28 July 2015

Library Limelights 88

Peggy Blair. Hungry Ghosts. Toronto: Simon & Schuster, 2015.

How does she do it? ... weaving parallels between Cuba and native reservations in Canada ... often subtle, sometimes surprising? The novel is really two stories. Ricardo Ramirez of the Havana Major Crimes Unit and Charlie Pike of the Rideau Regional Police Force — whom you will remember if you read Blair's The Poisoned Pawn when they collaborated — are each pursuing his own case. The sub-theme of murdered aboriginal women could not be more current. Beyond that, I'm in awe of Blair's informative knowledge of Ojibwa culture and their modern issues (some readers will recognize the similarity to Grassy Narrows Reserve). At the same time, we witness the constant privations of daily living in shabby, impoverished Havana. 

Ramirez is dealing with murdered women whose identities have been disguised. Visited by ghosts of the dead (not too intrusively; they don't speak), he solves some daring vandalism as well as finding a killer. No less compelling is Pike's hunt through the native society he had left years ago. Complicated and clever. Ramirez and Pike do not personally communicate until the last pages. Hungry Ghosts is more than a crime novel, it's a cultural journey. Read it, mystery fans: just read it!

One-liner: "Sometimes I feel like I'm one broken-down truck and a dead dog away from being a country-and-western song." (140)

Hungry ghosts in Cuba:
They drove past a camello. It was on its way in from the countryside, spewing clouds of black exhaust. The buses were made of old bus parts, wagons, and recycled train compartments welded together, the centre portion raised in a hump. They were hot and uncomfortable, and crammed with hundreds of passengers.
Ramirez looked in his side-view mirror at the dead woman. The glass was stained with rust, discoloured from salt air. His cracked rearview mirror had disappeared a week or two earlier, no doubt recycled by the same thief who had discovered that Ramirez's car doors no longer locked. It was almost easier to travel to China than to find a replacement for a Chinese car.
Degrees of impossibility, thought Ramirez. Like the dead woman sitting in the back seat, looking out the window, and the dead man he'd found in the washroom admiring himself. They were impossible too. And yet they seemed so real. (55)

The same youngster who stowed Charlie Pike's baggage clambered into the pilot's seat. It made Pike uncomfortable knowing that the tiny plane would be flown by someone not much older than his battered luggage. But he was uncomfortable flying at the best of times. His father's clan‒the Pikes–came from the water, not the air. Pike was Wolf Clan by his Mohawk mother. Wolves weren't supposed to fly either. (58)

Pike's ghost:
Now his mother wandered, Pike believed, severed from everything important to her. But her soul had been stripped from her bones long before the cancer took her, when Canadian bureaucrats had decided a full-blooded Mohawk woman was white because of the race of a man she'd once married.
"I talked to the clan mothers at Oka. That's where her mother was born. They said the band councils don't represent the Haudenosaunee, only white man's laws. They told me I could put her ashes in The Pines, where the Haudenosaunee used to bury their dead. That's where she is now." (159)

A river runs through the reserve:
"There's mercury in the drinking water?" Jones said. "Oh my God, she's been drinking gallons of tea every day." (323) 

Paula Hawkins. The Girl on the Train. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2014.
How many people go through life clothed in lies, fooling other people and themselves? Just about everyone, judging by the main characters in this fast-moving, fascinating bestseller. Three women and two men: are any of them what they seem? Having inappropriately injected herself into the lives of two different couples, Rachel feels compelled to reconstruct one of her alcoholic blackouts — it might help solve a crime. But her blundering behaviour has no credibility with anyone, including the police. Her ex-husband and his new wife are tired of her harassment, her obsession with losing his love. Their neighbours have been secretly observed by Rachel from a distance; when they enter the picture she begins to realize the folly of her perfect fantasy.

