgotten groups, represented here by Nete who suffered numerous injustices. The pacing of the disparate elements in her story is brilliant. I'm ordering the next book now!

Girlfriend Mona's surprise:
"This is Samantha, my youngest daughter," Mona announced. "She's been looking forward to meeting you."
The eyes of this clone of a twenty-year-younger Mona did not, however, exude quite as much pleasure as her mother's introduction seemed to warrant. She gave him the once-over, clearly noticing his receding temples, his rather crumpled posture, and the knot in his tie that suddenly felt far too tight. It was obvious she wasn't impressed.
"Hi, Carl," she said, already revealing resentment of her mother's latest dip into the bottomless pit labeled "Men the Cat Dragged In."
"Hi, Samantha," he replied, struggling to produce something resembling an enthusiastic smile. What the hell had Mona been telling her about him that made him such a disappointment in real life?
The situation took a further nosedive when a small boy came charging in and gave him a whack over the legs with a plastic sword. (107-8)

Shame:
Nete was standing before her father. There was a darkness about him, a bitterness she had never seen before.
"All through school I defended you, Nete. Do you realize that?"
She nodded, knowing it to be true. More times than she cared to recall they had been summoned to the dismal classroom, where her father had protested against the headmaster's and the schoolmistress's threats. But each time, he had softened up sufficiently to listen to the charges and promise she would mend her ways. He would teach her to abide by the word of God and to think twice about what words she took in her mouth. He would lead her onto a better path and correct her licentious behaviour.
But Nete never understood why he could swear so profusely himself and why it was so wrong to talk about what males and females did, when it was all around them every day on the farm. (141)

A day at the office:
It was the kind of day Carl detested most. December slush in the streets and Christmas lights in everyone's eyes. Why the sudden glee over water turning white and the department stores' unscrupulous abuse of the world's dwindling energy resources?
It was bollocks, all of it, and his mood was long since ruined.
"You've got visitors," Rose announced from the doorway.
He swiveled round, ready to spit out his annoyance. What was the matter with people? Couldn't they phone first? (496)

02 May 2015

Library Limelights 83

Denise Mina. The Red Road. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2014.
A well-structured, compact puzzle offered by the acknowledged mistress of tartan noir. Sensitivity alert: the noir has its gory moments. However, the story revolves around a sad child now struggling to be grown up. Readers are well into the characters' lives before we know what the crime is. Then, solving the case hinges on contradictory forensic evidence. It's not so much a mystery of who committed a few murders, but how the system was perverted in a strange interlocking collusion of corrupt authority figures.

As the revelations unfold, DI Alex Morrow chews her nails over exposing the insidious mess and how badly that will affect her career. Her new-motherhood glow is breeding a creeping empathy at times, with Brown, a convicted killer and Atholl, the self-destructive lawyer. Morrow's criminal brother Danny makes his usual appearance, perhaps his last. This is definitely the dark side of Glasgow but if you're a Mina or Morrow fan, don't miss this one.

One-liners:
[Grace] We're grateful for the food we eat and thank you for the comfy seat. (208)
A wind so sharp, Robert thought, it could strip a soul of original sin. (216)
She longed for some high ground to scramble towards but there wasn't any. (261)

After the crime-scene walk-through:
"Well," Wainwright stood tall, looking over her head, "back to the glamour.""So, what's on your board?""Got this," he nodded back at the flats, "got another murder, a domestic. Got two big lassies that stabbed a pal with their jaggy heels at a club. And a missing person." He leaned over her, smiling. "The missing person's a lawyer.""Aye? What does that mean?""Nicer biscuits," he said, and they laughed loud and long because they weren't dead. (113)

Father on life support:
Robert was trying to feel something, devastation, some loss. He was embarrassed at how little he felt for the man. When the staff consoled him with hollow pleasantries he dropped his eyes and nodded. A very difficult time, yes. Keep hoping, he knows you're here, yes. Make sure you get enough sleep, yes.So he sat by the bed with his own cold heart, hoping his emotions were in there somewhere and he would be feeling big things shortly. Then came the hand, crawling towards him like the sea coming in, and the dry lips trying to move under the oxygen mask. (210)

Interrogation:
"Do you remember what you were doing the night Princess Diana died?"He did remember it and again tried to derail her. "In Paris?""You were in Paris?""No." He laughed, light, sparkling. "She was in Paris. She died in Paris. Very sad." And he made a face that told her he was feeling sad and he shook his head to tell the world that it shouldn't have happened and it made him sad."Where were you the next day?" Morrow sounded flat but she felt righteousness flare in her chest. They were all lying, all of them, dodging the truth out of fear or self-interest or for a few quid. But she wasn't. (270-271)


