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21 April 2014

Library Limelights 54

Michael Connolly. The Black Box. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2012.
Connolly seems unstoppable with one excellent police procedural after another. Detective Harry Bosch, although confined to cold cases, works on his usual instinctive principles. Which is to say, I'm solving this crime my way. It's a twenty-year-old murder that happened in the storm of the LA riots and a solution looks hopeless. But we know Harry, he finds and follows the gun through its twisting history. The death of a foreign journalist won't be ignored on his watch. He's also strengthening relationships with his daughter and his latest love Hannah. Pacing is everything with Connolly, and he never seems to fail. No lyricism here, just plain straight language. (Isn't there something so Clint Eastwood about this?)

This novel, more than others, employed many acronyms of police work. Fortunately they are explained in context but I found myself compiling them. LAPD and ATF and BOLO we cop fans should know already; but how about:
OUU - Open-Unsolved Unit
RCTF - Riot Crimes Task Force
GED - Gang Enforcement Detail
CRASH - Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums
MDT - Mobile Data Terminal (in every patrol car)
CBO - [case] Cleared By Other means
TLO - meaning undetermined; a telephone database?
PSB - Professional Standards Bureau (formerly IA - Internal Affairs)
DROP - Deferred Retirement Option Plan
CUBO - Conduct Unbecoming an Officer

Harry's quest starts in prison with a long-term inmate:
He had a heavily muscled and sculpted physique, a neck wider than his head―including his ears. Sixteen years of pushups and sit ups and whatever exercises he could manage in his cell had given him a chest that easily extended beyond his chin, and biceps-triceps vises that looked like they could crush walnuts to powder. In th mug shots, his hair had always had a stylized fade. Now his head was clean-shaven and he had used his dome as a canvas for the Lord. On either side he had blue prison-ink crosses wrapped in barbed wire. Bosch wondered if that was part of the lobbying effort with the parole board. I'm saved. It says so right here on my cranium.
"Yes, I'm a cop," Bosch finally said. "Up from L.A."
"Sher'ff's or PD?"
"LAPD. My name's Bosch. And Rufus, this is going to be the single luckiest or unluckiest day of your life." (37-38)

Linwood Barclay. The Accident. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2011.
Barclay is a master at creating ordinary people, people we can relate to, whose lives spiral out of control from one sinister event. Bad things happen to good people. But we don't know who's hiding the worst secrets until Barclay peels away the layers one by one. Did Glen Garber's wife kill herself by causing a dreadful car crash? Or was it an inexplicable accident? Or something else? We see children, friends, neighbours, employees, all drawn into the widening vortex around financial desperation. Some of those nice people end up at each others' throats.

A major underlying theme plays on Sherlock Holmes' observation of solving a case: after eliminating the impossible, whatever improbability remains, usually leaves you with the truth. Garber wrestles with this throughout. Oddly ‒ or so I thought ‒ The Accident is missing the unforced humour that iced the cake of the first two books I read. Even though this is a well-plotted mystery with his typical can't-put-it-down final one hundred pages, I hope Barclay's next book returns with that fun touch because he's so good at it.

Toss and turn, indeed:
It was a world gone mad.
And how great it would be, Belinda thought, if a collapsing real estate market were all she had to worry about these days.
A few weeks ago, falling house prices, hardly any buyers, and no fat commissions going into the bank account had her tossing and turning all night. But at least back then, all she was worried about was her financial future. Keeping a roof over their heads, making the lease payments on the Acura.
She wasn't actually scared for her personal safety. She wasn't worried that someone might hurt her.
Not like now. (52)