Brilliantly constructed, the narrative passes between Rachel and Megan and Anna. It's unclear who is the unstable one. Or all three? Each struggles with who I am not. As layers of lies and revisionism peel away, anger and fear surge among them. The men in the story are seen only through their eyes. Hawkins has created a masterpiece of self-revelation and suspense.

.. the job itself is utterly beneath me, but then I seem to have become beneath me over the past year or two. (251)
I didn't want him to leave his wife; I just wanted him to want to leave her. (286)

All those plans I had ‒ photography courses and cookery classes ‒ when it comes down to it, they feel a bit pointless, as if I'm playing at real life instead of actually living it. I need to find something that I must do, something undeniable. I can't do this, I can't just be a wife. I don't understand how anyone does it ‒ there is literally nothing to do but wait. Wait for a man to come home and love you. Either that, or look around for something to distract you. (31)

Maybe it was then. Maybe that was the moment when things started to go wrong, the moment when I imagined us no longer as a couple, but a family; and after that, once I had that picture in my head, just the two of us could never be enough. (58)

I don't remember when I started believing it could be more, that we should be more, that we were right for each other. But the moment I did, I could feel him start to pull away. (286)

Sometimes I wonder if I've done or said terrible things, and I can't remember. And if ... if someone tells me something I've done, it doesn't even feel like me. It doesn't feel like it was me who was doing that thing. And it's so hard to feel responsible for something you don't remember. So I never feel bad enough. I feel bad, but the thing that I've done ‒ it's removed from me. It's like it doesn't belong to me. (190)

"Let's not get the police involved unless we really need to."
I think we really do need to. I can't stop thinking about that smile she gave us, that sneer. It was almost triumphant. We need to get away from here. We need to get away from her. (143)

21 July 2015

Redhead Nation

At last. Herewith a post that actually smacks of famdamily as the mis-named title of this blog might suggest. A post that needs posting because I newly hear of dire threats, bullying, and slander against my special tribe.

What was that "Kick a Ginger Day" wickedness? Now we have to publicly unite to defend and demonstrate? We MUST keep speaking up!

Truthfully, I can't say I was subjected to such discrimination myself. Except that one time in the teenage years when a new friend fresh from Germany informed me that Europeans think anyone with red hair is an imbecile. Or as some might say these days, intellectually-challenged. Firmly planted as I was in an extended family of red hair, the comment did not sit well. 

Sure, we all ‒ siblings and cousins ‒ got the jokes ("Liar, liar, hair on fire!") but none of today's evil crap. It's not inconsequential that certain childhood heroes like Maggie Muggins and Anne of Green Gables had bright red hair. Obviously they were not my heroes alone. Some of the world's finest specimens throughout history had shades of red.

Never mind the illustrious personages like Queen Elizabeth I and her dad, or Churchill, Van Gogh, Woollie Willie Nelson, and Carol Burnett - Moira Shearer was my idol.

As the UK prefers to call it, Ginger Nation now has a calendar of events that includes several countries and regions climbing onto the redhead bandwagon. Québec even! Isn't that a corker? They are going to flaunt it. They own it. YES!!

Only personal downside: Oh the agonizing over the freckles. And supposedly few with red hair find it turning grey with age (good). Which may be why, these days, I never get offered a seat in a crowded subway car (bad).

Breaking news: The U.S. gets with it. Good one, San Francisco -  http://adobochronicles.com/2015/07/01/san-francisco-to-host-ginger-pride-in-2016/

For the next generation of ginger nobs ― the nephews, nieces, and grand-kiddies galore ― soon there will be an international Redhead Day. Work at it! Get Prince Harry on board.

11 July 2015

Library Limelights 87

Sam Wiebe. Last of the Independents. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2014.
The further I read, the more I was impressed. Here's a refreshing voice in the line of hard-boiled investigators with soft hearts. Someone deemed this debut as "Vancouver noir." Not a debut for writer Wiebe, but a new genre for him, introducing Michael Drayton, P.I. The detective is handling two missing persons cases among more mundane, boring matters. He works on the shoestring beloved by creators of such characters, his makeshift office peopled with slightly resentful student Katherine and games whiz Ben. Ben's young sister Cynthia is one of the missing.

