04 April 2018

Library Limelights 157

Dennis Lehane. Since We Fell. Large Print. USA: HarperCollins Publishers, 2017.
It's a long time since I read Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island, et al) and I scarcely recognize him. This book is all Rachel ... a driven journalist in Boston, missing a lot of love and security from an early age. She takes her television crew to Haiti for an extended time, reporting on the horrendous, chaotic aftermath of earthquake and cholera. But the toll of living with such fear and survivor guilt is a public panic attack that costs her job; she becomes a self-imposed shut-in. When she marries Brian, his patient love slowly helps her overcome the pernicious agoraphobia. Being with Brian is safe. There's much more to the relationship and her parents, but halfway through the book I am wondering is this a mystery? ... more like a catalogue of anxiety and despair.

It took that long to grab me because suddenly Rachel makes strange discoveries about Brian. He appears to have a double life or is it her paranoia playing tricks? Nevertheless, the urgency to investigate takes her out of the house and into a whole new dimension. She finds the two of them are involved in a devious, choreographed plot that threatens to fall apart. Yet Brian points out that Rachel has never been so alive as when facing danger and possible death when she's anything but safe. Add some guns and dead bodies. Altogether a different kind of crime book from the multi-talented author.

Lee looked like the worst boyfriend and greatest fuck of all time. (135)
A marriage, her mother often said, was only as strong as your next fight. (242)
It was full dark now, the dark of Germanic fairy tales and solar eclipses. (463)

Finding dad:
She thought she'd known what it was to feel alone but she hadn't. She'd had an illusion to keep her company, a belief in a false god. A mythical father. When she saw him again, she'd been telling herself in one way or another since she was three years old, she'd feel whole, if nothing else. But now she had seen him again, and he was no more connected to her than the tractor. (60)

Panic strikes:
While Brian was legging back from Hamburg one morning, she got into a cab on Beacon Street. They'd driven four blocks when she realized she'd entrusted a complete stranger with carrying her safely across the city for money. She had him pull over, overtipped him, and got out of the cab. She stood on the sidewalk, and everything was too bright, too sharp. Her hearing was too acute, as if the ear canals had been cored; she could hear three people on the other side of Mass Ave talking about their dogs. A woman, ten feet below on the river path, berated her child in Arabic. A plane landed at Logan. Another took off. And she could hear it. Could hear the cars honking on Mass Ave, and cars idling on Beacon and revving their engines on Storrow Drive. 
Luckily there was a trash barrel nearby. She took four steps and threw up in it. (194-5)

Cold Comfort?
She felt closer to death than at any time since Leógâne. She felt it emerge through the floorboards and penetrate her body, conjoin with her blood and pull her back down through the floor into the cellar of the next world. 
That's what was waiting, what had always been waiting, the next world. Whether it was above or below, white or black, cold or warm, it was not this world with its comforts and distractions and knowable ills. Maybe it was nothing at all. Maybe it was just absence. Absence of self, absence of sense, absence of soul or memory. 
She realized now that in Haiti, even before the camp, as far back as Port-au-Prince and the corpses smoldering in the streets and stacked in the parking lot of the hospital, stacked like old cars in junkyards, beginning to swell and balloon in the heat, as far back as then, the truth of their deaths became the truth of her own: We are not special. We are lit from within by a single candle flame, and when that flame is blown out and all light leaves our eyes, it is the same as if we never existed at all. We don't own our life, we rent it. (441)

Graham Hurley. The Order of Things. UK: Orion Books, 2015.
A favourite ... meaning his series that began with Portsmouth detective Joe Faraday and continued with Exeter detective Jimmy Suttle. At this point, Jimmy is long separated from wife Lizzie who revived her journalism career. Lizzie decides to investigate the same bizarre murder that's baffling Jimmy and his bosses ‒ from her own perspective. Alois Bentner, an eccentric climatologist, is the most likely suspect in the death of his wife, physician Harriet Reilly. But he has disappeared. His neighbour is wanted as a potential witness but she too is elusive. Turns out Harriet was quietly practising assisted dying, as Lizzie uncovers, opening a whole new perspective. Lizzie feeds her discoveries to Jimmy who is conflicted about revealing his source.

Lizzie's motive for sharing may be personal as well as professional: Jimmy has found a deeply satisfying personal relationship with Oona. Several of the characters exhibit personality contradictions to keep us guessing. Anthropologist Gemma Caton does not quite come across as the magnetic, persuasive force of her academic reputation. Between her and Bentner, we get doom's day climate change and nostalgic reverence for simpler ways of life, particularly as among indigenous tribes of the Pacific Northwest. Compiling evidence to convict a murderer is a slow job with emotional reactions on all sides. Yet again, a compelling read from Hurley.