Homeless person waiting for passing cars:
"Can I give her something?" Kelly asked.
"Don't put your window down." The woman's eyes seemed dead. She wasn't expecting me to give her anything. Out of every hundred cars that got stopped at this light, how many offered her anything? Two? One? None? What had brought her to this point? Had her life always been this way? Or had she, at one time, had one like ours? A house, a family, a regular job. A husband, maybe. Kids. And if she had known a life like that, was there one event that started the unravelling? Did she lose her job? Did her husband lose his? Did their car die and they had no money to fix it, and couldn't get to work? Did they fall behind on their mortgage and lose their house? And once, having lost it, were they so far behind the eight ball that they could never recover? And had it come to this? Standing at the end of the off-ramp, begging for help?
Couldn't any of us end up this way when one part of our life went horribly wrong, and then the dominoes started to fall?
I fished a five-dollar bill out of my pocket and powered down my window. The woman came around the front of the car, took the bill from my hand without saying a word, and went back to her station.
Kelly said, "You can't get anything for five bucks." (221)

16 April 2014

Camels Are Newsmakers Too

My friends send me stuff. You saw the S& M camel. You saw the Toronto camel.

My friend Elayne sent me this:
The Arctic Camel
Every news agency on the planet carried the story of the Arctic camels in March 2013. Canada's northern Fosheim Peninsula on Nunavit's Ellesmere Island was declared "a paleobiological hotspot."[1]
"In March, researchers at Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Nature made international headlines when they found ancient, mummified camel bones in the Strathcona Fiord region—the most northerly region to ever yield camel bones."
"A coal exploration project proposing to tread the same ground as the ancient fossil forests on Nunavut’s Ellesmere Island has been temporarily put on the shelf. Canada Coal has delayed its exploration program on Ellesmere Island for at least a year, and withdrawn its application to Nunavut regulators, saying it needs more time to address a host of concerns raised by people in nearby Grise Fiord and scientists across Canada and the U.S."

ScienceNews reported that these were giant dromedary-type camels accustomed to a colder climate (not as cold as the Arctic today).[2] The finding supports the origins of camels in Canada millions of years ago.

Of course that doesn't explain this which another friend sent:
The Cariboo Camel
But it goes to show that the U.S. Army wasn't the only outfit promoting the splendid beast of burden in nineteenth century North America. These Bactrians came to work as pack animals in the Cariboo Gold Rush (1860s) in British Columbia, Canada. Imported from San Francisco after similar service, before that the animals came from a railway construction camp in Arizona (I wonder if they were some of the original Texas Camel Corps imports). Various factors were against the northern venture, such as their disruptive affect on horses, and the rugged terrain tearing up their feet.

And then there's this:
The Biblical Camel
Archaeological news in early 2014 said that domesticated camels were not in the Middle East until centuries later than the Age of the Patriarchs. 
"In all the digs, they found that camel bones were unearthed almost exclusively in archaeological layers dating from the last third of the 10th century BCE or later – centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the Kingdom of David, according to the Bible."[3] 

Their carbon dating refutes the use of camels, for instance by Abraham, Joseph, Jacob, and other historically dated figures. Therefore great discussion (and not a little distorted sensationalism) was triggered on what else could be inaccurate in a book written much later than Old Testament times. However, domesticated may have been the overlooked key word.

There we are. Camels are international headliners. Be on the alert. Baraq, my assistant, is working on his typing skills. 

[1] Where Arctic camels once roamed, coal mining can wait," CBCNews, 24 December 2013 ( : accessed 5 January 2014).
[2] "Fossils on Ellesmere Island suggest famous desert dweller got its start in the cold," ScienceNews, 6 April 2013 ( : accessed 7 February 2014).
[3] "Archaeologists pinpoint the date when domesticated camels arrived in Isarel,", 3 February 2014 ( : accessed 7 February 2014).

10 April 2014

Library Limelights 53

Peter Robinson. Children of the Revolution. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2013.
Is it just me, or what? This is the first Inspector Banks novel that I've found rather flat. It's not unusual that the author of an ongoing series has an off book once in a while; it was a surprise (and disappointment) that the great Peter Robinson seems to have had one. The mystery ― the plot line ― moves like molasses and did not captivate me at any given point. I felt more like who are these tiresome people Banks and his colleagues must interview. However, Robinson is paying good attention to his female characters. Conflicting personalities on the police team make one lively scene where two women lash into each other to Banks' extreme discomfit.

