07 November 2015

Library Limelights 95

Ian McEwan. Amsterdam. Vintage Canada/Random House, 1999.
A change of pace from mystery thrillers. Two old friends meet at the funeral for Molly, a woman they both once loved. Clive is the celebrated composer; Vernon is the editor of tabloid newspaper The Judge. The gathering includes Molly's husband and another of her lovers, a highly placed politician. Thus are we introduced to a story of ambition and morality told in the blackest humour. Clive and Vernon, feeling stressed and the effects of ageing, make an ominous pact. This smart/small novel won the Booker prize in 1998.

When he reached, in solitude, for a thought, there was no-one there to think it. (29)
"Mr. Halliday, you have the mentality of a blackmailer, and the moral stature of a flea." (125)

Daily editorial meeting:
Today, of course, there would be no bids for the front page. Vernon's one concession was to reverse the usual order so that home news and politics would be last. The sports editor had a background piece on the Atlanta Olympics and a why-oh-why on the state of English table tennis doubles. The literary editor, who had never before been in early enough to attend a morning conference, gave a somnolent account of a novel about food which sounded so pretentious that Vernon had to cut him off. From arts there was a funding crisis, and Lettice O'Hara in features was at last ready to run her piece on the Dutch medical scandal, and also, to honour the occasion, was offering a feature on how industrial pollution was turning male fish into females. (112)

A little tiff:
Vernon hung up on him, just as he was about to hang up on Vernon. Without bothering to lace up his shoes, Clive ran down the stairs in a fury, cursing as he went. It wasn't yet five o'clock, but he was having a drink, he deserved a drink and he'd punch the man who tried to stop him. But he was alone, of course, and thank God. It was a gin and tonic, though mostly it was gin, and he stood by the draining board and sank it, without ice or lemon, and thought bitterly of the outrage. The outrage of it! He was framing the letter he would like to send this scum he mistook for a friend. (137)

Vernon's newspaper content:

On Sunday he lolled about the sitting room numbly reading the rest of the stories in Friday's Judge. The world was in its usual mess: fish were changing sex, British table tennis had lost its way, and in Holland some unsavoury types with medical degrees were offering a legal service to eliminate your inconvenient elderly parents. How interesting. (142-3)

Mary Jackman. Spoiled Rotten. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2013.
At this year's Word on the Street, the Dundurn guys made me take this little book home. I'm glad I did but sad there has been no followup yet to the adventures of Liz Walker, perennially broke owner of a popular downtown Toronto bistro. Clearly channelling her own (actually successful) restaurant experience, the author created a flip, charming businesswoman who stumbles into a messy murder. Her chef Daniel, manager Rick, detective Winn, hook-up Andy, and assorted Kensington Market vendors are all involved in some way. I love the breezy writing and Liz's first-person perspective on life in general. The entire cast of characters is delightful and deserves revival in further books.

One Liners:
Daniel's sister Meriel had the best red hair I'd ever seen. (79)
When he needed a new girlfriend, all he had to do was open a window and yell, "Next!" (106)

"Hi Rick, it's me."
"Where are you? That policeman you're in love with is looking for you."
"I am not in love with him. He's not my type."
"Everyone's your type. Now where are you?" (93-4)

Image is everything:
Winn was acting mighty protective, though, and insisted on driving me home.
"I'm fine, honest," I pleaded. "My car is just up ahead."
He held onto my arm. "Listen. Just get in my car, okay? I think you could use a drink. You look awful."
Why were men always telling me how awful I looked? Okay, admittedly my wool coat smelled like an old goat, my shoes were caked with mud, and my hair was matted and hanging in strands down my face. Didn't I possess enough inner beauty to make up for being a sloppy mess most of the time? Winn would surely see the real me shining through. (141)

More business:
"I'm sorry, Rick. I know I haven't been around much lately. You're doing a great job and I owe you."
"You owe me big, madam. Anyway, don't worry about it. I'll make sure the staff is finished cash-out and clear the machines." He walked back toward me. "By the way, you look amazing." Then he kissed me on the cheek. Three men, three kisses, not bad for a day's work; I should wear heels more often. (192)

George Macdonald Fraser. The Complete McAuslan. Delaware: Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2009.
I'd read one section of the published trilogy before (stories originally written from 1970 to 1988). This time I completed the other two: McAuslan in the Rough and The Sheikh and the Dustbin. More laugh-out-loud at the rollicking regimental antics of WWII and post-war Scottish soldiery. Fraser draws from his own service days with a deft touch for endless stories of cock-ups among the Highland and Glasgow men in Lt. MacNeill's platoon. Most tales are based at their North African postings.