Lisa Gardner. Catch Me. New York: Dutton, 2012.
Gardner is one of those best-selling suspense novelists but this time she went so far into abnormal psychology it strained credibility. Crime authors are still trying to outdo each other with original, new scenarios. Charlene, who suffered childhood abuse, has found a good niche working as a police dispatcher. Except someone is killing her friends, on the same day every year. It's looking like she will be next and self-survival is paramount. Charlene pulls in Boston detective D.D. Warren who is investigating paedophile crimes originating online. "Everyone has to died sometime. Be brave" is a recurring theme.

My patience is sorely tried when we are forced to dwell in a seven-year-old's tedious thoughts far too long. As well as extended dreary talk of babies, living and dead. It doesn't help that editing oversights such as "undo caution" and "pour" through old memories and slapping with "the heal of his hand" catch my attention and stop the flow. If you are not into convoluted psychology dealing with repressed memories and conditioned responses, Catch Me is probably only for die-hard Gardner fans.

One-liner: I never asked, unanswered questions being the whole key to my relationships. (186)

Repressing memory:
Jackie and Randi used to tease me I'd forget my own head if it wasn't attached to my shoulders. I'd laugh with them, but often self-consciously. Jackie had really called me on the phone last night, we'd talked for two hours, and I'd forgotten all of it? Randi had told me all about her first date with local heartthrob Tom Eastman, and I couldn't recall a single detail?Small glitches in the operating system, I'd tell myself. I mean, given the amount of resources I'd dedicated to wiping eight entire years from my general consciousness, some errors were bound to occur. Besides, no matter how much I screwed up, forgot, genuinely overlooked, those occasions were still better than the few times I began to remember. (101)

Resenting memory:
Her mother had gotten that look again. Like she was sucking on lemons. Which had pissed D.D. off, because if memory served, her mother hadn't exactly played house when D.D. was a baby. Her mother had gone back to teaching, too close to tenure to give up now. D.D. had gone to day care. Hell, D.D. remembered loving day care. There were other kids who rolled and tumbled and got dirty and laughed hard. Day care was nirvana. Home was all "Sit still, don't make that face, for God's sake can't you stop fidgeting for just one minute?" (257-258)

Joan Barfoot. Exit Lines. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2008.
Barfoot was recommended as a Canadian author, of Scotiabank Giller calibre. Set in the Idyll Inn retirement lodge (not a nursing home, the residents are quick to point out), the residents seemed to promise dry humour but for the most part I found it dry, period. In other words, simply not my taste and no reflection whatsoever on the author's literary merits. Four different souls ―cynical Sylvia, amenable Greta, cranky George, and plucky Ruth ― meet up here and establish friendship, as their backgrounds reveal both mutual thoughts and differences. One of them wants the others to assist in a death plot. The weak suspense is lost in interminable discussions of morality and human failings. The book really requires more concentration than I was prepared to give.

One liner on dying: My time, my place, my way. (189)

George recalls:
An eighty-year-old man gets up in the night because he has a bad headache that requires an Aspirin. He makes his way to the bathroom cupboard in darkness, because after years and years in a house, who needs lights? Then he's off to the kitchen for a glass of water, and next thing he's waking up on the floor with the strangest dead-fish quality to at least half his limbs and an inability to picture just what a fish would be, much less say the word. He lies waiting for answers, and learns that getting up, or unscrambling the sense of things, is not going to come naturally. (22)

Sylvia sighs:
They're used, almost, to the faltering of their own bodies, toppling in interesting and dull ways like dominoes, one ailment or pain leading to a medication that threatens to create another kind of ailment or pain and―on and on it goes, in careful kill-or-cure calibrations. Sylvia's specialist measures dicey bones and swollen joints, and while doling out anti-inflammatories and supplements and pain meds, may or may not recommend trying a newly authorized drug, that may or may not cascade into happy or unhappy long-term effects. Tough decisions. (250)

27 April 2015

Library Limelights 82

Greg Iles. Natchez Burning. New York: William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2014.
Greg Iles is a favourite, and this is a EPIC book in more ways than one (800 pages). It's a blockbuster chronicle of endemic civil rights struggles in the deep south Mississippi River country. It's also one of the most intricately plotted mysteries you might ever come across. Or one mystery after another, you could say. Penn Cage ‒ who features in other Iles novels ‒ is the mayor of Natchez; he is forced to investigate when his ailing father, Dr. Tom Cage, faces a murder charge. A swamp full of alligators might be an apt metaphor for what boils to the surface after forty years of secrets. Wayward politicians, powerful businessmen, redneck killers called Double Eagles, stubborn journalists (Penn's fiancée Caitlin is one of them), musicians, Ku Klux Klan, law enforcement ― they're all here.