More recently, Django James is a boy who disappeared together with his father's car. It's soon apparent that Drayton cares more for his clients than he wants to show. And his temper flares high in the presence of criminal scumbags. His hunt for the boy sometimes involves his nemesis, police constable Gavin Fisk. The two men have history regarding one attractive woman ― that's not the only side facet to the story as Drayton meets (and falls for) someone new. Wiebe has a natural, engaging style with easy humour. This reader hopes Drayton will surface again and again.

One-liner ― on being subjected to offensively bad music:
"Put a fucking bullet in me," said Fisk. (260)

Jocks engage:
Gavin Fisk had said he'd be down in a minute. Seventeen minutes later he strolled out of the elevator, a hockey bag slung over his shoulder. A tall, muscular white man with a stubble-dotted head, wearing grey sweats and a shirt that said POLICE: THE WORLD'S LARGEST STREET GANG.
He grinned and grabbed my hand in an alpha-male handshake. I upped the torque of my own grip. Rule one for dealing with people like Gavin Fisk: never show weakness and never back down. Otherwise you'll spend every morning handing over your lunch money. (40)

Interview fail:
Lisa was about my age, pear shaped, with a face buried under bronzer and red lipstick.
"You get the hell out of here," she said to me. "He's not talking to you. Ever. Understand?"
"He said you were the one who dealt with Szabo."
"You're a police officer?"
"Private detective working for ―"
"I don't care," she said. "Get out or I call the real police."
I nodded and walked to the door to wait for her to buzz me out. Propping the door open, I turned back to hurl some scathing putdown at them. I started to point out that between the two of them they only had one pair of eyebrows, but it was too much of a mouthful. I drove home alternating between coming up with better insults and telling myself I was the bigger man for holding my tongue. (72)

Drayton's grandmother and Thanksgiving:

Family-wise I think of myself as alone except for her, though she has a sister with three children and six sullen, Nintendo-addicted grandchildren. I view them as acquaintances, conventioneers who I put out for and put up with for one afternoon every year, plying them with mashed potatoes and gewurtztraminer and sending them on their way so that the other 364.25 days can be free of relatives. For their part, I'm sure they feel equally obligated to descend from their comfortable homes once a year to check in on the Widow Kessler and her peculiar grandson. What does he do again? Some kind of security guard or something. Oh, right. There any money in that? (132-133)

Jussi Adler-Olsen. The Marco Effect. New York: Dutton/Penguin, 2014.
Copenhagen's police department Q is going full tilt in a more complicated story than ever. An unsolved disappearance of four years ago reverberates into current criminal activities and the hunt for Marco, a missing boy who can expose them all. Marco has one miraculous escape after another. Detective Carl Mørck is in danger of being eclipsed by his eager assistants Assad and Rose while his suddenly stalled love life distracts him. He and we learn more tantalizing bits about Assad, whose malapropisms and love of camel metaphors drives Carl mad. A financial boondoggle in Africa, boy soldiers, corrupt government officials, immigrant gangs, and child labour are all part of the byzantine plot, almost veering into disbelief in some scenarios. It's all about the money, what else. Another great winner for Adler-Olsen.

One-liner It was high time he quelled his emotional hangover and reminded this cheeky shrew whose door had a shiny brass plate on it and whose didn't. (133)

Mørck admits his educational gap:
"Technologically illiterate? Don't know the expression. What the devil does it mean?"
"Someone dysfunctional in matters electronic. A person who's unable to operate devices that have more than one handle or button. Thick as a half-wit when it comes to understanding a manual, switching from a dial telephone to a mobile or from sink to dishwasher. You know the type?"
Assad nodded attentively. No doubt it was he who'd coined the expression in the first place. (132)