McAuslan of the title is the epitome of an awkward, unwashed, "handless," illiterate private without a mean bone in his body. Among other episodes, he wins a quiz, falls in love, and golf-caddies for senior officers, proving his ineptitude and uselessness. Immensely entertaining! Language and prose are brilliant. There are so many funny or touching parts, maybe brief descriptors will convey individual characters:

There he was, Darwin's discovery, in his usual disreputable condition, buttons undone, hair awry, shoe-laces trailing, and ‒ I tried not to look ‒ his bag of chips still clutched in one hand. (263)
... whose grey-white shirt was open to the waist, revealing what was either his skin or an old vest, you couldn't tell which. His hair was tangled and his mouth hung open; altogether he looked as though he'd just completed a bell-ringing stint at Notre Dame. (330)
He took a shambling dive over the tailboard and the sound of rending cloth and an appalling oath split the night. (462)

The Padre: 
I found him in the mess, muttering nervously, dunking egg-sandwiches in his tea and trying to eat them with a cigarette in his mouth. (249)

Wee Wullie 
... was my platoon incorrigible, a rugged giant of extraordinary strength and evil temper, given to alcoholic excesses on a heroic scale which frequently involved him with the military police and provost staff. (454)
... he went over the tailboard like a silent mammoth, swinging down one-handed from the overhead stanchion to land noiselessly in the sand, while McAuslan fell over me, muttering ... (462)

Captain Stock: 
... a terrible creature of blood and iron who had flattened all his opponents with unimagined ferocity; he was a relic of the Stone Age who had found his way into the Army Physical Training Corps, this Stock, and I wouldn't have gone near him with a whip, a gun, and a chair. Primitive wasn't the word; he made McAuslan and Wee Wullie look like Romantic poets. (420)

Regimental Sergeant-Major Mackintosh ...
... appeared, armed with his nominal rolls, and looking like an Old Testament prophet who had just been having words with the Lord and getting the worst of it. (295)

Captain Errol: 
"I wouldnae let him near my malt, my money, or my maidservant." (416)

The M.O. [Medical Officer] golfing: 
... eating pills and wearing gym shoes, was accompanied by a caddy festooned with impedimenta ‒ an umbrella, binoculars, flask, sandwich case and the like. (331)
"It's deplorable, sir; the M.O has been nippin' ahint a bush after every hole for a sook at his flask, and iss as gassed as a Ne'erday tinker." 334

The second-in-command: 
... was a lean, craggy, normally taciturn man with a rat-trap mouth that made him look like one of the less amiable Norman barons. (424)

jankers - (army) disciplinary restrictions for minor infractions
slantendicular - slanting
tripsaricopsem - superstitious Scots word for fending off evil spirits (uniquely Fraser?)
flunkify - self-explanatory, love it!

30 October 2015

Library Limelights 94

Daniel Silva. The English Spy. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. 2015.
Master spy Gabriel Allon returns in a hunt for the assassin of a British princess. Hopscotching around Europe, not to mention IRA hangouts in Ireland, he assembles his usual gang of experts. The villain is the vicious Eamon Quinn who has a back story with both Allon and his buddy Christopher Keller. We get enough exposition of actions occurring in previous novels to understand the depth of vengeance being waged, with plenty of past and current political machinations a forte of Silva's. A gamut of spies radiating in all directions: Irish, English, Israeli, Iranian, Russian.

The story more or less becomes a cycle of kidnappings and interrogations. It takes place over a month's period while Allon's pregnant wife waits patiently in Jerusalem. The pace makes for compulsive reading, but the changing operational goals can be a bit confusing. The technology used by spies is a huge contribution to their success; for instance, one asks how lost they would be without the CCTV cameras in different cities. Maybe I've overdosed on Silva, but is he becoming formulaic? Veering into overly dramatic prose at times seems over the top.

The new Ireland?
The economic miracle of the 1990s transformed Ireland from one of Europe's poorest countries into one of its richest, but with prosperity came an even greater appetite for narcotics, especially cocaine and Ecstasy. The old crime bosses gave way to a new breed of kingpins who waged bloody wars over turf and market share. Where once Irish mobsters used sawed-off shotguns to enforce their will, the new gangland warriors armed themselves with AK-47s and other heavy weaponry. Bullet-riddled bodies began to appear on the streets of the housing estates. (78)

Jerusalem calling:
Seymour hesitated, then cautiously lifted the receiver to his ear. As usual, the Israeli spymaster didn't bother with an exchange of pleasantries.
"I think we might have found the man you're looking for."
"Who is he?"
"An old friend."
"Of yours or ours?"
"Yours," said the Israeli. "We don't have any friends."
"Can you tell me his name?"
"Not on the phone."
"How soon can you be in London?"
The line went dead. (25)