Family secrets, town secrets, Double Eagles secrets: keeping them buried is worth even more murders. Penn is after the truth from surviving participants and victims of the associated racial violence. Mostly he wants to learn the truth about his uncooperative father and whether he compromised his own family. The story moves forward through dozens of characters and never stops with the surprises, threats, murder, and arson, from the 1960s assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK to the perpetuation of racism in modern fictional families. They all tie together. Truly a masterpiece of both crime fiction and history.

Swamp memories:
Sonny hadn't seen the Bone Tree since 1966, but he remembered it all too well. The colossal cypress reared up out of the swamp like the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. But this was no paradise. More than a dozen men Sonny knew of had died under that tree, and Frank claimed the real number was over a hundred. He'd shown Sonny hand-forged chain links embedded in the bark that dated back to slave times. Runaway slaves had supposedly been hanged or hobbled beneath this cypress. High inside the hollow trunk, Sonny had seen carvings Frank swore were Indian sign, from before the French came. (35)

Investigating:
"I think she knew she could trust your father to give her a painless death. To her, that was worth the risk of retaliation by the Eagles. It's about as sad as anything I ever heard."
"But she didn't get a painless death," I point out. "And that's how I know my father didn't kill her. We've got to explain all this to Shad, Henry."
Henry's skepticism is plain. "Without proof?"
"We have to get him proof. A statement from your Double Eagle source. Did you tape any of the stuff he said today?"
The reporter shakes his head. "I took good notes."
"Christ, man. You should have taped the bastard on the sly. That may have been a once-in-a-lifetime chance." (251)

Caught:
The trooper drew his pistol. "Inside the van!" he yelled. "Open the door and come out with your hands out in front of you!"Sonny Thornfield shouted something unintelligible from within.
Tom's throat sealed shut with fear.
"How many of you are in there?" called the trooper.
This time there was no response. Tom's back began to ache between his shoulder blades. He prayed it wasn't heart pain.
"Open that damned door!" the trooper yelled at Tom. "Do it now, then back away!""Hey, take it easy, brother. We got nothing to hide."
The trooper waved his gun at Tom. "You get that goddamn door open." He glared at Walt. "And you stay right where you are!"
It is heart pain, Tom realized, rotating one shoulder to try to relieve the ache. I need a nitro. (497-498)


Olen Steinhauer. The Cairo Affair. New York: Picador/Minotaur Books, 2014.
Anything with the word Cairo in it, I am likely to pick up. At first I was not comfortable with this unfamiliar author until his modus operandi became more clear. It's an espionage novel, in Steinhauer's own words, about "the mess of contemporary international relations." Indeed! At the book's beginning, Sophie sees her American diplomat husband shot before her eyes in Budapest, and she loses no time embarking on a strange few days to seek his killer. The consequences reach into consulates and intelligence agencies of several countries. No-one trusts anyone and everyone is lying.

Mainly set in Egypt in the Arab Spring of 2011, just months before the overthrow and death of Libya's Muammar Ghaddafi, the story unfolds from the perspective of four key figures. Each of their sections overlaps with the preceding so that time and timing often become jumpy or blurred; the style can be disconcerting. The invasion plan underlying and motivating the entire plot is unclear for a long time, and Sophie is rather a cipher until you grasp her inner secrets. Altogether an intriguing look at high-level duplicity and manipulation ... if you can overlook the "off of" appearing on almost every page.

One-liners:
... he showed his anxieties by launching into overstatement and weak metaphor. (181)
He tried to be agreeable for everyone, which, like most things in life, is just a matter of showing up. (215)

Re-living the nightmare:
She had never imagined that it would be like this. Not that she'd ever imagined this, but whenever she'd imagined something terrible happening before her eyes, her imagination would take in the event itself, that first taste of horror, and then ... cut: to the next day, or the next week. Her brain worked like a film editor, even dicing up actual memories, jump-cutting over hours, balking at the grimy minutes and hours that stretched between the initial shock and the final passing out, when a night's sleep would come along to wash away a little of the metallic taste of disaster. (31)

Two intelligence officers:
Eventually, Harry said, "You know, Stan, it may have nothing to do with Cairo. Maybe Emmet made the mistake of sleeping with the wrong Hungarian girl."
"Whose boyfriend just happened to be an international hit man?"
"I've seen worse luck in my time."
"I haven't," said Stan.
"Then you need to get out more." (85-6)