A scruffy, malnourished older man falls or was thrown off a bridge to his death. His pathetic life is examined in detail for clues. With a few token red herrings, the effect is still strangely lifeless. Where is the suspense?! The central secret can be guessed well in advance by any alert mystery fan. Banks' credo that everyone lies could have been played up more; it would have made a good title. His treatment of "class warfare" is familiar English ground. All in all? No surprises or challenges here.

The professor's office:
To say it was book-lined would be both too generous and inaccurate: it was book-crammed, book-piled, book-besotted. They were everywhere. They probably bred overnight. The room even smelled of books. Here was a man who had never heard of a Kindle. The books were on wall-to-wall shelves, on the floor, on the windowsills, the chairs, on every flat surface, and even balanced on some of the curved or angled ones. Oddly enough, Lomax didn't look in the least bit bookish, Annie thought as he stood up to greet her, at least in the way she understood the term. There were no unruly tufts of hair sticking out at odd angles, no tweed jacket with leather elbow patches, no pipe, no thick glasses, no flyaway eyebrows. (36)

One-liner ― social death for a dull guy:
"He's about as exciting as a wet Sunday in November." (185)

Deborah Crombie. A Finer End. New York: Bantam Books, 2001.
The author and her police detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James are very popular in the FEC library so it seemed a good idea to give her a go. Early pages worried me that I'd be expected to buy into a scenario of spookiness, but it proves to be only a superficial side trip into mythical, mystical Avalon. The ancient pagan past of Glastonbury in England still lives on in some minds. Kincaid and James don't fully enter the picture for some time; their personal and professional relationship is evident but subordinate in the story.

We are introduced to a large-ish cast quite smartly and it's difficult to predict what the crime will be. Or why. Jack is an architect who discovers he's the subject of strange automatic writing; Winnie is an Anglican priest; Andrew is her schoolteacher brother; Nick works in a bookstore; Simon is a mediaeval scholar; Garnet is a unique craftswoman; Fiona is a troubled artist; Faith is a pregnant teenager. The reader's challenge is guessing if and how they will all mesh together. Glastonbury itself is the real star of this novel (thank you for the end-paper maps!). Legend says it's where Joseph of Arimathea arrived with the Holy Grail. If you like a bit of twelfth century history with your mystery, this is up your alley.

End of the work day:
Faith stopped, panting, pressing her palm into the small of her back and wiggling feet already swollen from a day of standing behind the café's counter. She could hear the trickle of water beneath her feet. These hills were honeycombed with water―it ran in the culverts laid under the tarmac; it leached from the verges and sprang from every nook and cranny.Woodsmoke lay heavy on the still, damp air. Garnet would have the stove lit, and Faith imagined the smoke rising from the chimney, spilling down the hillside like a cloak, hiding everything beneath it from mortal sight. But then she had been thinking strange things of late, and her dreams were stranger still.It was odd that the nearer she came to having her baby, the more she missed her own mother. Often now, she dreamed she heard her mother's voice calling her name―sometimes she even felt her mum's hand on her brow, stroking back her hair―and then she would wake in the silent, cold room, the only living presence the calico cat curled on the foot of her bed. (95)

Gemma consults an expert:
"'Getting in touch with the earth,'" as you put it, usually involves actively opposing those who abuse our natural resources for their own ends, and there you encounter great greed. And there are men―and a few women―who cannot abide the idea of women in power. But I'm certain you know that from your own experience." Dr. Rosenthal studied her shrewdly. "Paganism, like any system of belief that is world shaping, can easily inspire fanaticism. You could say that Christianity is a basically benign belief, and yet it has been responsible over the centuries for enormous suffering in the world.But the worship of the Old Gods can go further. It has a dark side to it, an element of chaos, and there are those who aspire to tap that, to release it again into the world. And there are those who are caught up in it unawares." (263)

06 April 2014

Words 6

Regrettable words. Making verbs out of nouns. Making adjectives out of verbs. They have a way of coming from the high-speed worlds of business or technology movers and shakers, sneaking into the popular lexicon until Webster and Oxford throw up the white flag in surrender. 