Safe house discretion:
Two members of the staff had looked after him once before, after an incident in Hyde Park involving the daughter of the American ambassador. He was a gentleman, an artist by nature, a bit on the quiet side, a touch temperamental, but many of his ilk were. They would watch over him, tend to his wounds, and then send him on his way. And not once would they speak his name, for as far as they were concerned he did not exist. He was a man without a past or future. He was a blank page. He was dead. (185)

Karin Fossum. He Who Fears the Wolf. Publishing page missing (1997, translation 2003).
The book, an early Konrad Sejer mystery, arrived in pretty battered condition. My strategy was to read the series in chronological order – well, there are nine more to go; we shall see how I fare. Here, Fossum produces pure psychological drama with a seemingly impossible situation off the top. Errki, a young man of undefined mental illness, around whom local myths have grown, is kidnapped by a rather inept bank robber. Initially, the developing relationship between the two does not promise your usual whodunnit, but Fossum is superb at drawing us in. A bit creepy, her credible mastery of the disturbed mind, but fascinating. Throw in a murder, a young witness, and Sejer's colleagues, and we have a well-constructed short novel. For the time being, I just want to find out if Konrad recognizes his attraction to the lovely doctor Sara.

One-liner: "I'm a wave, I break only once." (187)

Errki and death:
This is how he saw it: he would plummet into the endless universe, on to a path that was his alone, others passing by on the right and the left, beyond his reach, like faint vibrations in the atmosphere, small gusts streaming past. Maybe his mother was hovering around like that, with her arms out to the sides like wings and the light from the stars like crystals in her black hair. Following her would be the dark sound of a flute. (95)

Intellectual flirtation:
"What about you?" he said suddenly. "Aren't you one of those successful and goal-oriented people? Are you rebelling?"
"No," she admitted. "And I can't understand it, because I'm fundamentally full of despair."
"Full of despair?"
"Aren't you?" She gave him a long look. "You can't be an enlightened, intelligent, involved human being on this earth without at the same time being full of despair. It's just not possible."
Am I full of despair? Sejer wondered.
"Besides it's the sterling personalities that do best in this society," she said. "Whole, absolutely confident and consistent people. You know – people with strength of character!"
He couldn't hold back his laughter any longer.
"Here we have room for rebellion, and we're not afraid of trouble. We're not afraid of failure either." She brushed her fringe back from her face. "And I probably couldn't have existed in any community other than this one." (105)

"In Vietnam," Ellman said suddenly, "when the Americans hiked through the bush in the heat of the day, their brains would start to boil under their helmets."
"Boil? Good God." Sejer shook his head.
"They were never the same again."
"They wouldn't have been the same, no matter what. But honestly," he turned to look at the others, "do you really believe that's possible?"
"Of course not."
"You're not a doctor, either, are you?" Sejer said drily and poked at his cap. (205-6)

Philip Margolin. Fugitive. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.
Amanda Jaffe is hired to defend a murder charge against Charlie Marsh, a shady character hiding from U.S. prosecution in the evil dictatorship of West African country Batanga (for a mo there, thought I was channelling Bruce Medway of Robert Wilson redux!). Charlie returns to face the music in Oregon, igniting new murders and reviving an old case against his co-defendant Sally Pope. Despite being hampered by lying witnesses and an over-eager reporter, Amanda uncovers the real killer by studying events at the crime scene, a tricky setting to reproduce. Fugitive is a smooth read (Amanda is a recurring Margolin character) coming from a prolific pro.

Nothing subtle about Sally:
"Let's get this out of the way, okay? My husband is United States Congressman Arnold Pope Jr. and he's in Washington, DC, tonight, saving the country from liberals, abortionists, and criminals like you. Now, if that frightens you so much that you can't get it up, leave. If you're still interested in a roll in the hay, can the questions." (102-3)

No means no:
"No, seriously, how about dinner, tonight? You can pick the restaurant. I'm on an expense account. Make it someplace expensive and romantic."
Kate turned her head for a second and Levy flashed a wolfish grin. The investigator made a note to ask Amanda for hazardous duty pay.
"Thanks, Dennis, but I'm living with someone."
"He doesn't need to know. Tell him it's a business meeting."
"Dennis, let me ask you directly. Are you hitting on me?"
Levy's grin shifted from wolfish to sly. "Maybe."
"By this time next year, I guarantee you I'm going to be famous and rich. You could do a lot worse."
"Dennis, I'm trying to be nice and I'm trying to be clear. I'm in a serious relationship and it's not with you. Furthermore, it won't be, ever. Do you understand what I just said? And while you're thinking about your answer, remember that I carry a gun and I know how to use it." (234)

25 October 2015

FEC Security

The dark underbelly of FEC occasionally surfaces in rumours. Only those who venture out at night may be privy to the truth. Or partial truths. While the pure of heart slumber obliviously, the deceptively quiet building entrances are manned by a night security guard and cameras.

