Susie Steiner. Missing, Presumed. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2016.
Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw investigates a deeply frustrating "misper" (missing person) case: Edie Hind disappeared seemingly without trace one Saturday night. Her upper class family does not hesitate to pull political strings for continued action. But the lives of everyone involved ― parents, friends, even the police ― are changed or affected by it to different degrees. Weeks of dogged work produce a tenuous clue that might solve the case. The faint trail goes back and forth from Huntingdon and Cambridge to London, including a rather charming ex-con. Meanwhile, surprising side avenues open up to more tragedy.
Beyond the exhausting investigation, this is a study of Manon's palpable loneliness, the career-minded single woman approaching forty who scrolls desperately through online dating sites. Her colleagues, too, are drawn as fully fleshed figures. The narrative changes seamlessly and alternately between Manon, DC Davy Walker to Edie's mother Miriam. Steiner is relatively new to the crime genre scene and deserves watching.
Wasn't every marriage a negotiation about proximity? (9)
If all men were like Davy, there would be no wars. (19)
She must be at least thirty-nine, the loneliness rising off her like a mist. (27)
He has been crying in his study. She heard him on her way up the stairs an hour ago, had stopped, one hand on the banister, curious to hear his upset expressed. Man sobs are so uncommon, they were quite interesting. His were strangulated, as if his tears were out to choke him. Hers come unbidden, like a flood, dissolving her outline, and it's as if she has failed to stand up to them. A weakness of tears. (216)
"Being walloped really makes you feel low," she says.
"You're always low."
"I know, but more so. I feel ..." and she starts to cry again, looking at the trees beyond her broad hospital window. She realises they have given her this spacious room to herself because she's a police officer.
"I think you need a dog," Davy says.
"I heard a dog makes unhappy people happy. They're good, y'know, for people who can't form proper relationships."
"You're a real tonic, Davy." (345-6)
Jo Nesbo. The Thirst. Random House Canada, 2017.
Nesbo, Nesbo, Nesbo ... the man with the gift of Harry Hole. Harry's in retirement as a police college lecturer but ~ you know ~ he's persuaded to form his own team to catch a gruesome killer being labelled a vampirist. Katrine Bratt leads the regular investigating team that includes an eager newbie, Wyller, and a soured veteran, Berntsen. Consulting psychologists Aune and Smith have differing views of the perpetrator but his identity is not in question: he's the only man who once got away from Harry. During the hunt, so many relationships in the extended group smoothly play into the story: Bratt's ex-lover Bjorn is the chief forensics expert; their boss Bellman is playing politics; Mona is the reporter receiving leaks from someone on the team; Harry's wife Rakel is treated for a mysterious blood disease; her son Oleg is a police college student. A thirst for blood has more than one meaning. Before midway, the tension is freeze-gripping.
The victims had an online dating website in common. While that leads to a complicated but successful solution, the surprises have only begun. As has Harry's guilt mechanism. He constantly fights the desire to drink as the killer evades them, until his precious personal happiness is disturbed. Things look bad for him ― what else can we expect, but Harry has a way of making us live his life with him. The climax is a bit over the top while the aftermath leaves me with one unanswered question for Harry: what about the psycho quietly being released from prison?
In the gap between the bottom of the door and the floor she saw the toes of a pair of pointed snakeskin boots. (54)
The new media environment, with its increasingly banal focus on celebrity, had reduced the role of journalists to that of the town gossip. (138)
"You and me, we think we're clever bastards, but we all get fooled in the end, Harry." (334)
First victim fallout:
But Mikael Bellman could feel the ground shaking now.
And now―just as he, as victorious Chief of Police, had a chance to enter the corridors of power―this was already starting to turn into a war he couldn't afford to lose. He needed to prioritise this single murder as if it were an entire crime wave, simply because Elise Hermansen was a wealthy, educated, ethnically Norwegian woman in her thirties, and because the murder weapon wasn't a steel bar, a knife or a pistol, but a set of teeth made out of iron.
And that was why he felt obliged to take a decision he really didn't want to have to take. For so many reasons. But there was no way around it. (59)
"Is it going to be better tomorrow?"
Harry looked at him. The brown-eyed, black-haired buy didn't have one drop of Harry's blood in him, but it was still like looking in a mirror. "What do you think?"
Oleg shook his head, and Harry could see he was fighting back tears.
"Right," Harry said. "I sat here the way you are now with my mother when she was ill. Hour after hour, day in, day out. I was only a little boy, and it ate me up from inside."