One intelligence officer:
He was influenced by the same misinformation the Agency had done too little to combat, the failed operations and occasional misdeeds that painted the Agency as a monster that needed to be kept caged if the world wanted its sons and daughters to remain safe. To people like Omar Halawi – and, perhaps, Busiri – CIA was part pf a conspiracy to turn the planet into drones friendly to American business. (194-5)

20 April 2015

FEC Elevators

A recent item on the Inmates Committee (IC) agenda featured Mr. OC's proposed policy for Elevator rules and regulations Etiquette. It came to his attention that the elevator company cannot continue to send repair men here every other day for malfunctions. Upper Levels in the Chain of Command are unhappy with the expenditure. And the company won't admit that elevators have minds of their own at inconvenient times. Up for discussion -

To All Tenants Inmates:
Let's work harmoniously to keep maintenance calls at a minimum:
● Pushing the down button when you are going up does not make Elevator change direction.
● Placing Elevator on hold at your floor while you go brush your teeth and check your email is a no-no.
● Stop jabbing the button repeatedly while you are waiting. Elevator knows who you are and bides its time for revenge.
● When you are inside and the door opens, please check the floor number on the wall. Elevator does tricks with the digital displays or sometimes takes a siesta and goes blank.
● When you are inside and the door does NOT open, never panic. Practice deep breathing like Jabindagar taught us in the yoga class. Call the Super on that phone in the box. He will get back to you when he remembers to look at his messages. Sit down ~ if you are able ~ to wait. It's time to break out the Smarties you have in your pocket. Share, if you have other marooned companions. Do not call the elevator company. Do not call Mr. OC. Do not call your lawyer.
● People, no more than ten (10) inmates occupants at one time: City regulation! We could be fined! Remember, a walker-frame takes the space of two people. Laundry hampers, try for any day except Saturday.

Let's practice basic Etiquette:
● We encourage you to greet your neighbours while Elevator is in transit but do not keep blocking the door open while you socialize. It makes Elevator antsy for payback time.
● Sometimes Elevator is going up when you want to go down; either get on and enjoy the ride or shut up about it.
● Above all, avoid language that is abusive, sexist, or racist. Complaint forms for the human rights tribunal are located in the mail room.
● It is acceptable to be wearing a light touch of perfume on entering Elevator. Unless Bella is on it. It is unacceptable to add any additional smell while moving and/or the doors are closed.
● No groping or premature undressing. Do not force us to install cameras.
● Take your dog down the stairs if it has a stomach complaint.
● Bicyclists, your vehicles belong in the bike racks outside. Besides, air yourself out first; your sweat stinks.
● Drivers of electric scooters should avoid elevators at peak times. Preferably at all times. Otherwise please park in the garage and crawl to your apartment.
● If the man with the beard from the 7th floor asks you for money, refer him to Simon the Manager. Do not call Mr. OC.

Mr. OC beams proudly at the IC members. "Shall we approve?" he asks.
Ms Etoile: "Brilliant. Oh, I say, brilliant!" Raising her arm for a high five, Mr. OC misinterprets and ducks, spraining his shoulder.
George: "Very thorough, old chap. But suggest we ditch your favourite word harmoniously."
Bella: "My allergy is a serious issue!"
Ophelia: "Darling, so is whatever you've got in that 'water' bottle."
Luther: "You forgot: in case of close confinement always have a pack of cards with you."
Ms Etoile: "Or a book!"
George: "What? ... lug a man purse into Elevator every time I leave home?"
Gonzo: "Archie is gonna freak about the scooters [heavy sigh]. One lawsuit at a time ... "
Mr. OC: "Don't go there, Gonzo!!"

BANG! 
Majority approval, rules and regulations notices duly posted, and Mr. OC hobbles home looking for the Voltaren tube. Now Daphne can complain once more about too many posters to read. Daphne is the only one who reads them.

Another feckless day in the life ...



10 April 2015

Library Limelights 81

Sara Paretsky. Critical Mass. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2013.
A new Paretsky is always worth waiting for, and this latest is an exceptionally intricate challenge for our heroine and narrator, PI Vic Warshawski. Her longtime friend Lotty is the inadvertent instigator of a search for the great-grandson of a 1930s Austrian physicist. Martin Binder's mother is a junkie and his grandmother is a paranoid harridan, thus little help there. Three generations of two different families come into play here, and four generations of a third. Vic is forced to rely on archival material as well as individual memories ‒ memories forgotten, hidden, elaborated, or distorted. But Vic is not the only one seeking the whereabouts of Martin, budding physics genius. Two different covert elements are after him, ready to kill.