For all the good they do. Security seems to be a part-time opportunity occupation either for goofing off or bettering one's lot in life. Personnel have a way of changing frequently, due to terminal boredom or conduct unbecoming. The more ambitious hirees spend their time on homework. Potential chefs, landscape designers, and e-journalists have secretly toiled away in the midnight hours, to the general approval of the passing nocturnal populace. Less aspiring specimens take the occasional slumber when not watching porn on the office computer. Or stroll on the roof terrace wafting a little weed.

Mostly the job is undemanding. Discretion is a necessary component unless an Infraction occurs. Helping a few ladies find their doors after girls' night out. Preventing Archie and McElroy – Scooter Power – from demolishing the plate glass entrance after an evening at the Hearty Tartan pub. Showing drunks how to use the intercom system. Keeping Dominic's gypsies out. Subduing late-night carpenters. Tracking down the thumping bass of a musical artiste whose neighbours are going mental.

In the wee hours, a few inmates residents are treating FEC security like the confessional. Or proverbial bartender. Engaging security person in jittery-insomniac conversation on a regular basis is a habit for Mouthy Monica who vies for the spotlight with Sally – who never sleeps anyway – and a hair-pulling match for the guard's attention is one of those rumours. Guard's role in this scenario of pretty much dreary monologue is contractually undefined. It's been refined to a patient nod now and then with stifled eyerolls.

There was the time the guard didn't recognize and refused to admit Jeremy freshly returning from a party. A cross-dressing party. A Near Infraction. Or the time Trevor developed a crush on the handsome young law student guard; progressing to stalker symptoms was actually Trevor's Infraction. We can't be certain but word is that particular incident involved Upper Levels in the Chain of Command with legal Dispute Resolution.

How the occasional street person gains entrance ‒ to be found sleeping in a common room or a hall corner ‒ is a puzzle. To be discovered by the most nervous of nightwalkers. Like Daphne, for instance, who habitually stumbles around looking for someone else who can't sleep. Once when she found a semi-comatose body, she shrieked unholy murder until the guard could figure out where the problem was. Finally someone had the foresight to shut her up with a slap; rumour varies about the culprit but we had a replacement security guy the next night. Big Possibly Undeserved Infraction.

Speaking of insomniacs, nothing beats a middle-of-the-night performance like a zombie maniac at full throttle, shouting about a cat burglar climbing from balcony to balcony. Didn't have his glasses on, of course. Didn't have his required dose of medication either. Woke the whole street that time, and the moving shadow was just poor Sandor the Super putting out the garbage. Code Black Infraction. Firemen had to restrain some sleep-deprived inmates from stringing up the dickwit on his own balcony. No wonder the first-responders flinch when their alarms go off and they know it's FEC.

Feckless nights in the life.

14 October 2015

Library Limelights 93

Robert Wilson. The Ignorance of Blood. London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.
It doesn't get any better than this! One caveat: it does help if you read the previous novel in the four-book series, The Hidden Assassins. Seville's Inspector Jefe Falcón is still dealing with the fallout from a terrible bomb blast in his city while a new murder opens a complicated investigation that threatens his personal family life on more than one front. Falcón performs an incredible juggling act between the Russian mafia and Islamic terrorists. His soul brother Yacoub Diouri is in trouble, an accused colleague languishes in prison, and his lover Consuelo's son is used as an unforeseen bargaining chip.

One surprise after another. I have to say: I buy it all. The scenarios are entirely credible and the tension is heart-stopping. Falcón picks his way through a minefield of conspirators; trust is an all-consuming issue. The author reveals character in conversations, brief as some may be, at the same time never veering from the story's propulsion. Wilson's grasp of Spanish and Moroccan culture is nothing but impressive. I so regret that Javier Falcón was retired after this. May he sleep well. I will never rest until I investigate Wilson's newer series featuring Charles Boxer.