Herewith a few that irritate me no end.  

weaponize: first heard this during the War of the Weapons of Mass Destruction.
incentivize: even heard on the CBC—you sheep! 
enculturate: oh please.
gifting: what happened to giving?
UPDATE: debankify! Right there on my banking website. Don't think I will revive from that one. 

To hyphenate or not? If one gives a crap:
doable, do-able — a lamentable noun cum adjective; surely invented by the hyperactive advertising or tech sector.
re-home — as in adopting cats and dogs; pretty much needs a hyphen.
deskilling, de-skilling — in the sense of your skills being taken from you; not killing your desk. Finding an appropriate usage for it could keep you up at night.  

Making new nouns:
disambiguation — seen on Wikipedia relating to the very confusing number of British regiments that were called the 73rd Regiment of Foot; gosh, maybe it’s real. Baffling.
historiette — so cutesy, thankfully not widely applied; the French invented it, right?
papered — really an adjective from a verb to paper; plans and suggestions need to be papered as in requiring a written memo. 

Bet you could add many more (go ahead, bring them on). Makes you weep.

That doesn’t even account for trying to keep up with the same wordsmiths (termsmiths?) who invent all those catchy expressions like drinking from the fire hose; thrown under the bus; epic FAIL; the mother of all (*insert your noun of choice*). By the time I get them into my lexicon they’re passé. Someone should do a blog post about it.  

06 March 2014

Library Limelights 52

Your friendly crime fiction fan is taking time out. See you next month!

Joseph Boyden. The Orenda. Toronto: Hamish Hamilton/Penguin Canada Books Inc., 2013.
Brilliant. A tour de force. Boyden transports us into the wilds of New France four hundred years ago in a novel about missionary struggles to gain a foothold among the Huron (Wendat) natives. Jesuit Relations and its critiques have clearly provided the road map for a spellbinding tale of our past. Canadians know (or should know) how this will end: badly. Christophe the priest and Bird the native leader are the main protagonists. Bird and his people fail to fully apprehend a threat as equally devastating as their traditional enemy the Haudenosaunee. The Crows, or the charcoal, as the Huron call the black-robed Jesuits, are first ridiculed, then ignored, then ultimately share the villagers' fate.

Filled with vivid ancillary characters — Snow Falls, Carries an Axe, Gosling, Fox, Sleeps Long — The Orenda grips with intensity in beautifully flowing language. Which faith system has the most power or magic? Despite the similarity of their prayers, neither Bird nor Christophe ever come near an understanding of the other's spiritual life. The aboriginal way of life believes in orenda (life force in all natural things) and oki (dual souls of their people). Their Feast of the Dead demonstrates a reverence for ancestors and family albeit in a way completely alien to our sensibilities. Some readers will complain about the spilling of blood and guts, but the events are as comprehensible as, say, the Spanish Inquisition. Nominated in 2013 for both the Scotiabank Giller Prize (Boyden's Through Black Spruce won it in 2008) and the Governor General's Award for English Fiction, there's little doubt The Orenda is certain to be a Canadian classic.

Snow Falls saves a life:
I told Bird that my name is Snow Falls and that this Crow had stolen the spirit of my father, that he kept him imprisoned in the glowing being around his neck, that if Bird killed the Crow now, my father would be his prisoner forever and I could never become Bird's child. I don't know where the words came from, but they came, and I watched the killing tension ease in Bird's shoulders. I told him, finally, what I've been dreaming, what only right then I could put words to. An illness was slipping into this village, into this very longhouse, and even if he killed the Crow now, it was too late to stop. It had arrived. Killing him would only make things worse. The Words, they poured out of me and were beyond my control. (42)

