20 April 2015

FEC Elevators

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

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

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

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

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

Another feckless day in the life ...



10 April 2015

Library Limelights 81

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

29 March 2015

Library Limelights 80

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

21 March 2015

Library Limelights 79

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 March 2015

FEC Senior Love (b)

Lest anyone think FEC is a whirlpool of suspicion, protest, paranoia, and pet obsession, it is. there is a kinder, gentler side. As when the hand sanitizers were installed and not one person thought up a complaint about them. Or when Blanche went missing and those with clear minds and sturdy legs mobilized to search the neighbourdamhood.  ⃰


The Inmates' Committee (IC) works hard to promote harmonious social events. Other than Festivus and anything with free food, organized social gatherings meet with limited success. The geriatrics inmates residents don't care to be seen dancing with each other. In public. Nevertheless, the IC cannot regulate individual behaviours. Certain privacy laws place questionable personal activities firmly under the heel of Simon the Manager, a link above Mr. OC in the Chain of Command (to Mr. OC's regret). But neither has any control over the thriving rumour mill.

For instance, everyone knows about the gypsies Dominic thinks are a big secret. Bella stopped whining about them since she developed a huge crush on the flamboyant one we call Carmen; Bella has taken to wearing extravagant, atrocious earrings newly revealed by wild tossing of her hair. Word has it that Dominic continues to escort a much shadier lady in and out of the elevator after midnight, motivating Simon to work his way through a paper jungle of eviction forms. Speaking of that, the elevators have seen it all. George is going to be slapped into court if his plan to install a hidden camera works out.

Daphne used to ride the elevator for a couple of hours a day, hoping for a romantic encounter but now she thinks she is getting sext messages from a guy on the 8th floor. He calls himself Bad Hat Harry, she confided nervously to an ever-wider circle of BFFs. Jeremy said she's delusional but Fragrant Elayne said go for it. The two of them are making a list of every man on the 8th floor with a view to methodically eliminating the gays and the comatose.

Then there's Randall the welfare pest, every woman's nightmare. Stinking and starving about a week before the government cheque arrives, he regularly canvasses female neighbours for a handout. If you so much as answer the door he blatantly generously offers (what he thinks is) a fair exchange: a testosterone tuneup. Reports are circulating that retail sales of water pistols to senior ladies have skyrocketed.

When Mildred first arrived at FEC, Luther fell immediately in love and the courtship raged hotly from her floor to his until one day she forgot her meds and woke up in his place screaming that he stole her purse. So of course Simon had to get involved, some external personnel were fetched, and Mildred had a forced period of rehab. 

Mouthy Monica had a hip replacement that interrupted her frequent rendezvous with Louis that she thought no-one knew about. Their meetings were contingent on how steady or shaky Louis might be, any given day, on dismounting his scooter and mounting Monica. He visited her a bit prematurely after her surgery and as luck would have it, her cat decided enough was enough. Said cat streaked maliciously across his feet and Louis flailed, toppling all 270 pounds of himself onto the bed that crashed sideways, dumping Monica to the floor on her mending hip. The paramedics had to come to check things out and sedate Monica but they said it was not their job to pick up Louis and move him back to his own apartment. Naturally, by this time a medium-size crowd had gathered in the corridor.

Rockin' with love we are. No secrets.

Another reckless feckless day in the life. Dear heavens.

Blanche was located by Sheila's search-and-rescue team on the church steps chatting to a dog. She lost herself on her way to the grocery store via the Hearty Tartan pub and made many new friends.

04 March 2015

Library Limelights 78

Richard Flanagan. The Narrow Road to the Deep North. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.
Man Booker winner (2014). The "narrow road" is a railway the Japanese hastily want to build through the steaming rain forests of Thailand (Siam) during the Second World War. Prisoners of war, mainly Australians, are the forced labourers lacking proper tools, food, and medical aid. They die every day in the most squalid conditions. This is what "Bridge on the River Kwai" memorialized ― without the technicolour and without Alec Guinness. It's a graphic visit to humanity's hell. The novel's alternating episodes before, during, and after the war are a bit disconcerting at first.

But the book also dwells on one man's experiences before and after the war. Doctor Dorrigo Evans is a prime example of a life scarcely lived, although many of his POW associates exhibit the same symptoms post-war. The men are oh so real, but most are confused with unarticulated feelings. Does life follow a line or a circle? Not a particularly sympathetic character overall, in my view, Dorrigo is contrasted with Japanese officers who apparently never question the war machine. His appeal to women is never quite clear; his ultimate boredom, unsatisfactory marriage, and sense of loss and failure are depressing. In short, Narrow Road is highly insightful and educational but not a cheerful read.

One-liner: Virtue was vanity dressed up and waiting for applause. (41)

Major Nakamura:
He had been beaten all the time in the Japanese Army, and it had been his duty to beat other soldiers. Why, when he was training he had been knocked out twice, and once suffered a ruptured eardrum. He had been beaten with a baseball bat on his buttocks for showing 'insufficient enthusiasm' when washing his superior's underwear. He had been beaten senseless by three officers when, as a recruit, he had misheard an order. He had been made to stand-to all day on the parade ground, and when he had collapsed they had fallen on him for disobeying the order and beaten him unconscious. (238)

Constant POW beatings:
For an instant he thought he grasped the truth of a terrifying world in which one could not escape horror, in which violence was eternal, the great and only veracity, greater than the civilisations it created, greater than any god man worshipped, for it was the only true god. It was as if man existed only to transmit violence to ensure its domain is eternal. For the world did not change, this violence had always existed and would never be eradicated, men would die under the boot and the fists and horror of other men until the end of time, and all human history was a history of violence. (221)