A very tight spot:
If they shut the door on him he would suffocate and never be found until the house was again inhabited.
Marco pressed his lips together. And when that time came they would find him because of the smell. His smell.
They would find a dead boy no one knew. Suffocated and decomposed. A boy with no distinguishing marks and no identity papers.
His heart was beating so fast that his breathing could hardly keep up in his upright fetal position and he began to sweat. (173)

Eric Rill. Pinnacle of Deceit. Toronto: Georgetown Publications, 2003.
Like Wiebe, Rill is a Canadian author but with less ease in the crime/thriller genre. Four boys meet and bond in an orphanage which they keep secret, but their young experience was not a fully developed story line. Anthony Marshall becomes the bullying, mega-wealthy owner of the Pinnacle hotel chain; Gerald Pratt becomes his passive right hand man; Ricardo Sanchez becomes a notorious Mexican drug lord; and Harmon Baker becomes president of the USA. Sounding over the top? Authors never seem to run out of corruption-among-the-privileged themes. A lesser theme among the threads is parental neglect, abuse, or absence, and the resulting character effects.

Despite their incredible power and resources, the four lives go off the rails when blackmail arises over more recent events, and the killing begins. Wives, grown children, and employees all scramble to protect themselves or each other. Pinnacle starts out with a rather pedestrian style and too many names to remember. Then the non-stop action picks up ... so much so that I suspect a film script and camera angles have already been figured. Rill carries it off with the right touch and realistic details of the hotel industry and other backgrounds. I didn't like the abrupt ending, though. His next in the genre, The innocent Traitor, may be more polished.

A boss you want to kill:
Dolly arrived with full coffee and tea service on a silver tray.
"He's not staying," Marshall informed her. "I need you to send this fax to our bank down in Nassau." Turning back to Pratt, with a smirk on his face, Marshall said, "You know, your kid is one of the smartest I've seen in the business. How in the hell did he come from your sperm? Ever think that Maryanne was banging someone else while you were away on one of your trips?"
"Anthony, I want to speak to you," Pratt said, his face reddening.
"So, speak," Marshall said, picking up a memo from his in-box.
"I mean alone."
"Not one of your 'I feel sorry for myself' dissertations. I'm too busy for that bullshit," Marshall growled. "If you want to chat, why don't you go see your shrink?" (54-5)

A private party:
The press, twenty-five in all not counting the photographers, had landed on the helicopter pad on the north side of the farm and had been bused over moments before. The president's staff members had arrived in their own helicopter. Everyone was here — except the man they had come to see.
A tiny speck approached from the west, emitting a whirling sound that was getting louder by the second. The guests pushed and shoved, trying to get a better view. The noise became deafening as the speck turned into a recognizable shape. Marine One, the president's helicopter, blasted the people below with hot air as it hovered overhead. Finally, the chopper dropped listlessly to the ground, its rotors gradually changing from one whirling cutter into separate, distinguishable blades. Moments later, the door opened. (108)

Under pressure:
"Should we go back to New York?" Caroline asked, pouring herself a shot of Absolut from the bar.
"No. And Caroline, that's it with the booze," Dolan said, taking the glass from Caroline's trembling hand. "You're going to jeopardize both our lives."
"I'll try," Caroline said, tears beginning to well up in her eyes.
"You won't try. You, my friend, are going cold turkey. If not, I'm history," Dolan declared. "This is what they call tough love."
"Shit, Buddy! I can't just give it up. It's not like going on a diet. I'll cut way back. I promise."
"Look, Caroline. I'm sure it's not going to be easy. In fact, it will be a miserable experience. But in a few weeks you'll be a much happier person," Dolan said, reaching out to touch her arm. "I'll help you in any way I can." (194)

30 June 2015

Library Limelights 86

Jo Nesbø. The Son. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.
Nesbø hasn't failed his fans yet, even though this is a stand-alone novel without Harry Hole. Your reviewer finished it nicely on time to avoid stuffing it, a heavy hardcover, into my flight carry-on. It's about a young man, Sonny, bent on rehabilitation after leaving prison where he had chosen to be wrongfully incarcerated. His self-redemptive action plan throws the city of Oslo into an uproar. Police partners Simon and Kari do their best to follow and find Sonny on his murderous spree.