Bird observes:

The crows continue to stay alone, and the different odd-looking and odd-smelling men live in small groups of friends in their little homes. To me, they mostly look the same with their hairy faces and sunken eyes, their skin the colour of a withered squash blossom. When they talk, I can see many of them have few teeth, and compared to the body of Carries an Axe, they look weak and pathetic. Their clothes, too, make them look the same, with their thin, dirty shirts and strange hide they wear that covers all of their legs and asses, even now that the snow's melted. Carries an Axe likes to make fun of their appearance. He's even claimed that he's held some of their clothes in his own hands and that their clothes aren't made from the skins of animals at all but instead are created by old witches with bottoms like spiders who spin out their thread that other witches then weave. (325)

Naguib Mahfouz. Sugar Street. (1957 in Egypt) New York: Anchor Books/Random House, 1992.
This is the third novel in Nobel Literature laureate Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy, an epic spanning generations of inter-related Egyptian families. Sugar Street is set in the 1930s up to about the end of the Second World War. In meticulous prose, the author unveils a wide cast of characters, almost overwhelming in the first few chapters; in fact, a chart for this upper-middle class family would have been useful in order to track the multiple-named brothers, sons, in-laws, and friends! ... the tormented Kalil, spiteful Khadija, earnest Abd al-Muni'm, the rebel Ahmad, grieving Aisha, the ailing patriarch al-Sayyid Ahmad al-Jawad, among many more. Family life delves deeply into their mutual and individual concerns: marriage, employment, status, bureaucracy, and resentment at the occupying English.

The coffee houses of Cairo are favoured meeting places for congenial male discussion, but bars and brothels have their place too. The accepted indulgence in alcohol denoted a far more secular society than I expected. I felt an elegiac quality in their private thoughts as if desirable goals suffer from discursive malaise. In the turmoil of the times we see the emergence of the "Muslim Brethren"; politics and embedded culture have scarcely changed since then. The perpetual need for new beginnings lacks unity. This one book, and I'm sure the series itself, is an engaging, eye-opening backgrounder for the Egypt of today.

The Wafd Party holds a rally:
The crowd's excitement reached a fever pitch. People stood on the chairs and yelled with wild enthusiasm. Kamal shouted as passionately as anyone else. He forgot he was a teacher who was expected to maintain his dignity. He imagined that he had been transported back to the glorious revolutionary days he had heard about but had not been privileged to experience. Had the speeches back then been as forcefully delivered? Had the crowds received them with comparable enthusiasm? Had death seemed insignificant for those reasons? No doubt Fahmy had been in a gathering like this once and had then rushed off to death and immortality or annihilation. Was it possible for a skeptic to become a martyr?
"Perhaps patriotism, like love," he thought, "is a force to which we surrender, whether or not we believe in it." (36)

Khadija on motherhood:
In a conversation with her husband who was wrapped up in his cloak, she voiced her buried feelings: "Our sons have been married for more than a year, and we haven't lit any candles for a baby yet."
The man shrugged his shoulders but did not reply. She continued: "Perhaps Abd al-Muni'm and Ahmad consider having children a fad as outmoded as obeying their parents."
The man answered irritably, "Calm down. They're happy, and that should be enough for us."
She asked sharply, "If a bride doesn't get pregnant and have children, what use is she?"
"Perhaps your sons don't share that opinion."
"They disagree with me about everything. All my efforts and hopes have been in vain."
"Are you sad you're not a grandmother?"
She retorted even more acidly, "I'm sad for them, not for me." (294)

Some one-liners:
"It's always wise for us to speak to people at their level of understanding." (297)
― A precept of the Muslim Brotherhood.
" ... the spread of learning is as liable to banish them as light is to discourage bats." (298)
― Expectations that the Muslim Brotherhood would disappear; today's world proves them wrong.