Nice man if he liked you, but aggression on legs if he didn't. (60)
"Money always has the loudest voice and the deafest ears." (104)
For a man so short of social graces he had the rare knack of being able to voice his grief. (222)

Brilliant climatologist. Crap human being. (20)
"God made tidiness for the also-rans. Sure sign of a second-rate mind." (192)

Hearing about the final scene:
He had baked her a special cake, a recipe he'd acquired in one of their excursions across the Channel. He bought a bottle of Krug and another of Armagnac for afterwards. They spent an entire evening mulling over music and finally settled on Ravel's G major Piano Concerto.
"Do you know it at all?"
"I'm afraid not."
"Sublime. Utterly wonderful. Upbeat, mysterious, challenging, full of surprises, not a whisper of regret."
Not a whisper of regret. Lizzie wanted to hear this music. Share this departure, this take-off, this release.
"Do you have a copy?"
"Of the music? Ravel?"
"Of course."
He was on his feet in a second. He looked delighted. He went across to the oak cabinet where he kept his player and CDs. He loaded the machine and then disappeared. When he came back he was carrying three glasses and a bottle of what looked like champagne.
"It's not Krug, I'm afraid, but it's not bad." (67)

Human depredation:
"There's a word Ali loves to use," she said at last. "Overburden. It comes from the oil industry. It means all the useless stuff on top like trees and grasses and meadows these oil people have to shift before they go after the black stuff locked up below. Trees are Alois' business. As a climatologist, that's where he made his name. What they've done to Alberta seriously upsets him. He's been out there for a look. The Athabasca tar sands. He says it's beyond belief. Press him just a little bit, not much, and you get to the heart of it. The way Alois sees it, the overburden, the real overburden, isn't nature at all. It's us. He thinks we're the parasites. He thinks we're the takers. Once he told me that when it came to the planet we were death on legs." (103-4)

Estranged wifely wisdom:
"The point is we're very happy. We live apart. We have our separate spaces. We see each other lots. It works. That's rare."
"Great. Until she wants a baby."
"Funny you should say that."
"It's not rocket science, my love. It's the way we're programmed. How old is she?"
"I'll give it six months. Max."
"She's on the pill."
"That's what we all say. Until we're not."
"What is all this?" Suttle was laughing now."Should I ask for a lawyer? Go No Comment? What do you think?"
"Is that a serious question?"
"Are there other sorts?"
"Never, Jimmy. Not in your world." (111)

M.R. Hall. The Disappeared. UK: Pan Books/Macmillan, 2010.
No, it's not los desaparecidos. It's English countryside on the border with Wales. Just the name of Severn Vale District Coroner Jenny Cooper seems to promise a mild idyll in a decorous coroner's court ... but far from it. The disappearance eight years ago of two physics students comes to the fore with an anguished mother's plea; the Secret Service and/or MI5 heft all their authority to muzzle an inquest. Jenny also faces several unidentified bodies in her morgue. Not only that, she is a bundle of nerves, medicated against the trauma of her own unsolved childhood mystery. Dredging up witnesses from long ago is complicated by a shadowy American figure and McAvoy, the attractive, lawless Scotsman.

A coroner's inquest makes a great setting for complex drama. Jenny scrambles to locate witnesses and stay strong enough to manage her own court. Some witnesses recant or change their original police testimony. Perhaps the missing boys were jihadist recruits, or nuclear industry spies, or perhaps even worse; higher forces continue trying to shut Jenny down. Good writing here ‒ ex-policewoman Alison, the coroner's officer, and Jenny's teenage son Ross, among others, are skillfully woven into Jenny's world. But when you catch your breath after the abrupt cliffhanger ending, too many questions are still unanswered. Unusual applies to the whole proceeding. Jenny has adventures (this is the second book in a series) and I will certainly latch onto the next; maybe the missing answers will turn up.

"I wouldn't be surprised if he got the cancer if he doesn't find her soon." (31)
A coroner only ever acted alone, she had to remind herself; a coroner was independent and answered only to the Lord Chancellor. (117)

"You wanted to live with a teenager. Reality check." (40)
"How could she fall? Those railings must be waist high." (190)
"A heartless heart surgeon. Work that one out." (297)

Difference of opinion:
When insecure, Alison cleaved to institutions ‒ the police, the church ‒ and resisted anything that threatened them. It was irrational, but who was Jenny to pass judgement? Without her medication she was beset by irrational fears too.
"Her son's been declared dead," Jenny said. "She's entitled to an investigation, however limited. I doubt very much it'll amount to anything."
Alison's hostility hung in the air like an unwelcome presence long after she'd left the office. (28)

Managing personal darkness:
She tried to analyse her feelings. Random, unjust and terrifying were the inadequate words which came to mind. Why, for the last three years of her life, she had been haunted and occasionally overwhelmed by such deep and unsettling forces she was scarcely closer to knowing than when they had first made themselves felt. She had made some modest progress. Only six months before, she was limping through the days with the help of handfuls of tranquillizers and bottles of wine. Dr Allen had helped her break both habits. She was medicated, but holding herself together: she functioned. And she had proved that the mask she hid behind was not as flimsy as she feared. (38)

Life with boy:
"You're so moody all the time. Why can't you just relax like other people?"
"Dear God, I'm doing my best."
"Yeah, right."
"The atmosphere in this place ... I don't know what's wrong with you."
"With me? I've kept my side of the bargain. How could I possibly try harder ‒ tell me, I'd love to know."
"You never calm down. Never."
Jenny opened her mouth to reply, but the words caught in her throat and she felt her eyes welling.
"See what I mean?"
"Ross —"
He shook his head and went back through the door to join his girlfriend. (92-3)

Speculation on the missing:
"When they disappeared I was only beginning to understand the nature of the problem. But now I can tell you, if I were to draw a template for the ideal recruit to the extremist cause, both of them would fit it perfectly. Middle class, highly intelligent, ambitious, culturally displaced and as emotionally vulnerable as any young person. They were there for the taking." (186)

28 March 2018

Others Speak

" ... as Confucius said, a man who stands on a hill with his mouth open will wait a long time for roast duck to drop in." from Carolyn Abraham, The Juggler's Children, A Journey into Family, Legend and the Genes That Bind Us.