From a drug den in a small town to the headquarters of a leading computer corporation, Vic encounters small-town cops, the most arrogant of businessmen, wartime atomic secrets, and vicious thugs, all protecting their own interests. The story is told from Vic's first-person view but a few flashbacks fill out the back story, increasing the mystery. A deceased Nobel Prizewinner concealed perhaps more than just an illegitimate birth. Some scientific references and description are involved here but not enough to make your head spin off. One conundrum leads to another as Vic desperately tries to unravel the central enigma and the connections among the interested parties. Naturally she gets beat up again (hers is not a job for physical cowards). Paretsky makes Vic and all the others living, breathing characters. Brava, Paretsky!

Kitty:
"If you're really a detective you would have kept an eye out for a tail."
"If you were really Kitty Binder, you'd want to know about your daughter. You wouldn't be lecturing me on the fine points of detection."
"Of course I'm Kitty Binder!" It was hard to make out her expression, but her voice was indignant. "You're violating my privacy, coming in to my home, asking impertinent questions. I have a right to expect you to be professional."
Everyone in America is watching way too many crime shows these days. Juries expect expensive forensic work on routine crimes; clients expect you to treat their affairs as if they worked for the CIA. Not that Kitty Binder was a client yet. (23)

Guns:
If I was going to be butting heads with drug lords on a regular basis, I'd better start taking target practice every day, and invest in Tasers and automatic pistols as well.
There's no end to the armory I could get by hanging out in the right bars, but I seldom carry the one gun I do own. Having a weapon makes you want to use it, and if you use yours the other person wants to use theirs, and then one of you gets badly hurt or dead, and the one who survives has to spend a lot of time explaining herself to the state's attorney. All of which takes time from more meaningful work, although you could argue that killing a drug dealer constitutes meaningful work. (87)

One of the scientific references:
"An Englishman named Turing wrote a paper last year on computable numbers and how they relate to the Entschiedungsproblem. He's contradicting Professor Hilbert's paradigm, which seemed like heresy." (122)

Maternal love petulance:
"He got all excited and said, 'These were supposed to come to me! Why didn't you show them to me before?'
"I told him I'd shown them to him when he was thirteen and he hadn't been interested. Was I supposed to wait on him hand and foot, checking every morning to see if he cared about some stupid old papers?"
Judy pounded the arm of her wheelchair with a feeble fist. "It was always like that with him, me, me, me. Why couldn't he ever see I had needs, too! Even as a baby he was always selfish. It's why I had to give him to my parents, I couldn't cope with someone that selfish."
"Yeah, babies tend to be thoughtless that way," I said, my throat so tight I had trouble getting the words out. (307-308)


Lee Child. Personal. New York: Delacorte Press, 2014.
Who doesn't like the adventures of Jack Reacher? So many of them, so many places where the vagabond ex-military man confronts the evil in human beings. Military and Special Forces have a way of reappearing in his life, and we're never sure about trusting them. A malicious sniper is on the loose, an international threat, his identity uncertain; is Jack, a superb marksman himself, co-opted as the hunter or as bait? He goes to France and England to find out, encountering competition to catch the killer. Typical of Reacher, he's über cool at calculating odds, percentages, and logic while the action plays out like a runaway high-speed train. Testosterone-fuelled, as they say, but not offensively so. Child's output has not been entirely even, in my opinion, but Personal strikes me as a new maturity in style.

Word: architrave (327) "a molded or decorated band framing a panel or an opening, especially a rectangular one, as of a door or window." (Thank you, dictionary.com)

It begins:
Seattle was dry when I got out of the bus, And warm. And wired, in the sense that coffee was being consumed in prodigious quantities, which made it my kind of town, and in the sense that wifi spots and handheld devices were everywhere, which didn't, and which made old-fashioned street-corner pay phones hard to find. But there was one down by the fish market, so I stood in the salt breeze and the smell of the sea, and I dialled a toll-free number at the Pentagon. Not a number you'll find in the phone book. A number learned by heart long ago. A special line, for emergencies only. You don't always have a quarter in your pocket. (5)

Reacher's philosophy on dead bad guys:
"He had a choice," I said. "He could have spent his days helping old ladies across the street. He could have volunteered in the library. I expect they have a library here. He could have raised funds for Africa, or wherever they need funds these days. He could have done a whole lot of good things. But he didn't. He chose not to. He chose to spend his days extorting money and hurting people. Then finally he opened the wrong door, and what came out at him was his problem, not mine. Plus he was useless. A waste of good food. Too stupid to live." (157-158)