Nevertheless Sonny is one of those misguided but rather naive characters who elicits sympathy. If this was a film, the audience would cheer every time he eliminates another scumbag. An experienced social worker falls under his spell (oh yes, subplots). The interplay between Simon and Kari is great, even though Simon keeps the worry to himself about his wife's health. Ultimately, we wonder if Simon will find the treacherous mole who caused Sonny's problems or be forced to make a trade-off. Totally compelling with a long line of interesting characters, not to mention Nesbø's perfect pacing, tension, and surprises. I'm not the only one who suspects The Son might be the start of a new series.

Hostel interview, next of kin:
"So that your parents, friends or girlfriend can get in touch with you, for example."
He smiled ruefully. "I've none of those."
Martha Lian had heard this reply many times before. So many times it no longer made an impression on her. Her therapist called it compassion fatigue and had explained that it affected most people in the profession at some point. What worried Martha was that it didn't seem to get any better. Of course she understood that there is a limit to how cynical a person who worries about their own cynicism can be, but she had always been fuelled by empathy. Compassion. Love. And she was close to running on empty. So she was startled when she heard the words I've none of those touch something, like a needle causing an atrophied muscle to twitch. (82)

The cleaning lady, his confidante:
Simon leaned his head against the neck rest. "If you knew you were carrying the devil's son, would you still give birth to him, Sissel?"
"We've had this conversation before, Simon."
"I know, but what did you say?"
She sent him a reproachful look. "I said that nature sadly doesn't give the poor mother any choice, Simon. Or the father, for that matter."
"I thought Mr. Thou abandoned you?"
"I'm talking about you, Simon."
Simon closed his eyes again. He nodded slowly. "So we're slaves to love. And who we're given to love, that's a lottery too. Is that what you're saying?"
"It's brutal, but that's how it is," Sissel declared. (283)

Loyalty or betrayal?
Kari cleared her throat. She had planned what she had to say with all sorts of reservations and assurances that she hadn't come to tell tales, only ensure the quality of their work. But now, as she sat here with Parr, who seemed so relaxed and welcoming, who had even admitted he was goofing off, it felt more natural to get straight to the point.
"Simon is on a mission of his own," she said. (356)

Jo Nesbø. Blood on Snow. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2015.
Nesbø overkill, I know. But whaddaya do when two Nesbø books become available about the same time? Would that all favourite authors were thus prolific! Blood on Snow is a short novel, two hundred pages. It represents a slight change in style, making me think of the unique novels by Malcom Mackay. Because here the anti-hero is also a "fixer," a contract killer. An unlikely profession for Olav, the closet romantic, whose propensity for re-writing his life stories is all in his head. He loves Maria, he also loves Corina, but he lacks knowledge of love. His newest assignment to kill his boss's wife deeply shakes his self-image. Playing off Oslo's two criminal gang leaders against each other becomes his only way to survive. Something different and a must for Nesbø fans!

Anyway. To sum up, let's put it like this: I'm no good at driving slowly, I'm way too soft, I fall in love far too easily, I lose my head when I get angry, and I'm bad at math. I've read a bit, but I don't really know much, and certainly nothing anyone would find useful. And stalactites grow faster than I can write.
So what on earth can a man like Daniel Hoffman use someone like me for?
The answer is ‒ as you might have worked out already ‒ as a fixer.
I don't have to drive, and I mostly kill the sort of men who deserve it, and the numbers aren't exactly hard to keep track of. Not right now, anyway. (13)