A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. - Mark Twain

I don't feel old. I don't feel anything until noon. Then it's time for my nap. - Bob Hope

22 March 2018

Library Limelights 156

Robert K. Tanenbaum. Trap. New York: Gallery Books, 2015.
An old friend ... with, sadly, few moments of his previously enjoyed depth of characters and plot. New York DA Butch Karp faces the death of a friend in a fatal car bombing; corruption among civic and union officials is the major contributing element. Two disaffected young men are involved, but there's no mystery about who did what. The ugliness of racism runs freely through the story; Tanenbaum is actually giving an extended Holocaust history lecture. His own two sons are preparing for bar mitzvah as they become entangled with a kidnapper. His wife Marlene shoots to kill. But those are their very limited appearances, unlike earlier Karp-family-centred books.

Karp prosecutes a killer and nails the corrupt bad guys all in one trial. One questions why he didn't recuse himself, what with his family's involvement and witnesses accusing him of corruption. What's irritating and tiring is the repetitive straying from a brief beginning on the current day into descriptions of what happened yesterday. Or last week. Or last month. The trial itself particularly meanders back and forth, past and present, in this vein until one wonders why a more straightforward narrative was avoided, why so much avoidance of "real time." No surprises here at all ... disappointing from a bestselling author.

"You're free to go back and report that you followed her here and did your job." (81)
He was going to get his revenge and then he'd be on his way to the Promised Land. (150)
"I was about ready to tar, feather, and ride myself out of town on a rail." (168)

"I've already killed three guys today and they were my friends. Shooting you will be even easier." (151-2)
"Karp hates unions. Unions hate Karp." (197)

Teachers union dispute:
"Everybody can't go to charter schools, Rose," he said quietly. "If this bill goes through, it will hurt all those kids who attend public schools."
Looking at her former protégé Lubinsky shook her head. "So keep the status quo, Micah? The system you had to fight and claw your way out of?" She tilted her head and smiled tightly. "So that fat cats like this man you've allied yourself with can live the good life while public schools swirl down the drain, taking all those kids with them? We offer a chance for the kids to capture the dream and, yes, hope, Micah, and the possibility of change. I can't believe I'm hearing this from you of all people." (18)

Paying the piper:
Gallo turned toward Monroe. "Did you do this?" he asked, his throat suddenly bone dry and his voice coming out as a croak.
Monroe sat back in his seat and laced his fingers together behind his head as he studied Gallo. Then he shook his head. "Fuck no," he said. "It was probably those Nazi assholes. They didn't like her 'cause she was a Jew. Hope they all fry in hell."
"I got to go," Gallo said, grabbing his coat off the back of the chair.
"Yeah, sure," Monroe said. "This is upsetting news. But Micah ..."
"Who butters your bread?"
"You do. Tommy."
"Attaboy, you just remember that and you'll be fine." (84)

"And why would using the term 'skinhead' be inaccurate?" Karp asked.
"Well, the so-called 'skinhead movement,' or group, started in England as a working class youth subculture comprised of whites and blacks," Fulton explained. "They were identifiable by some of their dress, such as Doc Martens boots, as well as shaving their scalps, thus the term 'skinheads.' However it wasn't until this subculture arrived in the United States that it took an offshoot lean toward white supremacist ideology. They've kept the clothing and the bald heads, but 'real' skinheads both here and in England actually resent the racism and fascist ideology. The two groups will even clash if they encounter one another."
"So even though the media might refer to that group demonstrating across the street from Il Buon Pane as 'skinheads,' it is more accurate to identify them as Nazis and racists?"
"That's correct." (181)

Mick Herron. Dead Lions. USA: Soho Press, Inc., 2013.
Can't get enough of this author and his stable of eccentric slow horses! The Slough House ("MI5 satellite office for outcast and demoted spies") series goes like this: Slow Horses; Dead Lions; Real Tigers; Spook Street; and soon ... London Rules. Jackson Lamb's slovenly outward appearance hides a rude and devious mind, especially in dealing with his subordinates. Louisa and Min get to oversee the visit of a Russian oil oligarch; Catherine, personal assistant to Lamb, dictates internet searches to a reluctant Roddy Ho; River Cartwright tries to live up to his grandfather's excellent espionage record; Shirley and Marcus feel left out. But they are all, in one way or another, following the trail to the source of MI5 low-level agent Dickie Bow's suspicious death.

It's the craziest mashup of teamwork, from London's sky-high Needle tower to a sleepy village in the Cotswolds. Lamb himself uncovers the code word cicada, an insect that buries itself for long periods and then emerges to sing. He's been in the service long enough to know where some Cold War bodies are buried and whom he can blackmail to get certain results. Bureaucratic politics at MI5 are almost as lethal as secret Russian agents planning terrorist attacks. Oddly assembled but with touchingly intimate moments, the Slough House cohort operate a bit as if Basil Fawlty were running a detective agency. But never doubt that Herron has a fast-moving, intricate spy story as well as being deliciously entertaining. Long may he write!