One liner:
She woke up at two in the afternoon with her head and mouth full of cotton wool, feeling as if she'd been embalmed. (177)

Spanish dinner at midnight:
The starter arrived. Three tapas on an oblong plate: a tiny filo pastry money bag containing soft goat's cheese, a crisp toast of duck liver set in sticky sweet quince jam, and a shot-glass of white garlic and almond soup with an orb of melon ice cream floating at the top and flakes of wind-dried tuna nestling in the bottom. Each one went off in his mouth like a firecracker. (88)

Minor players?
"There are more than six thousand members of the Saudi royal family," said Yacoub. "Their total wealth is greater than the GDP of many smaller nations. All those people with all that wealth make the royal family a political monster. Every point of view is represented by its members, from the utterly corrupt, drug-running fiends of America, to the reclusive, ascetic, profoundly devout Wahabi fundamentalists. Some flaunt their wealth in tasteless displays of extravagance while others quietly channel funds into international terrorism." (134)

After a long day:
He slapped his legs, stood up, cleared away the empty glasses and remains of crisps and olives, took them back to the kitchen. He hoped this mild activity would stop the fever in his brain. This is the blight of modern mankind, he thought, a world so full of accessible information, lives so crammed with work and relationships, people so constantly connectable that we've all developed what Alicia Aguado would probably call tachy-rumination. Nothing meditative about it, just a feverish mental grazing. (245)

Giles Blunt. Until the Night. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2012.
From one detective hero to another ... John Cardinal of the Algonquin Bay police is the best kind of cop – intuitive, resourceful, the kind who often defies his superiors, but usually successful in closing his cases. Where to start this time, when bitter winter weather uncovers ‒ literally ‒ a couple of murdered women, found frozen in strange circumstances? His partner Lise Delorme suspects a local nightclub entrepreneur and pursues her own angle. For a smart cop, Cardinal is all but inarticulate in his personal feelings for Lise who is secretly allowing some free rein to her dark side. Both of them have to put up with the grandiose posturing of their colleague Loach who leads the investigation.

What makes this novel by Blunt more suspenseful than ever is the juxtaposition of a story from an earlier, isolated scientific research lab on an ice island near the North Pole. Fascinating enough to make you shiver while pondering a possible connection. Cold pervades both stories (at first seeming to be the only common element). As the song goes, what does love have to do with it? Rich with dialogue, Blunt at his very best!

Word: gyre – a spiral, a vortex; a giant circular oceanic surface current (Merriam-Webster).

One-liner: If I have any virtue, it must be my not claiming any. (105)

Freezing senses:
It is possible in the Arctic—possible sometimes—to mistake oneself for a superhero, one's faculties, one's perceptions can be so transformed. Such is the array of optical and acoustical phenomena. It is a special moment, the first time you realize you are overhearing a conversation taking place more than a kilometre away. Distances of three kilometres are not unusual, depending on temperature, wind speed, surface conditions. In contrast to temperate climates, Arctic air is coldest close to the ground; it refracts sound waves downward instead of upward.That moment has the quality of an excellent dream—the feeling of vindication and exhilaration one sometimes gets from a gorgeous subconscious narrative: Yes, of course! This is who I am! I've always been infinitely more perceptive than others! (62)

One character self-reflects:
I turned away and lay on my back and sighed. Petulant. Childish, even. But this is the truth of the matter. I am—was—someone who chose a solitary life. Not womanless. Not gay. Solitary. The emotions and how we deal with them are every bit as Darwinian as fins, genitals, tentacles. We all find our mechanism of survival—or not. Mine was monkish solitude. It worked for me. Had done for more than a decade. I was frightened by my loss of equanimity. (64)

Personal best?
When they reached her house, Delorme stopped at the front path and started to thank him again, but Cardinal found himself speaking over her words. "I just have to say this," he said. "I'm really happy when I'm with you. That's all. Simple, true, and it's not the champagne talking. I'm really happy when I'm with you." 
Delorme squinted at him. Gave him the full Clint Eastwood stare he'd seen her use on thugs and lawyers, not to mention those colleagues whose commitment to honesty was imperfect. "What did you just say?"
"Nothing. I'll see you Monday. You're in Monday, right?" (110)

Terry Devane. Uncommon Justice. New York: Berkley Books, 2002.
This was a "filler" book ― by my definition one that comes to hand in that desperate waiting stage between desirable items. Sometimes I discard some fillers partially-read; sometimes I don't bother to make notes. Uncommon Justice had some merit in its characters but a flimsy story. Mairead O'Clare is a novice lawyer working for Sheldon Gold who has a touchy, opinionated receptionist called Billie. The homeless world of Boston figures largely, but we have no enlightenment of individual histories. Mairead experiences her first courtroom trial. The wonderfully-named Pontifico Murizzi aka the Pope does their investigative work. Often it's hard to tell whose personal thoughts are inserted at any given time. The little law office has possibilities of further development but suffice to say I did not find the story a "legal thriller" (see cover) or "page-turning suspense."