27 February 2014

Library Limelights 51

Clive Leatherdale. Tiananmen Travels and Traumas, The virgin whore & other Chinese characters. UK: Desert Island Books, 1993.
Having met the author in November 2013, it was rewarding to find this book among his many publications and online company (Desert Island Books). Rewarding? ... as part of the research for upcoming travel in China. Leatherdale's experiences were twenty-five years ago around the time of the Tienanmen Square protests. Nonetheless, his personal observations of the Chinese character are told with good humour, amid daily trivia and a general wariness of foreigners. His position as an English teacher (and his own nature) involved a great deal of social interaction among a more conservative generation than today's. Acknowledging his own cultural learning curve, he writes with literate flair.

Choosing a few sentences or so seems to be the best way to illustrate subjects of potential relevance for a traveller in 2014, bearing in mind the country's passage to great economic strides and less traditional xenophobia.

● American tourists tip insistently in a culture where the custom was previously unknown and is still officially frowned upon. (34)
● Chinese kids pee on the spot, a facility encouraged by their crotchless pants. ... On bus or train, crotchlessness exhibits the sex of every infant, and I visualized teams of 'population inspectors' travelling incognito armed with clipboards and pencils. (56)
● Chinese telephones are curious instruments. They are old-fashioned, bulky, and so distorting of the human voice that loved ones are mistaken for strangers. ... operational quirks take no account of Chinese users, habituated to bawling in the effort to be heard above a billion compatriots. (80-81)
● The newcomer learns quickly to avoid walking on the edge of the pavement. Mucus-lobbing bus passengers are apt to assume no sensible pedestrian is strolling nearby. (85)
● Students would spit in class as inconspicuously as possible. They would lower their heads behind their desks, spread their feet and deposit between them a small stalagmite. (86)
● Zhang had trouble with his consonants, which flowed into one another like a motorway pile-up. (36)

The theatre audience: The behaviour of Chinese audiences amuses, offends, embarrasses, or outrages, depending on prior expectations. ... All around, tongues wagged and babies cried; bags of orange peel were opened and scrunched; gob was ground noisily underfoot; wooden chairs banged to the demands of latecomers, early leavers, and toilet seekers, whose silhouettes fleetingly eclipsed the stage. (84)

Shanghai in the rain: The city's cyclists were shrouded under hooded capes. These are bum length at the back, longer at the front so as to drape over the handlebars and be clothes-pegged to the basket. The cape formed a kind of tent, everything dry except the feet. (86)

Roadside (rural) toilets: These conveniences were invariably red brick, semi-detached and roofless, with the ideograms for Man and Woman clearly marked at each side. The Ladies, I was told, often consisted of a metal bar suspended across a hole at bum height, against which users were required to lean amid the swarming insects. (92)

Bus travel: It is impossible to travel in China without someone puking in your presence. Jiang, for example, switched seats to be next to the window, preferring like most vomiters the front of the bus. Whether the visual terrors of front-travel promote sickness, or the afflicted naturally gravitate to the fore, I could not say. Travel sickness was so common ... (116 & 181)

Hong Kong to Canton train: Once the train was in motion, [the attendant] removed the door handles (replacing and unlocking them at each station), patrolled her carriage with a huge kettle with which to fill plastic tea cups, and as we neared our destination ordered feet to be raised as with enormous mop she swept the floor. Toilets were kept clean by leaving them locked, though she would grudgingly unlock them for a foreigner. Chinese passengers knew better even than to ask. (132)