"Dickie Bow might have been just the grit of sand on the tracks to throw the locomotive." (72)
The building opposite used to be a pub, and maybe hoped to be a pub again one day, but for the time being was making do as an eyesore. (78)
"You can take the man out of Russia," Lamb observed, "but he'll still reckon he's some kind of tragic fucking poet." (107)
Everyone was friendly and nobody had tried to set fire to him yet. (202)

When lions yawn, it doesn't mean they're tired. It means they're waking up. (37)
Lamb looked at him, chewing. He kept chewing so long it became sarcastic. (137)
"Like any other branch of the Civil Service, all the work's done low on the food chain. Everyone else just has meetings." (326)

The daily grind:
It was Marcus who made the first move, and this was a single word: "So."
It was late morning. London weather was undergoing a schizoid attack: sudden shafts of sunlight, highlighting the grimy windows; sudden flurries of rain, failing to do much to clean it.
"So what?"
So here we are."
Shirley Dander was waiting for her computer to reboot. Again. It was running face-recognition software, comparing glimpses snatched from CCTV coverage at troop-withdrawal rallies with photofit images of suspected jihadists; that is, jihadists suspected of existing; jihadists who had code names and everything, but night have been rumoured into being by inept Intelligence work. While the program was two years out-of-date it wasn't as out of date as her PC, which resented the demands placed upon it, and had made this known three times so far this morning. (17)

Lamb holds a meeting:
Lamb said, "I've forgotten your name."
"Longridge," said Marcus.
"I don't want to know. I was making a point." Lamb plucked a stained mug from the litter on his desk, and threw it at Catherine. River caught it before it reached her head. Lamb said, "Well, I'm glad we had this chat. Now fuck off. Cartwright, give that to Standish. Standish, fill it with tea. And you, I've forgotten your name again, go next door and get my lunch. Tell Sam I want my usual Tuesday."
"It's Monday."
"I know it's Monday. If I wanted my usual Monday, I wouldn't have to specify, would I?" He blinked. "Still here?" (61-2)

Once a spook ...:
The Russian opened a drawer and found cigarette papers and a packet of tobacco, embossed with rich brown curly writing. Rolling a prisoner's pinch into a thin smoke, he asked Lamb, "You here to kill me?"
"I hadn't given it any thought," Lamb said. "You deserve killing?"
Katinsky considered. "Lately, not so much," he said at last. Then, "There's a shop on Brewer Street. You can get Russian tobacco there. Polish chewing gum. Lithuanian snuff." He scratched a match, and held the flame to his tightly-rolled cylinder, starting a small fire he swiftly sucked out of existence. "At any given moment, half its customers used to be spooks. You've been described to me on many occasions." Match extinguished, he replaced it in the box. "So, what do you want with me, Jackson Lamb?"
"Little chat about old times, Nicky."
"There are no old times. Don't you keep up? Memory Lane's been paved over. They built a shopping mall on it." (106-7)

Michael Dobbs. The Edge of Madness. 2008. Large Print, UK: ISIS Publishing, 2009.
Madness it is, and so prognostic. Cyber warfare may replace military strength and nuclear threats. All it takes is a hacker or two fiddling with essential services controlled by computer technology government communications, hydro dams, medical administration, food delivery, the building and release of weapons, whatever. In Dobbs' scenario, the leaders of Great Britain, Russia, and the USA hold a very secret meeting to combat the global confusion being wreaked by China. Plus one chosen loyal assistant each, they gather in a Scottish castle to find common ground for a plan of action; it's urgent that they act together.

Brit PM Mark D'Arby has Harry Jones, an MP and former soldier; Russian president Sergei Shunin has his son-in-law Lavrenti Konev; and American president Blythe Edwards has Marcus Washington, a hawkish black man. The unlikely gathering is far overshadowed by world reality around us today. And Dobbs makes the most of his characters, although the Russians and Chinese veer toward cartoon stereotypes, the latter leader having even taken the name of Mao. Harry performs like a superhuman. I note that it's the woman who hesitates in moral angst. China pushes a few buttons while the big three argue. What could possibly go wrong? Perfect movie material, one main bad guy. Dobbs has just the right touch of humour, but plenty doom's day stuff to consider here.

"And the Chinese have a collective memory that makes the Encyclopaedia Brittanica look like a comic strip." (94)
Sometimes the definition of civilisation seemed to have indistinct and very grubby edges. (198)
The desk engineer gasped, his thoughts overwhelmed by the sudden outpouring of alarms. (249)
"We leave here without an agreement and we're dead men walking, all of us." (267)

"Russia has never been happy unless it had its neighbours by the neck. Now Mao wants to repay the compliment." (147)

The premise:
Cyber warfare. The concept was simple, the ramifications endless. The use of computers to disable, deceive, or destroy your enemy. To cause chaos in their control systems, to make them malfunction, to do things they shouldn't, to mess around and foul up your enemy so badly that they lose their will to fight. The theory was simple: anything that had a computer chip could be attacked, and nowadays everything had a computer chip ― (93-4)

It's a go:
That was the agreed signal, a word opaque enough to confuse anyone trying to listen in. That was odd, too, it was as though Whitehall no longer trusted their own secure communications. He glanced down at the blotter on his desk. 'Beware of Russians bearing leaks,' he had scribbled. He sighed and scratched his balding head, more confused than ever. Damn world had grown so complicated. Difficult to know whose side you were on. How he missed the Cold War. (102-3)