Office play:
Looking down at the form she was typing, Billie Sunday reached for the little bottle of Wite-Out to use on the last two letters she'd hit by fright when the Pope popped through the suite door. Wite-Out itself was getting harder to find, which alone was going to make the new child Mairead right about the office having to go over to computers.
She looked up at Murizzi now. "You made me make a mistake."
"Sorry," with no conviction behind it.
"What do you want?" with no warmth behind it.
"Thought I'd check to see if Shel needed anything brought over to him."
"At the court, you mean?"
"If that's where he is."
"Uh huh." Billie capped the little bottle. "Third Session, but he didn't say or phone me about anything."
"Guess I'll just stroll over then, broaden my horizons."
"Anybody ever call you glib but shallow?"
"Anybody ever call you a woman of great dimensions?"
Murizzi was through the door before the bottle of Wite-Out hit it. (245-6)

29 September 2015

Library Limelights 92

John MacKay. The Road Dance. Edinburgh: Luath Press Limited, 2002.
A love story. Of such simple hearts sometimes classic tragedy unfolds. Set in an unsophisticated village in the outer Hebrides on the eve of the First World War, two romantic teenagers dream of togetherness and America. Until the night of the customary road dance to see the local boys off to war. Events that follow are inevitably dictated by ingrained religious and social practices. MacKay gives an expert, and exquisitely nuanced, description of Highland life just over one hundred years ago. They could be your ancestors or mine.

Face away from the Lord and you face blackness even in sunlight. (10)
Many a Hebridean roof beam had grown on the banks of the St Lawrence. (125)
The Skipper felt a depth of sadness he had little known in his long life, a life throughout which sorrow had always been a breath away. (147)

A photograph from the warfront:
The sepia print was on a stiff cardboard postcard.There he stood uniformed, upright and somehow different. There was a solemnity about him that she did not recognise. Some might have thought it was pride, but she knew he did not want to be where he was wearing what he was. His tunic was buttoned to the neck and she worried that it might chafe him. She had never seen him wear a kilt and the plain khaki apron over the one he wore in the picture took the life out of it. He held his cap in one hand, the other resting on the back of a stout, wooden chair. His mouth was set firm and his hair combed tight. She'd known him those few days as a man who could bring the world to life through his words and laughter, a man whose wavy hair was tossed by the wind. The photograph did not show such a man, but it was unmistakeably his features and she knew she would treasure it and keep it with her to feel closer to him. (74-5)

David Bell. Never Come Back. New York: New American Library/Penguin Group, 2013.
A mystery that provides little rush of suspense, the novel is well-crafted in prosaic language. Working grad student Elizabeth Hampton finds her way to the heart of a troubling secret revealed by her mother's sinister death. To her horror, her Down Syndrome brother Ronnie is suspected although no-one has an obvious motive. Then her mother's will adds another surprise, although it took until about page 200 for the zinger to appear. More psychological drama than thriller, Never Come Back explores the hidden dangers in a small cast of family relationships; it's safe to say that Bell has proven himself in the ranks of crime writers (not his first mystery).

Allowing herself to talk:
"Are you being sarcastic?" he asked.
"No." I drank more of the beer, almost finishing it. Too fast. I suppressed a burp and patted my chest. "Well, get ready for an awkward transition. My mother was murdered," I said.
It felt like the first confession of a long recovery. Something had pivoted in my life. I had gone from being a person who read about families affected by violent crime in the newspaper to being a member of such a family. I no longer needed to understand such things from the outside. I needed to process it from the inside. (63)

"You said your lock was splintered and your apartment ransacked?" Post asked. "You saw your mother's house the other night. There's a difference there, right?"
I didn't answer, but I understood. My attempt to make a connection between the two events, to stretch a link so far between two dissimilar events, made me seem amateurish and desperate. I wanted Mom's death to make more sense than it did, but I couldn't. And neither could Detective Post. (115)

The security guard:
Beth looked at Edgar. "Nice job. You're pretty smart."
"I try. I'm taking the exam next week to get into the police academy."
"Too bad," Beth said. "I hate cops."
"Me too," Edgar said. "If I get in, they're going to make me shave my goatee." (352)

Kate Atkinson. A God in Ruins. Bond Street Books/Random House Canada, 2015.
To my shame, I did not finish this book. Therefore I hesitated even to put it on on my index of books. With all due respect, Ms A, I simply could not hack the constant shifting of time frames mid-scene. My admittedly linear mind was too impatient with all the fragmentation. I think I gave it a good go but ultimately I don't care about Teddy Todd's life in so many pieces. My fail, not yours, because I do admire your previous books. Can I say? ― I long for the return of Jackson Brodie!