Brit intelligence officer on spying:
"Try to remember, anything that ends up in the state of Maryland goes through the county of Gloucestershire first. And in reverse."
"You must be listening to the whole world."
"Pretty much."
"So who's bankrolling this thing? Have you figured that out yet?"
"Not exactly."
"And you're the A team, right? With the big brains? So much better than the rubes at Fort Meade?"
"Normally we do pretty well."
"But not this time, apparently. So now you want to dump it all on us. You want us to keep on communicating with O'Day, so you can listen in while we take all the risks."
"We didn't rule the world by being nice." (215-216)

29 March 2015

Library Limelights 80

Denise Mina. Gods and Beasts. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2012.
Catching up with another excellent tartan noir author and DS Alex Morrow. Mina has a way of introducing multiple story strands that makes us guess at connections. A fatal shooting during a robbery causes repercussions in more than one life―including the Lyons family and the mysterious young witness, Martin. A parallel story concerning Kenny Gallagher, popular but secretly sleazy politician, races to an unexpected climax. At the same time Morrow and her partner are working hard to nail a leading criminal figure. Tentacles of the murky underworld have a long reach: Morrow's brother again has a bit part; as usual, his activities and Morrow's feelings remain ambivalent.
Gods and Beasts reveals a kinder, more contented Morrow whose recent birth to twins no doubt explains it. She has more empathy for her police colleagues, some of whom are in trouble; the Professional Standards Unit (latest incarnation of the internal police investigators) is about to arrive on their doorstep. Interestingly, a lot of Mina's characters are not exactly simpatico, but nevertheless exert binding fascination. No question: this is superior crime fiction. I had to order the next Morrow book immediately.

One-liner: Jennifer's smile dropped into her lap. (237)

Kenny's wife rebounds:
"Humiliate me?" She was crying again, looked puzzled and frightened. "Do you think they should be allowed to tell lies, to humiliate me?"
He didn't know where this was going, so he shrugged. "No."
"No." She was crying and laughing. It looked disgusting. "They shouldn't be allowed to lie and humiliate me. 'Cause lying's wrong and if people just lie, and lying becomes normal, then the person who is telling the truth looks mental, don't they?"
She was calling him a liar, in their family kitchen, but Kenny decided to rise above all that and squinted as if he didn't get it. "What? Are you saying they're trying to make me look mad?"
"Tell me the truth."
"I am telling you the truth."
Through her tears, she laughed, possibly at herself. "God," she shook her head, "You're such a shallow, middle-class prick."(81-82)

DC Leonard:
"You still feeling ill?"
"Very."
"Maybe you should call in sick."
"Yeah, I think I'll have to." She glanced up and found Routher smiling again, the way he had smiled on the way there. She realized that he wasn't grinning because he had one over on her. He was smiling because he was a decent man and he liked working with her. All that other crap was her own. (95-96)

Defending her territory:
"Sir, we can't shut down whole departments every time someone leaves a bag of money at a door. You might as well give them keys to the building. We have to put on a show at least."
McKechnie understood what she was saying. "But first thing in the morning we start this." He tapped his file. "I'll be here at nine thirty."
Morrow stood up. "That's not first thing in the morning, sir, that's two hours after the shift changeover."
She looked at him and, for some reasons she couldn't quite explain, they smiled at each other. "These are good men, sir." (219)


Jussi Adler-Olsen. A Conspiracy of Faith. New York: Dutton/Penguin Group, 2013.
Carl Mørck, I am so into your world view! ... never politically correct, delegating all possible tasks, and finding endless opportunities for a wee nap. Welcome to the semi-crazed life at Copenhagen's Police Department Q at their best, the cold case squad of highly opinionated staff. Dogged assistant Assad and feisty secretary Rose are managing an asbestos problem in their basement quarters, guaranteed to drive Mørck nuts. Rose changes horses mid-stream by substituting her equally eccentric twin sister Yrsa. Mørck's home life is as chaotic as his office: lodger Morten manages the care of Mørck's paralytic colleague Hardy, while stepson Jesper threatens to move out, and almost-ex-wife Vigga threatens to move back in.
Amidst the bedlam, Mørck and his colleagues are investigating a serial killer, starting with the faintest of clues in an old bottle washed up by the sea. Victims were ― and still are being ― chosen among the children of isolated, uncommunicative, fundamental Christian communities. Several lives are in the balance as Mørck and (unknown to him) some vengeful women speed to the rescue, hoping to out-race the killer. Trust me, it's breathless! And there's more: the killer's "home life" is slowly revealed; Department Q solves a current arson case. Intricate plotting and full-fledged characters; why can't all crime novels be this good?