Reading books:
"Sometimes the story I get into my head is completely different. So I sort of end up getting two stories for the price of one."
She laughed. A loud, bubbly laugh. Her eyes twinkled in the semi-darkness. I laughed too. It wasn't the first time I had told someone I was dyslexic. But it was the first time anyone had continued to ask questions. And the first time I had tried to explain it to someone who wasn't my mum or a teacher. Her hand slid off my arm. Sort of unnoticed. I'd been waiting for it. She was slipping away from me. But her hand slid into mine instead. And squeezed it. "You really are funny, Olav. And kind." (82-83)

This time the Volvo started at once.
I knew where I was going, but it was as if the streets had lost their shape and direction, becoming gently swaying tentacles of a lion's mane jellyfish that I had to keep swerving to follow. It was hard to see where you were in this rubber city where nothing wanted to stay as it was. I saw a red light and braked. Tried to get my bearings. I must have nodded off, because I jumped when the lights changed and a car behind blew its horn. I put my foot down. Where was this, was I still in Oslo? (190)

Martha Grimes. The Black Cat. New York: Viking/Penguin, 2010.
A change of pace from the above; Grimes is an author I haven't visited for a long time. Therefore I am not up on police superintendent Richard Jury's background or prior cases in a long series, some of which are referred to here. His odd relationships with Melrose Plant and Harry Johnson are leavened with much-appreciated humour. His relationships with several women are less transparent! The mystery concerning the deaths of three unrelated call girls flows smoothly from the pen of an expert. Interjecting a live black cat (or three of them) into The Black Cat pub seemed dubious at first ― who needs invented cutesy dialogue between Morris the cat and Mungo the dog? ― but eventually the purpose of the device is revealed. Clever Grimes.

Hospital, intensive care:
Jury sat for a few minutes watching her before he rose and walked round the room, back and forth, stopping to look at her. An effigy was what she reminded him of. The incomparable, commanding, relentless detective inspector Lu Aguilar, still as stone and helpless. What he felt now was that he would never be able to understand his feelings for her, what they had been. Or hers for him. That part of his mind would be still as stone and helpless, too. (107)

Underling Wiggins:
Boss. Wiggins had started this more edgy form of address. He was also rendering more opinions than usual. He frowned more. He contemplated more. "I hope you're not losing your common touch, Wiggins."
There it was. Wiggins frowned. "What do you mean?"
"That you're sounding more coplike. More Prime Suspect."
"She's a woman. Helen Mirren."
"I'm aware Helen Mirren is a woman. Her team calls her 'guv' and 'boss.'"
"But that's what we do, guv. There something wrong with that?"
"No. Not at all. Except you're sounding more like you're on our side."
Wiggins' frown deepened. "But ... whose side would I be on if not ours?"
"The other side. The poor bloody public's that's got to put up with us. As I said, you could be losing the common touch." (131-2)

A nine-year-old rakes Jury over the coals:
She sighed and shook her head, fielding one more disappointment. "Then why hasn't he found Morris? If he works for Scotland Yard, he ought to be able to find a cat. How does he keep his job?"
With as much condescension as he could muster, Melrose said, "He has missing people to look out for; he can't just―"
"But if he can't find a cat, how can he ever find a person? Finding people's a lot harder."
"I beg your pardon. It is much harder to find a cat than a person. A cat is much smaller and can get into places a person can't."
"A cat can't read street signs so it's harder for her to know where she is."
"Don't be silly, cats find things by instinct; they don't have to read." What point was being made? He'd forgotten. He rustled his paper and gave it a snap. (209-10)

24 June 2015

FEC Fitness

Health crisis. Apparently the tiny FEC gym in a tiny dedicated room is not doing its job. Instructions for the rowing machine are incomprehensible and the walking machine has been abandoned since Arthur had his freak accident. We suspect most of the equipment is antiquated, somewhat like the users.

Funds from Upper Levels in the FEC management have been allocated in an effort to rehab the sedentary as well as the house hippos: get 'em exercising. Naturally Mr. OC of the Inmates Committee is miffed at not being consulted. His spiteful demented humming can be heard late at night.