And what of "the virgin whore," you may ask. Leatherdale had a conversation with student Eve about her boyfriend; he happened to be her second boyfriend. She explains the critical situation:
"Because Nigel is my second boyfriend many people feel I should marry him," Eve continued.
"Why is a second boyfriend important?"
"Because in China we only go out with someone if we think we might marry him. If I fail to make a husband of my first boyfriend, it is expected that I succeed with the second. ... Priscilla Wong has had at least six boyfriends. "
Bully for her, I thought.
"All the students think of her as a prostitute."
"A prostitute?" Somehow the idea of bedding for money on campus did not convince.
"Do you mean she earns money from sex?"
"Oh, no. She does not take money."
"Then I don't understand. Do you mean she sleeps with all these boyfriends?"
"No!" Eve looked shocked by the suggestion. She leaned forward eagerly. "It is because she has many boyfriends, but does not want to marry any, that people think of her as a prostitute. She does not make sex with anyone. I know she is a virgin."
A virgin whore. Perhaps the contradiction could only exist in China. I grew rather fond of the idea, for it somehow seemed a perfect caricature of China as a whole — rich history coexisting with drab modernity, nous with naïveté, corruption with innocence, membership of the nuclear club while burdened with poverty. (227-8)

Leatherdale's humour notwithstanding, many outmoded conveniences will be naturally improved now. As I prepare to depart, it's not without irony that I notice how many things go into my suitcase marked "Made in China."

Alaa Al Aswany. The Yacoubian Building. The American University in Cairo Press, 2004.
In my occasional quest for Arab literature: this novel became an almost instant bestseller. A popular writer, Aswany once had his dental office in the notable, real-life Yacoubian building in the heart of old Cairo. He intertwines stories of fictional residents, young and old, as a tapestry of modern Egypt — a turmoil of emotions, plans, contracts, betrayals, joy, grief, and even an aspiring revolutionary. With so many characters to follow, and sudden story switches, it took me some time to remember who was whom. I am amazed at what seems abundant usage of alcohol and drugs; in some ways, Cairo life seems little different from our own society. There is no real climax; we know life will continue beyond its existence on the printed page. Definitely recommended as an introduction to a different world.

At a desert training camp:
For two days the women had exhausted themselves getting the bride ready and putting together her trousseau. After a quarter of an hour of ululations and congratulations, Sheikh Bilal sat down to perform the marriage ceremony. Radwa deputized Brother Hamza ... to conclude the marriage contract and other brothers volunteered themselves as witnesses. Sheikh Bilal made the normal short speech about marriage in God's Law, then placed Taha's hand in Hamza's and pronounced the words of the contract, which they repeated after him. When they had finished, Sheikh Bilal murmured "O God, make their union blessed, guide them in obedience to You, and provide them with righteous offspring!" Then he placed his hand on Taha's head, saying, "God bless you and your marriage and join you and your wife in good fortune!"(203)

20 February 2014

Library Limelights 50

Lars Kepler. The Nightmare. USA: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2010.
From the Swedish married team who wrote the acclaimed The Hypnotist, their next venture is another well-crafted thriller with Stockholm detective inspector Joona Linna. A terrifying hunt to kill two people for unknown reasons sets this tale on the road to international intrigue — peace activists, arms smuggling, renowned violinists, drama on the Baltic Sea. "Kepler" often only hints at the psychological subtext in his characters; readers are expected to draw the connections. And yet action sequences are portrayed in detailed sequence, sometimes from every perspective, requiring your utmost attention.

Just when you think it's over, it's not over. A sadistic killer in his twisted pursuit of wealth targets not only his victims but knows how to bring their worst nightmares to life. Joona is a dogged investigator on the slimmest of evidence, despite his occasional blinding migraines. Only the slightest clues refer to Joona's own mysterious background, predictable material for future novels. Lars Kepler is at the top of the game.