She shook her head, not in contradiction but in confusion. "I'm not sure I can accept that. There are rules, laws. We mustn't forget the hand of history is on our shoulders."
"Nor must we forget that Mao's hand is at our throats," Shunin added drily.
"So what are you suggesting, Papasha?" Konev asked.
"I repeat," Shunin replied, in a manner that suggested he wasn't used to repeating himself, "there is only one way to persuade Mao, and that's to get rid of him." He picked at a sliver of lobster flesh he had found attached to his thumb. "Permanently." (198)

Two old friends:
"I've always admired you, Harry ― envied you, your strength of character, your independence. So rare in the sport we play at Westminster. I should have realized you wouldn't be like the others. My mistake. A pity. For both of us."
"Are you threatening me?"
"Oh, I thought I was flattering you. But ..." D'Arby wiped the corner of his mouth, his pale blue eyes bored into Harry."Whatever it takes, Harry. Whatever it takes."
"You brought me here to watch your back. Now it seems I'll have to watch mine."
"We all dig our own graves," the Prime Minister whispered, before walking out the door. (268)

13 March 2018

Library Limelights 155

Melanie Raabe. The Trap. Canada: House of Anansi Press, 2016.
This German writer sets her debut book in Munich. Housebound for eleven years but a highly successful novelist, Linda Conrads sees a journalist on television and recognizes him as the man who murdered her sister Anna. And also indirectly caused her own isolation. Until now, she knew only his face; the police never solved the case. Did the police even believe that she witnessed the killer? Linda pens a new book, a murder mystery out of character for her, thinly disguising the real events of Anna's death in an elaborate effort to trap this Victor Lenzen. Her alter-ego is Sophie, whose sister dies. Linda's mantra is the way out of fear leads through fear.

Pages from Linda's book alternate with reality around her. The clever device sucks us in until we wonder which version is the reality. In other words, not everything is as it seems ... the hallmark of a good suspense writer. Linda is mentally fragile in some ways; she has guilt that she couldn't prevent Anna's death. Her retreat from the outside world becomes clearer as she struggles with depression and panic attacks. Clues to the truth are scattered here and there, but so are false clues. Confrontation with Lenzen is inevitable. Page-turner, yes!

"In real life, a woman like that would be unbearable." (131)
I am overcome by the fear of being stark raving mad. (182)
It's his truthhis skewed, distorted, cobbled-together, self-righteous truth. (263)

"A book must be an axe for the frozen sea within us," he says in an almost accusatory tone.
"Kafka," I say. (45)

A friend:
"The book is an axe, Norbert."
He looks at me, suspicious, then shrugs his shoulders. With a single look I try to say all the things I can't put into words. I scream: I'm terribly frightened, I don't want to die, I need someone to talk to, I'll drop down dead if he leaves now, I feel like the loneliest person on the planet.
My publisher says goodbye with a smack on each cheek. I watch him disappear into the night. I don't want him to go. I want to tell him everythingabout the earthquake, about Anna. I want to tell him my plans. He's my last chancethe safety of the shore, my anchor. I open my mouth to call out to him, but I can no longer see him. It's too late; he's disappeared, cast off.I'm on my own. (46)

I work out hard. I enjoy the pain during the last round of weight-liftingthat burning, screeching feeling that tells me that I am still alive, after all. My body remembers different things from my brain: walks in the woods and aching calves; nights of dancing and sore feet; jumping in a pool on a hot day and the way your heart seizes up before it decides to carry on beating. My body reminds me what pain feels like. And it reminds me what love feels likedark and crimson and confusing. I realise what a long time it is since I last touched anyone, or since anyone touched me. (65-6)

Truth mission:
I have to find out what happened on that goddamn night, and I have to hear it from his own mouth. The thought of Kerner and his DNA samples reassures me. He is my safety net. I'm going to get Lenzen. One way or another. (76)

I feel his fearthe fear he feels for himself, but more than anything else the fear he feels for his daughter. It's written all over his face.That face. I notice again that he has a sprinkling of freckles. I can imagine what he must have looked like as a little boybefore life, before the wrinkles. Interesting wrinkles. I catch myself thinking that I'd like to touch his face, just to know what it feels like. I remember my beautiful grandma and her lovely lined face. Lenzen's face would feel different beneath my fingersfirmer.I brush the thought aside. What am I doing? I'm like a child at the zoo who wants to stroke the tiger even though she's quite old enough to know that it would tear her limb from limb.Get a grip on yourself, Linda.I mustn't let myself get carried away by my pity. (154-5)

Linwood Barclay. Parting Shot. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2017.
So reliable, this author, and always full of surprises! Stand-alone, but with repeat characters P.I. Cal Weaver (first person narrator) and Promise Falls policeman Barry Duckworth (third person perspective) wherein two separate problems challenge them unbeknownst to each other. Weaver is hired to protect a spoiled teenager from threats of revenge after a highly-publicized car accident; anonymity for young Jeremy seems impossible in a world where cyber-bullying is endemic. Brian, victim of the oddest crime, innocently activates a string of murders. Duckworth more than has his hands full with that while Weaver contends with Jeremy's materialistic mother Gloria and her entourage, which turns into something much more dangerous.

Duckworth encounters elder abuse; tattoo artists; fathers and sons; the horrendously scarred victim of an unknown sadist. He's dismayed to find his own son Trevor as a potential witness of a killer. One father manages to commit a vigilante act without crossing anyone's radar. Weaver is beset with doubts about Jeremy's recent past. We expect the two detectives (who are acquaintances) to find a connection between their mushrooming problems and meet, but it comes late. It's such a pleasure to sink into Barclay's world of Promise Falls, NY, and match wits with a master story-teller. Admittedly, I love the dialogue-driven characters. Always recommended!