One-liners:
Distrust was her partner in life. (28)
Nothing's ever so bad as not to be good for something. (81)

Rose's replacement:
It was at this very moment of painful self-awareness that a series of dull thuds suddenly came from the stairs, making him think of a basketball bouncing down a flight of steps in slow motion, followed by a wheelbarrow with a flat tire. He gawped as a person came toward him looking like a housewife who had just stocked up on duty-frees from the ferries that used to ply the Øresund to Sweden. The high-heeled shoes, the pleated tartan skirt, and the garish shopping cart she dragged in her wake all screamed the fifties more than the fifties probably ever did themselves. And at the upper extremity of this gangling individual was a clone of Rose's head with the neatest peroxide perm imaginable. It was suddenly like being in a film with Doris Day and not knowing how to get out. (83-84)

The parents from hell:
And then his mother said the words that divided them forever.
"You spawn of the Devil," she spat, cold as ice. "May Satan drag you down to where you belong. May the inferno sear your skin and deliver you into pain from this day forth." She nodded emphatically. "Yes, you may well be frightened, but Satan has already taken you. You are no longer ours to care about."
She flung open the door and thrust him into the sherry fumes of his father's study.
"Come here," his father commanded, winding the belt around his hand. (206-207)

The essential Carl:
He climbed the stairs without managing so much as a word to Rose and Assad. These god-awful holidays. Jesper was home all day and his girlfriend with him. Morten was away on a cycling trip with some bloke called Preben, and they seemed to be in no hurry to get back. In the meantime, they had a nurse looking after Hardy, and Vigga was traipsing around India in the company of a man who kept two meters of hair stashed in his turban.
And he was stuck here while Mona and her kids were off tanning in Greece. If only Assad and Rose had got their arses away somewhere, too, he could have spent the whole day with his feet up on the desk watching the Tour de France in peace.
Holidays were the pits. Especially when they weren't his. (496)

21 March 2015

Library Limelights 79

Michael Crummey. Sweetland. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2014.
Man loves island; man leaves island; man returns to island. That tells you nothing about what a rich and satisfying book this is. Newfoundland outport life is full to the brim with exceptional characters in joys and heartbreaks. Shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award, it's one of those novels that defines a slice of Canada. Moses Sweetland is a retired lighthouse keeper, a lifelong resident of the island that bears his family name. The tiny cove community where he lives has been ordered to pack up and evacuate the island forever. Moses is the last holdout, for reasons he can't express; only a tragedy changes his mind temporarily.

After we are well-introduced to island life we begin to understand the family interactions, their affinity with nature, their acceptance of loss and death, their love and humour. Moses, like most, is unable to articulate his inner feelings yet we share every reaction that goes through him. Attachment to his grand-nephew Jesse is gruff and touching. There is also a bittersweet touch of mystery and suspense about survival in an unforgiving environment. Anyone who loved Proulx's The Shipping News will appreciate the deeper resonance here. I could sense within the first few pages that this is a masterpiece. Definitely not one to miss!

One-liner: They can put a man on the moon, she told him, we can bloody well have a flush toilet. (31)

The internet:
The government man gestured past him to the counter. "You have a laptop there."
Sweetland glanced over his shoulder as if to confirm the fact. "We got the internet for long ago. Does my banking on that," he said. "Bit of online poker. Passes the time." Sweetland poured the tea and took a seat directly across the table.
"You're not on Facebook, are you?"
"Look at this face," he said and the government man glanced down at the table. "Now Arsebook," Sweetland said. "That's something I'd sign up for."
"I'm sure it's coming."
"I wouldn't doubt it. Given the state of things." (6-7)

Death:
It was Uncle Clar who framed out the girl's coffin in his shop after she died. Sweetland was with him as Queenie's father shouted the child's height and her breadth at the shoulder through a window, Uncle Clar jotting the measurements on a scrap of wood. Queenie was standing against the far wall behind her father, though he couldn't see her face for shadow and she wouldn't lift her head to look his way.
Poor little lamb, Clar repeated a hundred times as he sawed and planed the boards, as he nailed and sanded and varnished. (80)

