Gillian Flynn. Dark Places. New York: Broadway Books/Random House, Inc., 2009
Flynn is probably best known for her Gone Girl, also recently a film, to great praise, although some have questioned how credible are parts of the tale. The same might apply to Dark Places since it is in the works as a film (hey, the book is always better ...!). But it's a mystery-lover's perfect stew with a wide choice of alternate killer scenarios. Much more to the fore than credibility is Flynn's incomparable portrayal of family members and the Kansas ambiance. The exceptional, seductive prose quickly inserts us into the hardscrabble lives of the Day family.
Libby Day is a now-grown but damaged child since most of her family was horrifically murdered one dark, wintry night. Her brother Ben was convicted. We follow Libby's quest for the truth as her narrative alternates with that of Ben and their mother Patty. The very imperfections of the characters bring them to visceral life. Every sentence conjures vivid images. Flynn has already soared into the top ranks of American crime writers. Her debut novel, Sharp Objects, was reviewed in Library Limelights back in January 2014.
Libby lunches with her trustee:
"But," continued Jim Jeffreys, "I think everyone would like to hear you're doing well."
"What about college?" he chewed off a hunk of meat.
"What about we try to set you up in some sort of office job, filing and whatnot?"
"No." I folded in on myself, ignoring my meal, projecting glumness. That was another of my mom's words: glum. It meant having the blues in a way that annoyed other people. Having the blues aggressively.
"Well, why don't you take a week and do some thinking on it?" He was devouring his steak, his fork moving up and down briskly. Jim Jeffreys wanted to leave. Jim Jeffreys was done here. (9)
She rinsed her hands, chapped, red and hard, and glanced at herself in the mirror, making sure her eyes weren't wet. She was thirty-two but looked a decade older. Her forehead was creased like a child's paper fan, and crow's feet rayed out from her eyes. Her red hair was shot with white, wiry threads, and she was unattractively thin, all bumps and points, like she'd swallowed a shelf's worth of hardware: hammers and mothballs and a few old bottles. She did not look like the kind of person you'd want to hug, and, in fact, her children never snuggled into her. (61)
When I was fourteen, I thought a lot about killing myself―it's a hobby today, but at age fourteen it was a vocation. On a September morning, just after school started, I'd gotten Diane's .44 Magnum and held it, baby-like, in my lap for hours. What an indulgence it would be, to just blow off my head, all my mean spirits disappearing with a gun blast, like blowing a seedy dandelion apart. But I thought about Diane, and her coming home to my small torso and a red wall, and I couldn't do it. It's probably why I was so hateful to her, she kept me from what I wanted the most. I just couldn't do it to her, though, so I made a bargain with myself: If I still feel this bad on February 1, I will kill myself. And it was just as bad on February 1, but again I made the bargain: If it's this bad May 1, I'll do it. And so on. I'm still here. (153)
Denise Mina. Garnet Hill. UK: Bantam Press, 1998.
I lucked into this paperback somewhere forgotten now. It won Mina the John Creasey Award for Best First Crime Novel back in the day (and she hasn't slowed down since). The book was just what I wanted, a submersion into the lives of Glasgow people managing to get by, people with an unquenchable spirit. Maureen O'Donnell is a mental illness survivor, seeking retribution for the victims of hidden crimes. The police are a little slow on the uptake, and her dysfunctional family headed by a mother known by her children as Drunk Winnie are no support. In her dangerous search for the single perpetrator, Maureen balances between panic and dignity, and not without humour.
A series of crimes only comes to light when a man is murdered in Maureen's own home. He's a married man with whom she's been having an affair. Maureen does not become a suspect, but clearly there's a different, yet unknown personal connection. The feisty young woman determines to unravel the mystery as inevitably we learn about her harrowing childhood experience. Her brother Liam and loyal friend Leslie, among others, provide some needed assistance. Wonderful characterization, an absorbing read.
Word: teuchter (246) ― a slightly derogatory but humourous lowland Scots term for a highland Scot.