Axel can't sleep:
Axel's sleep is stiff and heavy, his jaw clenched. He's held the girl very tightly. He sucks in air like a drowning man. He's sweating and his heart is pounding from fear. He turns on the lamp on the nightstand. Beverly sleeps as relaxed as a child, mouth open and a little sheen on her forehead. Axel starts to think about Carl Palmcrona again. The last time they'd met, they mingled with the nobility at a meeting in Riddarhuset. Palmcrona had been drunk and aggressive. He'd gone on and on about the UN weapons embargoes and finished his tirade with those strange words: If everything goes to hell, I'll pull an Algernon so I won't reap my nightmare. (179)
Desperately she treads water and swirls around just keeping herself from wild screams. Finally she spots Bjorn's bobbing head, barely above the surface of the water, about fifty meters ahead. Penelope starts to swim again, but she's not sure she'll ever make it to the other island.
The shoes around her neck hinder her strokes and she tries to get rid of them, but the laces tangle in her crucifix. Then the thin chain of the crucifix snaps and everything sinks to the bottom of the sea.
She swims onward, feeling her heart pound in her chest. It takes a moment or so to realize she can see Bjorn staggering up onto land. He's looking back for her when he should be finding cover. (222)
Joona observes:
A girl holding a violin stands on the marble patio. She looks about fifteen years old. Her hair is extremely short, and he can see some drawings she's inked on her arms. Axel Riessen is with her, nodding and listening carefully as she drags the bow across the strings. Her movements look awkward, as if she's holding the instrument for the very first time. Perhaps this is Axel's daughter, or even his grandchild, because he watches her with such a gentle, curious expression.
The bow crosses the strings at the wrong angle and elicits a hissing, whining sound.
"It's not in tune," the girl says as an excuse for the terrible noise.
She smiles and, with care, she hands the instrument back to Axel.
"Playing the violin means listening," Axel says in a calm, friendly fashion. "The music is already inside you. You just release it into the world." (321)
Carolyn Abraham. The Juggler's Children, A Journey into Family, Legend and the Genes That Bind Us. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2013.
Abraham was born into a mixed-race family that revealed even more mixtures than she could ever imagine when she began the journey into their history. What a smorgasbord of cultures, colours, and contrasts she unravelled — a Jamaican sea captain, a Chinese fugitive, Southeast Asian hill tribes, and African possibilities! Two simple charts assist in following names and relationships of four grandparents around whom the searches revolve. Along the ancestral trail we are treated to descriptions of related global and historical interest — the Nilgiri Hills of India, the lovely coastal Kerala, Jamaican plantation life and slaveery, the spice trade, "railway colonies," emigration from southern China ... and much more.

The author was an early adherent of genetic testing as applied to genealogy and as it expanded in the twenty-first century. Should any family historian feel reluctant to have a go, the book is a persuasive eye-opener to the role DNA can play in tracking ancestors, especially in determining a region for an elusive individual ancestor. DNA testing and results are the prominent feature in the story although Abraham also pursued traditional genealogical sources such as religious records, probates, land, and estate records. Those sources are sometimes cavalierly referred to as "old-fashioned" (63, 168, 239) which may be the only off-note. Her contacts and correspondence grew, as any family historian will recognize, and it's remarkable how widespread they became; DNA matches turned up in unexpected places.

Abraham's graceful, winning style engages the reader in comprehending the explanations and analyses of DNA results. Suspense is well built as we wait for her father's Y-DNA tests. The caution is that even "perfect" DNA matches between living individuals cannot determine a specific time frame or identity of a distant mutual ancestor. Don't miss a fascinating personal trek through haplogroups and haplotypes.

First impressions of India:
But illness was only part of it. Even then I knew I couldn't fault an entire subcontinent for Delhi belly and bad side effects. The emotional pain of the trip stemmed from having high hopes of feeling like some prodigal daughter, a wayward soul returned from the diaspora, only to feel nothing at all—nothing familiar, nothing to recall the Sunday afternoon chronicles of my grandmother. I wanted to love India. Why didn't I love it? (90)
On approaching relatives for DNA samples (swabs):
I took that as my cue and began fumbling to explain how DNA can also connect a person to long-lost relatives they didn't know they had. I started by comparing DNA to a record that shows how all modern humans descend from Africans; I was partway through when I decided to back up and talk about how DNA made us all human in the first place. But instantly that seemed too abstract and too long a story. It was ridiculous, really, to be nattering on about primordial ooze and single-celled organisms while nestled on a plush sofa with a glass of wine. Just how informed do people have to be to give their informed consent? I wondered. (171)

My favourite one-liner:
" ... 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." (332)