It was like a cancer, all this social media shaming. (195)
You'd think, a town the size of Promise Falls, one forensics team would be enough. (274)

"I'm not a bodyguard, Jeremy. I'm a detective." (326)

Teen lecture:
"You looked scared to me."
"Yeah, right. I'm fucking shaking in my boots."
"Fine," I said. Look, I know the whole world's been calling you a big baby and you want to show them you're not. I get that. But the fact is, a little bit of fear is a good thing. It makes you smarter. It makes you pay attention. Now, all I'm hired to do is have a look at your level of security, and right now I'd say it's zero. A good portion of the blame goes to you and your mother for being too free with what you say online. You might as well have put a billboard on your grandmother's front lawn advertising your arrival. Part of you wants to bust out and party, but part of you knows you may actually be in danger. That's what I saw when I looked at you on the porch."
Jeremy didn't say anything for several seconds. "Maybe. But only a little." (90)

"The two of you work together a lot?" I asked.
"We've done a few deals," Broadhurst said, smiling. He had a hand on Bob's shoulder. "Just doing what I can to make Bob here a rich man. Isn't that right, Bob?"
Bob offered up a smile as genuine as a spray-on tan. He said, "Last year Galen bought several blocks in downtown Albany. It's part of a proposal for some new state government offices."
"Well," I said. "I'm sure it's all over my head."
"I would imagine so," Broadhurst said. He reached out a hand to Bob for a farewell shake, but did not bother with me.
He got in behind the wheel of the Porsche, fired it up, then eased it into first and pulled away from the curb. We listened to the car work its way through the gears until it reached the end of the street, turned, and disappeared.
Bob said, "He's kind of an asshole."
"Thanks for telling me," I said. (121)

Teen angst:
He stopped to dig a tissue from his pocket and dab the tears that continued to puddle from his eyes.
All he'd ever wanted was to be somebody.
No, not just somebody. He wanted to be somebody better. Somebody better than his brother and his sister. Somebody better than his judgmental father. Somebody who made a difference, somebody who would be talked about for years to come.
He'd come so close to that.
He felt an aching sadness wash over him. What he wished right now, was that he was home. That he was curled up on the couch in the basement under a blanket, knees pulled up to his chest, in front of the TV. (395)

Val McDermid. Out of Bounds. UK: Little, Brown, 2016.

The natural nosiness of DCI Karen Pirie of Scotland's Historic Cases Unit is way out of bounds when she refuses to accept a current case as a suicide. It's typical of the stubborn and successful cop smoothly defying her nemesis boss ACC Simon Lees. The gunshot death of inoffensive Gabriel Abbott leads back to the intriguing death of his mother twenty years earlier, a case that does fall within her purview. Pirie is convinced that the bombing of a small plane had more to do with personal motives than a terrorist attack, but collecting the circumstantial evidence is a long, hard slog. Then a deadly car accident produces a connection to another cold case. Karen tolerates the clumsy ways of her assistant Jason.

The evidence in both cases is very much about family trees and DNA. Karen's female colleagues feature well in assisting her, not only with forensic advice but also moral support in her struggle to get past the death of her beloved partner Phil. There's a nice little sidebar about Syrian immigrants. As to be expected from McDermid, women are the most interesting characters and their usage of Scots idioms is fun. But the author's contention that the "system of [Scottish] parish records" is so superior to England's should have clarified that she very likely meant online access at Scotland's People. In one case, a last ditch witness statement appears out of the blue, a little too convenient for cinching Karen's theory.

"I want the right answer, not the easy one." (163)
"She gave me enough straw to start making bricks." (256)
"A transplanted organ retains its donor's DNA." (353)
But she never ceased to be amazed at the lengths apparently respectable people would go to in order to keep the aspidistra flying. (374)

"What am I? Google Buddy?" (159)
Clearly the Swinging Sixties had passed her by. But then, in parts of Scotland the sixties hadn't started until 1979. (277)

Connections begin:
" ... And I'm presuming you got the lab to run DNA?"
"Well, it's routine now." Sergeant Torrance didn't sound like a man who thought that was a good use of Police Scotland's budget.
"I'm guessing that's why you're calling me?"
"Aye. We got a hit on the DNA database. I don't pretend to understand these things, but it wasn't a direct hit. Well, it couldn't have been, because it ties in with a twenty-year-old murder and this lad's only seventeen." The rustle of paper. "Apparently it's what they call a familial hit. Whoever left his semen all over a rape murder victim in Glasgow twenty years ago was a close male relative of a wee Dundee gobshite called Ross Garvie." (21)

Accusations dance:
"So because we've got a leak that you clearly know about but have done nothing to plug, the department's going to be stuck with a massive legal bill?" The burn of self-righteous anger was a feeling Lees had always enjoyed.
Karen rolled her eyes. "It's pretty obvious there's a leak. I know it's not coming from me and I'd stake my pension that DC Murray isn't sneaking round talking to journalists behind my back. So it must be coming from admin or the forensics division out at Gartcosh. Neither of which is my responsibility."
"Be that as it may, you should have reported your suspicions to me." Lees glared at her. It wasn't often he got Karen Pirie on the back foot and he was happy to make the most of it. (73)