One-liner: Siobhain sighed the deepest sigh Maureen had ever heard, like all the Mothers of Ireland breathing out at one time. (305)
Part of a police interview:
"Your mother said you had a psychiatrist," said McEwan.
"My mother drinks too much too often. She's in tune with the moon a lot of the time."
A hint of a smile floated across McEwan's face. "How would you know if you were having a breakdown?"
"I'm not having one, if that's what you meant. When depressives have a breakdown it's pretty obvious. We can't function or get ourselves out of the house. If I was having a breakdown you'd be able to tell."
McEwan looked at McMummb, who must have done a two-day course in psychology. He nodded his confirmation and McEwan turned back to her. McMummb sat back and blushed with delight at McEwan's deference. (50-51)
The school had found out that Winnie was an alki when the headmistress phone her about Liam's disruptive behaviour in class. Winnie staggered up to the school, told the school secretary she was a wanker and fell asleep in the waiting room. She couldn't be wakened. George had to come and get her, carrying her out of the school and into the car, still snoring her head off. The teachers stopped giving them a hard time after that, they looked on them pityingly and made allowances when they didn't do homework. It was insulting the way they spoke to them, as if their lives were pathetic and always would be, as if they couldn't help themselves. Maureen would rather have been treated as a bad child than a sad one. (96)
Yvonne's hair was honey blonde, turning brown through lack of sun and cut into a short, manageable, hospital style. She was sitting in an orthopaedic armchair; cushions had been placed between her hips and the chair sides to stop her slipping over. A freshly puffed pillow in a transparent plastic cover lay in front of her on the table attachment. She was slumped over it, her hands in her lap. Her glassy blue eyes were half open, her cheek was resting on the plastic-covered pillow in the slick of warm saliva dribbling horizontally out of her mouth. She was forty at most. ... It was a long time since Yvonne had had an expression on her face. (283)
Iain Banks. Stonemouth. New York: Penguin Books LLC, 2012.
Not nice to admit, but I couldn't wait for this book to finish. In my increasing quest to understand the nuances of Scottish accents, words, and idioms, this looked like a good bet with a criminal element involved. Alas, I didn't read the fine print about "rite of passage" and so, ultimately, it was really centred on a summer of young love. Young love, the consequences, and much discussion in the aftermath; discussion often tedious from an old cynic's point of view. Stewart Gilmour had good reason to be wary of returning to visit his hometown near Aberdeen. Resolving old relationships and avoiding several thrashings keep him very busy. Language insight: 8 out of 10.
Words: numpty - "the slow kid who got jokes last or not at all and who always needed help with answers" (138)
winny - worry; fankle - a tangle impossible to untangle
Full-on Scottish country dancing like this is a sight and a sound to behold, and not for the faint-hearted. Aside from a few gentle dances like St. Bernard's Waltz – basically for the grans and grandads, so they can shuffle around the floor recalling past and limber glories while everybody else is at the bar – it's all fairly demented stuff, with rugby-sized-scrum packs of drunken people whirling around the room in progressively more fragmented rabbles trying to remember what the hell happens next.
The Gay Gordons is effectively choreographed chaos and an Eightsome Reel is a deranged marathon requiring a PhD in dance. Two hundred and fifty-six bars of dashing, reversing, turning, skipping, pas-de-basing, jump-stepping, successively-partner-swapping-until-you-get-back-to-the-one-you-started-with music is common, but the Eightsome properly lasts for four hundred and sixty-four bars, and no matter how fit you are at the start it's always awfully good to get to the end. (197)
"Oh, I think about what I actually do," I tell her, "and Ferg's right: I point lights at big buildings. I'm an exterior decorator fussing over the phallic substitutes of rich boys. I window dress the grotesque status symbols of a kleptocratic worldwide plutocracy, the undeserving elite of the far-too-impressed-with-themselves über rich. It's exciting, it's rewarding, it's well paid and it takes me all over the world, and so long as I don't actually think about it I have a great time." (315)