Oleg wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and sniffed. "Do you wish you hadn't done it?"
Harry shook his head. "That's the weird thing. We couldn't talk much, she was too ill. She just lay there with a weak smile, and faded away a little bit at a time, like the colour from a photograph left out in the sun. It's simultaneously the worst and the best memory from my childhood. Can you understand that?" (220)
Harry shrugged. "An alcoholic hates and curses drink because it ruins his life. But at the same time it is his life."
"Interesting analogy." Steffens stood up, went over to the window and pulled the curtains open. "What about you, Hole? Is your calling still ruining your life, even though it is your life?"
Harry shaded his eyes and tried to look at Steffens, but was blinded by the sudden light. "Are you still a Mormon?"
"Are you still working on the case?"
"Looks like it."
"We don't have a choice, do we? I need to get back to work, Harry."
When Steffens had gone, Harry called Gunnar Hagen's number.
"Hello, boss, I need a police guard at Ullevål Hospital," he said. "Immediately." (243)
Peter May. The Blackhouse. USA: SilverOak/Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2012
May is on home ground, so to speak, setting his tale on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland where a murder has stunned the local populace. DI Finlay Macleod is sent from Edinburgh to assist the investigation; it's twenty years since he'd seen his native island. Everywhere he turns, his memories of childhood and youth flood back, blending with his present enquiries. And although some of them explain current tensions, others peel back layers of old grudges. In a low-key way, traditional life on the island becomes more forboding than comforting. Fin's first love Marsaili is married to his once-best friend Artair. Fin relates his memories in the first person, alternating with third person accounts of the ongoing investigation.
The unique annual Lewis trip to the stark rocky island of Sula Sgeir for the cormorant chicks (gugas) is a rite of passage for young men. Fin's and Artair's first trip proves to be a disaster of lasting consequences. In fact, the story involves two trips, both absolutely hair-raising. Island relationships are inextricably entwined in custom and religious disapproval. I thought I'd figured out who the murderer was, among the complicated motives unfolding. But I was wrong. Since The Blackhouse is the first book of an Isle of Lewis trilogy, I can hardly wait to read more.
Words: anaglypta ‒ textured wallpaper; desuetude ‒ a state of disuse.
It was not illegal to drink on the Sabbath, just unthinkable. (31)
He had long ago discovered that dumb insolence was the only way to deal with sarcasm from senior officers. (96)
A sense that they had all wasted their lives, that they had somehow missed their chances through stupidity or neglect, lay heavy on his shoulders, pulling him down into deep dejection. (270)
I think sometimes there are folk who take an unhealthy interest in death. (277)
In his head, Fin could almost hear the singing of the Gaelic psalms. A strange, unaccompanied tribal chanting that could seem chaotic to the untrained ear. But there was something wonderfully affecting about it. Something of the land and the landscape, of the struggle for existence against overwhelming odds. Something of the people amongst whom he had grown up. Good people, most of them, finding something unique in themselves, in the way they sang their praise to the Lord, an expression of gratitude for hard lives in which they had found meaning. Just the memory of it brought him out in goose pimples. (79)
She looked tiny from here, lonely somehow in a way that it's hard to explain. Something in her gait, something leaden in her step that suggested unhappiness. I suddenly felt unaccountably sorry for her and wanted to run down the hill and give her a big hug, and tell her I was sorry. Sorry for being jealous, sorry for being hurtful. And yet something held me back. That reluctance to ngive expression to my feelings that has dogged me most of my life.
She was almost out of sight, lost in the winter dusk, when for once something overcame my natural reticence and propelled me down the hill after her, arms windmilling for balance as I stumbled clumsily in my wellies across the squelching moor. (131)
Tea and sympathy:
"I'm not going," I said in a voice so small it was little more than a whisper. I was still drunk, I suppose, but the shock of falling in the ditch had sobered me up a little, and the tea was helping, too.
Gigs did not react. He puffed gently on the stem of his pipe and watched me speculatively. "Why not?"
I have no recollection now of what I said to him that night, how it was that I expressed those feelings of deep, dark dread that the very thought of going out to the rock had aroused in me. I suppose, like everyone else, he must have assumed it was fear, pure and simple. But while others might have displayed contempt for my cowardice, Gigs appeared to understand in a way that seemed to lift that enormous weight that had been bearing down on me from the moment Artair's dad had given me the news. (185)