Nevertheless, among the wonderful prose, can't escape the One-Liners:
She wasn't sure she'd ever seen a baby, let alone held one, and imagined it would be like getting a cat, or, at worst, a puppy. (43)
Nothing can be kept, he thought, everything ran through one's fingers like sand or water. (118)
Her father seemed so old-fashioned, but he must have been like new once. (132)

Christopher Hitchens. Mortality. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2012.
The famous writer, speaker, and public person died in December 2011 from esophageal cancer. Deprived of his voice in the end, his pen never stopped. This slim volume contains personal thoughts and feelings ("I don't have a body, I am a body") of the new world he entered upon diagnosis. None of it includes self-pity. The articulate atheist 'speaks' of medicine, procedures, treatments, and inappropriate social reactions. His wit and incisive writing are missed ever since.

A book full of quotes:
One almost develops an elitism about the uniqueness of one's own personal disorder. (39)
I'm not fighting or battling cancer—it's fighting me. (89)
This alien can't want anything; if it kills me it dies but it seems very single-minded and set in purpose. (85)
It's probably a merciful thing that pain is impossible to describe from memory. (67)

21 September 2015

Words 8


New one to me. Noun. Verb.

One evening Peter was wandering the fourth floor hallway of the apartment complex, knocking on doors. His live-in partner Shirley watched him, slumped by the elevators. I greeted him as I passed.

"He's sundowning," she said. Doors were popping open.

"Why are you knocking on doors, Peter?" Shirley asked for the benefit of the audience.

"I'm trying to find out what's going on," Peter said mildly.

Sundowning is a subset behaviour of confusion, anxiety, or belligerence in people with dementia, occurring at a certain time of day, usually evening. Wandering may be part of it.

The coinage elicits mixed feelings. Whereas one could say what the symptoms mean, i.e. "late day worsening," sundowning is a gentle word, quite apt. 

But it also carries that connotation of approaching end ... not simply the end of the day but the increasing loss of familiarity in a loved one. And naturally, the closure of life itself.

I visualize Harry Chapin "All my life's a circle, sunrise and sundown ...".

Like cancer and depression, dementia affects almost every family in some way.

"Seems like I've been here before, can't remember when ...". Music has power.


09 September 2015

Library Limelights 91

Robert Rotenberg. Strangle Hold. New York: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 2013.
In my opinion Rotenberg's style has become more comfortable since I last read him. At first I thought my Canadian-author-loyalty was going to be strained again; a scene with the Polish crime scene tech has awkward ethnic-type dialogue. But his courtroom drama is superb with the necessary tension and suspense. One annoyance: after seeing a dozen typos, mostly missing or misplaced prepositions, I gave up counting.

Toronto Detective Ari Greene finds himself in a conflict of interest, to put it mildly. The murder of his married girlfriend Jennifer puts him squarely in the suspect spotlight; luckily he knows an interesting, proficient lawyer. Somehow the author failed to convince me that it had been a serious love affair for both Ari and Jennifer. Leading the investigation is Ari's friend and colleague Daniel Kennicot, a cop with reservations about Greene's guilt. Awotwe Amankwah the journalist, Angela Kreitinger the Crown prosecutor, and the bereaved husband are well-done characters.

Senior moment:
"Dad," Greene said, leaning on the rake he was using on his father's lawn, "she's twenty-five years younger than you."
Greene's father was staring at the backside of his latest girlfriend, a larger-than-life Russian bombshell named Klavdiya, as she strutted up the concrete steps to his little bungalow. He snapped his head toward Ari. "Twenty-three and a half," he said. "And you won't let me drive at night. She drives at night." (72)
The candidate for mayor:
How was Hap going to feel about me, his prize student, if he finds out I'm the one? Greene wondered.
"So far Kennicott's drawn a blank," he said, choosing his words carefully. At least it wasn't a lie.
"Keep me in the loop," Charlton said. "The sooner we get an arrest, the better." He took a final drag then stuck the end of the cigar under the running water. It hissed and sputtered until it went out. He tossed the butt out the window. "So much for taking back the litter from the streets." He chuckled. (129-30) 

Video evidence:
He looked at her walking. Swinging her backpack. How many times had he watched her stroll out of view along the bleak, deserted sidewalk? Then turning off the DVD when she was out of the frame.
But this morning, he paused it at the last image of her in view. This is enough, he told himself. One more second and she's gone. Ari, she's gone.
He put the remote down and lay back on the couch. This way madness lies, he thought. He rubbed his face and closed his eyes. He forced himself to think of the trial. How well everything had gone in court yesterday. How close this other nightmare in his life was to being over. (321-1)