Visiting his brother:
Tom told him how he had the heart attack that felled him in the Kent Hotel, just as he was about to throw a bull's eye.
A bull's eye?
Had it in the bag, Tom said. Bloody embarrassing way to go, in a puddle of piss with a dart in your mitt. Would have preferred somewhere private, like the tomato patch. (303)

 Linwood Barclay. Never Look Away. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2010.
The prolific Barclay pulls off another of his middle-class-in-suburbia specialities where life goes horribly wrong for an average family. David Harwood is a journalist for a small-town newspaper, being thwarted by corporate malefactors during his investigation of a corruption story. His wife Jan suddenly disappears and the police treat him as a "person of interest." Dave is bewildered by a succession of inexplicable events, so much so that the reader wonders when the lunkhead will catch on. We are led into a subplot before the lightbulb pierces the gloom for poor, frantic Dave. Typical Barclay momentum speeds up in two streams with a dead body, identity fraud, and the kidnapping of his son. Haven't met a Barclay yet that doesn't live up to the thriller genre.

His newspaper:
"Please," I said. "I get what's going on. We like this new prison. We don't want to make waves. We act real nice and play down local opposition to this thing and we get to sell them the land they need to build."Something flickered in Madeline's eyes. Maybe she'd figure out Brian had told me. Fuck him."But this will end up biting us in the ass later, Madeline. Readers, they may not get it right away, but over time, they'll start figuring out that we don't care about news anymore, that we're just a press release delivery system, something that keeps the Target flyer from getting wet, a place where the mayor can see a picture of himself handing out a check to the Boy Scouts. We'll still carry car crashes and three-alarm fires and we'll do the annual pieces on the most popular Halloween costumes and what New Year's resolutions prominent locals are making, but we won't be a fucking newspaper. What's the point in doing all this if we don't care what we are anymore?"Madeline looked me in the eye and managed a rueful smile. "How are things, David? How's Jan?" (43)

The lower classes:
At last night's dinner at the Big Boy just off the interstate, he'd had his meal half eaten before she had her napkin unfolded and on her lap. He was shoveling it in like the restaurant was in flames, and he wanted his fill before his hair caught fire. (165)

Malcolm Mackay, The Sudden Arrival of Violence. UK: Mantle/Macmillan Publishers Limited, 2014.
The third and final book of his Glasgow underworld series demonstrates once again that this young author has more than made his bones in crime fiction. Whether Glasgow criminals interest you or not, the almost staccato writing style propels you forward into a whirlwind guessing game. It's a stand-alone book, but readers of the previous two (it helps) will recognize the leading characters. Organized gangs watch for takeover opportunities, at the same time forced to watch their own backs. Strategic planning to weaken a rival group is always on the table. Weary detective Fisher works day and night for his opportunity to take them all down.

After two murders, how much false evidence can the schemers plant with the police? Can one of their gunmen achieve his goal of leaving "the life" to disappear off their radar? His plan might work if they don't kill him first. But once snagged into the nefarious way of life, it's a lifetime contract with no escape clause. The insight into the thinking of these men (and the occasional woman) is amazing and compelling. Brilliantly plotted.

The muscle:
George doesn't live in fear of death. If you stay away from the killing, it tends to stay away from you. But he has beaten up a lot of people in his working life. Some who are just stupid enough to think revenge might be a good idea. He's had a couple of people come after him over the years. Looking to get even. Looking to show the people around them that they're still tough. It's a certain type of person you have to worry about. The pathetic junkies are no threat. They're living day to day. They have no concept of revenge for historical acts. It's small-time dealers, the wannabes. ... You beat up some little bastard who thinks he's a big tough gangster. He's humiliated, so he looks for revenge. Happened twice. Both times they tried to deliver the beating themselves. Forgetting that George is a professional. Beating is what he does. A second humiliations taught them to give up. (180)

The informant:
She's gone now. Sashaying out of the office. They didn't discuss numbers, but she accepted the offer. She put up a little token resistance at first, as good form dictates. But she took it. She was always going to take it. She won't get the money until after her meeting with Fisher. It's payment for telling Fisher what Jamieson wants him to hear, and she must know it. (236-237)

The hit man:
There's only one thing he knows how to do well. Kill people. He knows how to scout a target. Knows how to do the job. Knows how to get away. He's good at it. Spent years thinking about it, planning each job, learning every detail. His biggest challenge will be avoiding that career from now on. Making sure he doesn't weaken, and take a job somewhere. Wouldn't be hard. Every city has its own criminal industry. Every criminal industry needs talented gunmen. The pay is good, the work is easy, if you have the skill for it. Wouldn't be hard to meet the right people. Not if you know what you're looking for. (189)

24 February 2015

FEC Senior Love (a)

They walked slowly, the few steps from the front door to the corner. Slowly, because he was shuffling with his head down, watching for obstacles in the sidewalk. She was holding his arm with two hands for support. His support, not hers.

They stood and waited. Strands of her flyaway gray hair lifted in a breeze, not unattractively, as she fussed with him. He looked a bit anxious. Facing each other, she checked his shirt collar, his buttons, brushed his shoulders, her hands fluttering nervously. Then they clasped hands and waited some more.

The bus arrived, the door opened. He moved forward reaching for the hand rail. As his foot planted on the first step, wobbling a bit, she tugged slightly on his arm. Holding the rail, he turned halfway back and bent over to share a lingering kiss.


She watched intently as he paid his fare and groped his way to a seat. Through the window, he could see her, peering over his glasses with a nod and half-smile. She waved and blew more kisses as the driver pulled away. She watched the bus all the way down the street until it turned a corner. A suddenly solitary figure.
Lately meeting, recently moving in together. They may be old but new love is always young.