Therapy fitness classes are hereby the new distraction. Attendance is voluntary, of course. Nevertheless it draws the bored, the socially-challenged, and those who think free food might be involved.
To that end, a perky Y-generation person bounces to the front of the common room to lead the class and introduces herself as Kaylie. She faces an assortment of FEC inmates residents in various stages of decay. Her beaming smile never lets up. Even when McElroy starts a running commentary that booms off the walls. Ms Etoile, ever the cheerleader for any new FEC enterprise, adds her own stage voice to encourage and create the essential esprit de corps.
"Darling!" Ms E fawns, "So COOL!! Your wonderful tats!"
"Looks like she fell into a dye vat," Ophelia says to Sheila.

"We can do the first part sitting down," Kaylie announces.
McElroy: "SPEAK UP, LITTLE GIRL, SOME OF THESE OLD COWS ARE DEAF!" Sheila kicks his chair.
Ms E: "Does it hurt, hon? Piercing your skin like that?"
Kaylie: "Now. Spread your arms wide like this and we'll do circles."
Mouthy Monica takes the opportunity to swat Mildred across the face. Feuds keep some of these people alive.

Kaylie: "Now we do neck circles, like this. Not so fast, George! You'll hurt yourself."
George: "I already did. Now my neck is stuck."
Ms E: "I was thinking of getting a nose piercing myself."
Bella: "I like yoga better."
McElroy: "YOU LIKE VODKA EVEN BETTER, HARHARHAR YOU LUSH!" Jeremy whacks McElroy on the back with the effect of a feather striking a bouncy castle.
"Okay," says Archie, "that's enough for one day."

Kaylie: "Next. We want to bend over and reach for the floor. Like this."
McElroy: "NICE ASS!"
Wanda looks around wildly. She only has peripheral vision, unsure whose ass is under scrutiny. Maxine is napping. Sally is on the floor doing her own exercises.
Ms E: "Get your fat butt outta my face!"

As Kaylie advances to finger rolls, the mutters grow:
"My physiotherapist doesn't do it that way."
"She's far too young to know what she's doing."
"I'm choking."
"Is that a dragon or a snake on her neck?"
"What about tea and cookies? Like the yoga teacher does."
McElroy: "ARE WE DONE YET?!"

Kaylie's smile never falters. She is demonstrating bicep curls. Jeremy is slumped over his walker. Bella is edging her chair toward the door. Mildred is knitting. Wanda is crying. Trevor is lost in thought gazing out the window, perhaps watching the last bits of enthusiasm float away.

Upper Levels of Management haven't got it right yet. Just show these inert fossils a karaoke machine and watch them spring into action.

Another feckless day in the life ...  

11 June 2015

Library Limelights 85

Catharina Engelman Sundberg. The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2012.
It's a bit much, innit? I mean after Barfoot's Exit Lines and Jonasson's The One Hundred YearOld Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Are senior citizens a big literary buzz now? Cunning Seniors in retirement homes with devious escape plans? Somehow, Jonasson spoiled me for the rest of them. That was zany; that really did break all the rules. Seeing the well done, Swedish-produced, eponymous film only reinforced it. Whereas Sundberg approaches from a low-key, ever-so genteel sense of humour, largely with characters as stereotypes. It's ideal for lovers of Brit "cosy" mysteries. And voilà, a sequel already appears.

Ringleader Martha wants to bust out of a no-frills, rigidly-confining retirement home and enlists four friends for a caper intended to land them in a state prison where inmates enjoy a far more salubrious lifestyle. Of course Murphy's Law kicks in and the plot has some very good moments, but it's more like events were made up haphazardly as the author went along. Trial and error go on a bit endlessly. Screwball comedy works best with zingy dialogue; the friends' chatter amongst themselves is just too politely demure and cute for me. Yet it's that tone that wins the novel praise. Okay, so I'm lowlife in my mystery/crime preferences. I do try to read around.