James Lee Burke. Creole Belle. New York: Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster, Inc. 2012.
Despite the continuing mayhem, I had to see if Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcel survive another epic battle against the forces of evil pervading the backwaters of Louisiana. Grimly fascinating and clearly addictive. I care about these characters and their feelings and their families. The two men defy giant oil corporation interests who dismiss responsibility for the toxic spill destroying the ecological balance of the Gulf and the Mississippi delta. Well-trained thugs are sicced on our heroes. Good thing Clete is a one-man wrecking machine. But Dave and Clete have trouble identifying the local bad guys in the mix as the plot twists and turns; they also have a bad habit of confronting their suspects, ignoring the warnings from Sheriff Helen. Furthermore, their two daughters are caught up in some diabolical threads.

Dave (or is it Burke?) broods more on moralizing about life and death with each book. He rues the poverty level in his state, so dependent on the oil and gas economy where the very few get very rich. His recovery from the drama of the last book, The GlassRainbow, only increases his sensitivity to an alternate universe. His musings balance out the physical carnage ― a few macabre elements are not for the squeamish. Still, it's hard to put down a book racing to a breathless climax. Dave, what's next?!

One-liner: "Don't rent space in your head to bad people." (305)

Dave to himself:
She could not have been over seventeen. What kind of human could do something like that to a young woman? Unfortunately, I knew the answer. There were misogynistic sadists in our midst, in greater numbers than most people could guess at. And how did they get there? Answer: Our system often gives them a free pass. (81-2)

Sheriff to Dave:
"You're supposed to be on the desk and off duty at noon," she said. "You're supposed to go home and take a nap and throw pinecones in the bayou. Obviously that's not what you have in mind. You prefer stirring up the wrong people in New Orleans and going to Lafayette and eating a load of buckshot." 
"I didn't plan any of this. What do you want me to say?" 
"I advise you to say nothing." I sighed and raised my hands and dropped them in my lap."I think it's time to put you back on full-time status, bwana," she said. She narrowed one eye, "it's the only way I can keep your umbilical cord stapled to the corner of my desk." (158-9)

Dave again:
What is most remarkable about many of those who have great wealth is the basic assumption on which they predicate their lives: They believe that others have the same insatiable desire for money that they have, and that others will do anything for it. Inside their culture, manners and morality and money not only begin with the same letter of the alphabet but are indistinguishable. The marble floors and the spiral staircases owned by the very rich and the chandeliers that ring with light in their entranceways usually have little to do with physical comfort. These things are iconic and votive in nature and, ultimately, a vulgarized tribute to a deity who is arguably an extension of themselves. (473)

Quoting a quote:
William Faulkner was once asked what he thought of Christianity. He replied, in effect, that it was a fine religion and perhaps we should try it sometime. (568)

Robert Harris. The Fear Index. 2011. UK: AudioGO Ltd. [large print edition]. 2012.
Computer nerds and financial players are gonna love this. I didn't. It's something different from this author I admire. Leading his chapters with quotes from Darwin to emphasize human emotions, he spins a tale about a brilliant physicist who built a super computer, equivalent to the scientific goal of creating artificial intelligence. The VIXAL-4 is then employed by a hedge fund company to make them tons of money. However, the creator of this powerful machine, Alex Hoffman, is being impersonated and stalked with murderous intent.

Hoffman is not a sympathetic character initially; he's a one-track mind uninterested in wealth or his fellow man. His partner Hugo Quarry takes up the public relations slack. I didn't mention Hoffman's wife Gabrielle who has perfected an odd art form. No disrespect to Harris who is in complete charge of his subject and the suspense thereof, but stock market statistics and Large Hadron Collider physics are over my head. Oh ... and yes, the FEar Index is a real thing.

One-liner: Suddenly he experienced yet another long-forgotten sensation: the delicious, childish pain of self-pity. (41)

The investors' meeting:
Hoffman stared at the tablecloth and let the discussion flow around him. He was remembering now why he didn't like the rich: their self-pity. Persecution was the common ground of their conversation, like sport or the weather was for everyone else. He despised them."I despise you," he said, but nobody paid him any attention, so engrossed were they in the inequities of higher-rate taxation and the inherent criminality of all employees. And then he thought: perhaps I have become one of them; is that why I am so paranoid? He examined his palms under the table, and then the backs of his hands, as if he half-expected to find himself sprouting fur. (170)

Quarry does his best:
He felt as if he had been smiling solidly for about fifteen hours that day already. His face ached with bonhomie. As soon as Leclerc had his back to him, he treated himself to a scowl. (200)