Christmas memory:
Tell us about the orange you used to get in the wool sock you had for a stocking, Pilgrim.
And you was lucky to get that, the blind man said, swinging his glass wide enough the drink lipped over the side. We'd keep the orange peel, he said, and soak it in a glass of water with a bit of sugar. And we'd drink that down, honey-sweet.
How many generations of youngsters have he bored to death with that story, I wonder.
He bored me to death with it, Clara said and rolled her eyes.
Oh kiss my arse, Pilgrim said, the both of you. He tried to get to his feet and failed, the ice in his glass rattling onto the floor. Jesus, he said. (256)


Phillip Margolin. Woman With a Gun. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014.
Here's a challenge to keep your head straight with the story's timeline jumping. It took awhile before I felt engaged. A celebrated photograph inspires a would-be novelist to meet with people involved in the old unsolved Cahill murder case; and so Stacey Kim becomes the present-day catalyst for more killing. Lawyers, police, the victim's associates, and the photographer herself are drawn into circumstances far from dead. Set in Oregon between Portland and a small beach town, the story follows the activities of several characters. The investigator Oscar and prosecutor Jack are slow on the uptake, missing some questions and clues obvious to a good reader, then take an inordinately long time to twig.

I had trouble at times with the switch between 2005 and 2015 sequences, but maybe that's just me. Some events had to be repeated from hindsight, a tricky device. It almost seemed as if a drug addiction occurred twice. When someone stabs Stacey ("buried a knife in her chest"!) she makes a remarkable recovery in a matter of one or two days (credibility, please). This is not particularly absorbing writing or exciting reading―I've found other Margolin novels more engrossing.

Jack plays tough (not):
Chartres looked panicky. His attorney told him to shut up.
"Look, Bernie, I'm gonna be honest. You've got a pretty clean record. A couple of minor assaults but nothing that would indicate you'd blow the shit out of anyone. But you're also the only suspect I've got. So, unless you help me―and, by helping me, help yourself―I'm going to be forced to bring the full weight of the law down on you. You know that old saying about a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush?"
Bernie didn't look like he had any idea why Jack was talking about birds.
"Well, you're the bird I have in my hand, and I don't have any other birds or any idea who the other little birds at the motel were." Jack squeezed his open hand into a tight fist. "So you're the only bird I can crush at this time." (61)

Ian Rankin. The Beat Goes On. UK: Orion Books, 2014.
I was so desperate to get this new Rankin, haunting the limited open hours of the FEC Library till various laggards returned the book, I didn't realize it was a short story collection. Twenty-nine of them. Short stories are not something I normally seek (Alice Munro an exception), probably because I want a good tale to go on and on forever entwining me in puzzle-solving. Therefore I had to resolve to stay the course with this one, obviously because it is Rebus! Two things new to me were the names of his ex-wife (Rhona) and daughter (Samantha). Also a girlfriend Jean preceded Siobhan. Each vignette of the man's crime-solving adventures in Edinburgh is fresh and savoury. This, despite the genre demanding more exposition than action. Rebus remains true to himself over years of Rankin's writings. So worth it! See you in the Oxford Bar in May!

Detective Constable Holmes:
Why did Rebus have to be such a clever bugger so much of the time? He seemed always to go into a case at an odd angle, like someone cutting a paper shape which, apparently random, could then be folded to make an origami sculpture, intricate and recognisable.
"Too clever for his own good," he said to himself. But what he meant was that his superior was too clever for Holmes' own good. (110)

The day after a close call:
It was good of Holmes to look in, no matter what the motive. And it was good of him not to stay, too. Rebus needed time to be alone, needed time and space enough to think. He had told Holmes he never thought about it, never thought about death. That was a lie; he thought about it all the time. (148)

New Year's Eve:
Rebus shivered and turned away. Four minutes to midnight. He hated crowds. Hated drunken crowds more. Hated the fact that another year was coming to an end. He began to push through the crowd with a little more force than necessary. (150-151)

Well-being:
He bought a National Lottery ticket when opportunity arose, but often didn't get round to checking the numbers. He had half a dozen tickets lying around, any one of which could be his fortune. He quite liked the notion that he might have won a million and not know it; preferred it, in fact, to the idea of actually having the million in his bank account. What would he do with a million pounds? Same as he'd do with fifty thou – self-destruct.
Only faster. (302)

Rankin himself on Rebus & Edinburgh:
What did become obvious to me early on was that a detective makes for a terrific commentator on the world around him. ... In writing books about Edinburgh, I could examine the city (and the nation of which it is capital once more) from top to bottom through Rebus' eyes. ... As a subject, the city seems inexhaustible. This is, after all, a city of words. (449)