Her only weakness:
In the grip of strong emotion, Karen struggled to express what she needed to say. "We don't talk about Phil to outsiders. It's nothing to do with them." She wanted to howl at him that Phil was hers and nobody else's, but she knew that would make her sound deranged so she held back. "We don't talk about him to strangers," she said instead, forcing her voice level.
Jason's face was wounded. "We don't talk about him to each other," he said, his voice cracking. "You won't talk about him to me and I don't have anybody else to talk to about him. It was just the three of us on the old team and you won't share. It's really hard, boss." His lower lip trembled.
She didn't want to hear this. He was right, she wouldn't share. She shouldn't have to. Phil had been hers, the only one who had ever been hers. (92)

Jason's room-mates:
"See, if you saw inside their bedrooms, you'd think we had a visit from extreme burglars. Totally shan. My mum would give me a skelp if I left my room like that." (95)

28 February 2018

Library Limelights 154

Ian McEwan. Nutshell. Toronto: Vintage Canada Edition, 2017.
What a coup ... not exactly unexpected from an acknowledged literary icon. Murder and suspense, all viewed by an unborn child in utero. A child with remarkable insight to his (a boy, for sure) immediate surroundings that include mom Trudy, dad John Cairncross, and uncle Claude Cairncross. As well, his speculation about the world awaiting him swings from the caustic to eager anticipation. Yes, the story is baby-narrated, from conception of a devious plan to the natural end, which is another beginning. John the poet has aquiesced to Trudy's demand that he move out of their marital house and live elsewhere. Claude the opportunist moved in. The house is a decaying dump of a once proud family mansion. Elodie the girlfriend complicates the fallout.

Cleverly wrought satire the likes of which mystery fans will seldom see. Conspirators collude while baby hears and is affected by whatever his mother experiences. Including all the white wine she can swallow and her questionable general nutrition. An intellectual delight, the author ever liberal with lovely words: not sure one could confidently throw any of them into everyday speech.

sclerotic "rigid and unresponsive," unadapting
aubade dawn serenade; music or poetry suitable to early morning
purulent pustulous
palimpsest altered written material showing traces of original writing
exequy funeral rites

Pessimism is too easy, even delicious, the badge and plume of intellectuals everywhere. (26)
Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves, Confucius said. (134)
Sarcasm ill suits the unborn. (146)
I'm on a slope, which suggests my mother is sitting up in bed propped by pillows. (158)

I kick my mother awake but she won't disturb her lover. Instead she clamps a podcast lecture to her ears and submits to the wonders of the Internet. She listens at random. I've heard it all. Maggot farming in Utah. Hiking across The Burren. Hitler's last-chance offensive in the Ardennes. Sexual etiquette among the Yanomami. How Poggio Bracciolini rescued Lucretia from oblivion. The physics of tennis. 
I stay awake, I listen, I learn. Early this morning, less than an hour before dawn, there was heavier matter than usual. Through my mother's bones I encountered a bad dream in the guise of a formal lecture. The state of the world. An expert in international relations, a reasonable woman with a rich deep voice, advised me that the world was not well. She considered two common states of mind: self-pity and aggression. Each one a poor choice for individuals. In combination, for groups or nations, a noxious brew that lately intoxicated the Russians in Ukraine, as it once had their friends, the Serbs in their part of the world. We were belittled, now we will prove ourselves. (23-4)

A wine-y afternoon:
"Are you still at home?" 
I can't hear him for her crunching. 
"Well," she says, after listening. "Bring it here. We need to talk." 
From the gentle way she sets down the phone I assume he's on his way. Bad enough. But I'm having my very first headache, right around the forehead, a gaudy bandanna, a carefree pain dancing to her pulse. If she'd share it with me, she might reach for an analgesic. By rights, the pain is hers. But she's braving the fridge again and has found high in the door, on a Perspex shelf, a nine-inch wedge of historic parmesan as old as evil, as hard as adamantine. If she can break into it with her teeth, we'll suffer together, after the nuts, a second incoming salt tide rolling through the estuary inlets, thickening our blood to brackish ooze. Water, she should drink more water. (44-5)

Place in space:
Certain artists in print or paint flourish, like babies-to-be, in confined spaces. Their narrow subjects may confound or disappoint some. ... 
To be bound in a nutshell, to see the world in two inches of ivory, in a grain of sand. Why not, when all of literature, all of art, all of human endeavour, is just a speck in the universe of possible things. And even this universe may be a speck in a multitude of actual and possible universes. (61-2)

Robert Charles. Ancient Sins. UK: F.A. Thorpe (Publishing), 2007.
A "filler" while waiting for TPL back orders, poor choice, waste of (my) time; it's not always apparent in the first few pages. Policewoman Judy Kane gets a case to prove her detective skills when an old skeleton is found in a ploughed field. Her cohorts are busy planning a simultaneous raid on three gypsy camps suspected of harbouring smash-and-grab thieves. The local pub and church offer old wartime gossip to egg Judy on; the dead man could be one of three candidates. My hackles rose at the first mention of and constant reference to the Red Indian (always capitalized) ... supposedly a Navajo in the US Air Force. The stereotype includes high cheekbones. My policy is to see a book through, even if cringing.