When her final moments came, she would walk to the grave, crawl into the coffin and put the lid on herself ... (33-4)

Martha yawned widely, but her thoughts were all confused and she really couldn't think straight. Oh dear, oh dear, how slow and tired she was feeling. Ever since the party it had felt as if she had small clouds of chewing gum clogging up the inside of her head. Of course, the wine and all the pills she took every day didn't mix very well. But what fun they had had! If only they had had time to tidy up and return to their rooms ... Yes, if only they hadn't fallen asleep ... (19)

Not so hot on the trail:
When the three police officers gathered at the station to go through what they had seen, they were exhausted and very dejected. Chief Inspector Petterson folded his hands on the table in front of him.
"As you all know, the paintings and the money have disappeared, and five people have confessed to the crime. Even though we haven't found anything incriminating, the prosecutor will want to have the five suspects remanded in custody. After all, we are talking about paintings to a value of thirty million, and we don't have any other leads."
Strömbeck put his feet up on the desk and stared straight ahead.
"Can you see the headline before you? 'Five pensioners remanded in custody. The police have no other leads.'"
They all sighed, saying they would call it a day and it was high time to go home. Not only did they have a perplexing art robbery to solve but now they were also saddled with five troublesome oldies! (200)

Daniel Silva. The English Girl. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2013.
Ooooooh, this was a good one! Full of crafty spies, sleazy politicians, and assorted oddballs on a wide European-Middle Eastern stage. It seems I caught master espionage agent Daniel Allon in the middle of a series; good to hear there is more before and aft. French kidnappers have taken the British prime minister's clandestine mistress as a hostage. It takes Allon and his backup man, Christopher Keller, to learn what the criminals really want as they chase around France with high-level blessings from London. Daniel, you see, is a storied veteran of the Israeli secret service. Compared in some circles to the James Bond character, Daniel is more introspective and modest, with a wife Chiara whom he adores.

One element I particularly like is the detailed background scenes in Corsica, Jerusalem, London, St Petersburg, and other places. Such verisimilitude helps when some of the logistics seem a bit improbable, like planting support teams and complicated tactics and technology into one foreign venue after another (it's not always clear, but the entire story consumes months, not days). As with all the best mystery novels, just when you think it's over, it's not. I sussed a major plot-changer before it happened but that did not spoil the effect. Good characters, good writing, and my kind of dialogue.

Word: revanchism – basically revenge, but generally applied to a state's policy dedicated to recovering territory lost through military or political strife.

The exchange approaches:
"How are we going to do this?" she asked.
"The usual way," answered Gabriel. "You're going to examine the money, and I'm going to hold a gun to your head. And if you do anything to make me nervous, I'm going to blow your brains out."
"Are you always this charming?"
"Only with girls I really like."
"Where's the money?"
"Under the bed."
"Are you going to get it for me?"
"Not a chance." (189)

Reference to a previous adventure:
"Zizi al-Bakari was killed as the result of an operation initiated by the Americans and their allies in the global war on terror."
"But you were the one who pulled the trigger, weren't you? You killed him in Cannes, in front of Nadia. And then you recruited Nadia to take down Rashid al-Husseini's terrorist network. Brilliant," she said. "Truly brilliant."
"If I was so brilliant, Nadia would still be alive."
"But her death changed the world. It helped to bring democracy to the Arab world."
"And look how well that worked out," Gabriel said glumly. (247)

Change of bosses:
"Who are you?" Keller asked of the unsmiling, bespectacled figure standing in the entrance hall.
"None of your business," replied Navot.
"Strange name. Hebrew, is it?"
Navot frowned. "You must be Keller."
"I must be."
"Where's Gabriel?"
"He and Chiara went to Guildford."
"Because we ate all the fish in the stock pond."
"Who's in charge?"
"The inmates."
Navot smiled. "Not any more." (353-4)