That's not the only unfortunate or misleading element. Plus, Judy works in a cop shop where she is totally respected and well liked; no sexual harassment from her warm-hearted colleagues. Life with her husband Ben despite a road accident early on is nothing but roses. A bar in Spain in their retirement future. How trite can it get? It's as if a cosy author tried to stretch, unsuccessfully, to a higher level of craft. Or a former Harlequin writer reaching for a new genre. The language is often that stilted or restrained Brit-speak such as "Madam Smarty Knickers" shouted improbably by a furious, potential killer to his victim. Another example is "There was an old local saying that even the dirtiest dog didn't mess on its own doorstep." Can't help comparing that with Olympia Dukakis' (1987) line in Moonstruck: "Ya don't shit where ya eat." You can see where I'm at. These things overcome any attempts at suspense or excitement.

She had soon discovered that off duty she preferred firemen to policemen. (31-2)
"The Red Indian," Judy said at last. "Do you know his name?" (147)
"I know I look all bedraggled like something the cat dragged in, so I'm not at my glamorous best." (270)
"God help us, boy, a policewoman ain't no rabbit." (331)

They all say it:
"Anyway, we were all drinking. When Alice and Joe came in Archie saw red " She giggled. 
"Literally red, you might say, Red Indian, see. Archie wanted to fight Joe there and then. He swore he was going to kill him." (199)
From one idyllic life to another:
"Yes, I know I'll walk again, it's only a matter of time, but I don't think I'll ever be quite the man I was, not A1 fit for an active career. I'll have my pension, if our lawyers can keep it safe from the Peacheys' lawyers, and we've paid off a fair bit of our mortgage. We could invest in that little bar in Spain right now, and have the rest of our lives to enjoy it." (295)

Mick Herron. Spook Street. USA: Soho Press, 2017.
Lunacy reigns in Slough House, the dumping ground for misfit spies in HM's Secret Service. Jackson Lamb in charge, more absent than not. Moira, his new PA, is appalled at this chaotic bunch: Marcus the addicted gambler; Sandra taking Anger Fucking Management courses; air pianist JK Coe; River Cartwright grandson of a legendary spymaster; Louisa the fearless enigma; and dandified Richard Ho, butt of sarcasm from all. "Slow horses" these clapped-out spies are called. While London recovers from a suicide bombing, an incident in the bathroom of the growingly-demented grandfather David Cartwright sets off a wild chain of events that amount to a cracker of a thriller. River immediately creates his own mission to backtrack ("walking back the cat") a killer. Identities are one issue.

Meanwhile, internal security ("the Dogs") uncover a cold body protocol and the head of the Secret Service at Regent's Park is being blackmailed by his second in command. Is there an SS conspiracy to do away with retired old spooks? Let me tell you, this is delicious insanity! How I would like to write like this. Many threads mesh so beautifully. Everyone has smart, hilarious retorts to crazy observations. Everything gets resolved. Sort of. Then I learn there is a series by Herron about this asinine but lovable office group; where have you been hiding? I'm on it. But horrors: what if world security is really in the hands of maniacs like this??

gallimaufry a hodgepodge or jumble
trebuchet a catapult (and a font!)
apotheosis the peak of perfection (I knew this; just hard to throw into everyday speech)

Everyone here had problems, or what you now had to call "issues." (15)
"Probably takes two of him to scramble an egg." (31)
Her next phase of life involved domestic tranquility, and avoiding unwise shagging choices. (37)
Nothing more frightening, to someone who'd lived by his wits, than to be slowly losing them. (44)
Lately, Marcus and money had been undergoing a trial separation. (218)
An analogue man in a digital world. (15)

"Maybe not the right thing to do. But it's the right decision to make." (250)

Office collegiality:
"He means Lamb's text," Marcus confirmed. 
"He sent it to me," said Ho. "What makes it your business?" 
"I swear to God," said Marcus, "this is like being trapped in a special school. Ho? Read him the fucking text." 
Ho sighed theatrically and produced his Smartphone. He'd just finished tapping the code in when Shirley snatched it from his hands."Hey, you can't" 
"Just did." 
Ho reached for her, but had a wise moment and refrained. She might be shorter than him but they both kneweverybody knewshe could rip him up like confetti if she wanted, and scatter him like rice. (71)

"I'm sure we've all spent hours planning the best way of killing River," Lamb said. "But our assassin came all the way from France, which sounds more like a job than a hobby. So let's assume he was after Grandpa. Business before pleasure and all that." 
"So who killed the killer?" 
"One Cartwright or other. Does it matter?" Lamb slumped heavily into the nearest chair which was the absent River's. "What we actually need to know is what the hell's going on. And since young Cartwright's not here to tell us, and old Cartwright's lost the plot, we're going to have to work it out ourselves." 
Louisa said, "Has he really lost it? The old man?" 
"I've had more illuminating conversations with ducks," Lamb assured her. (106)
Traffic accident video goes viral:
The phone buzzed again, angrier this time, the way phones get. Emma sighed, and moved a few feet away. "Flyte." 
"Tell me that's not you I'm watching. Along with half the population of the western world." 
"I doubt it's that many," Emma said. "Most of them'll be viewing it twice. You have to factor that in." 
Diana Taverner said, "Are you drunk?" 
"Not yet." 
"How did this happen? How did any of it happen?" 
"It happened because I wasn't given enough information," Emma said. "So when we were sideswiped by a professional hitman, we weren't expecting it. In the circumstances, we got off lightly. Unwelcome publicity notwithstanding."
"You call that lightly? What would heavy look like?" 
"It would involve my body lying in the street." (239)