18 September 2017

Library Limelights 142

Graham Hurley. Western Approaches. UK: Orion Paperback, 2013.
Sadly, Hurley's series in Portsmouth ("Pompey") with Joe Faraday is over but here is a new beginning with young DI Jimmy Suttle in the Devon and Cornwall police. The Suttles have moved to live in a dismal, rundown cottage while Jimmy investigates an apparent suicide. Jake Kinsey was not a likeable man despite his financial contributions to the Exmouth Rowing Club and Jimmy suspects murder. Kinsey's plan to develop a nearby pristine beach had elicited mixed reaction. The members of Kinsey's "quad" (four-man sculling team) expound on the man's activities. Meanwhile Lizzie, Suttle's wife, joins the rowing club as an outlet for her anger with their living conditions; no-one knows she's the wife of a cop.

Jimmy is still getting used to his new bosses, Houghton and Nandy; how much leeway will they give him to pursue what looks like a cut-and-dried death? He uncovers more of Kinsey's unsavoury history but pressure is mounting on him, not only to find evidence for his theory, but also from Lizzie who is going off the rails. His marriage is floundering. Lizzie's deep frustration is understandable while Jimmy's character is not as well defined. As to be expected from Hurley, the natural surroundings play a part as do the physical benefits of rowing; the sea has been a major force on many lives. I for one plan to follow this engaging series.

For reasons she didn't begin to understand, she'd ended up in a prison cell of her own making. (20)
For all his talk of falling in love, something was holding him back. (232)

Witness impressions:
"From where I was sitting, the man was on another planet."
"Because of his wife?"
"You couldn't tell. Did he miss her? Yes, I think he did. Was that the end of the story? No way."
"There was other stuff?"
"There had to be. He wasn't difficult or uncooperative, don't get me wrong. He just didn't say a lot."
"Meaning he had something to hide?"
"Meaning there were limits, places you didn't go. I can't remember meeting anyone so private."
"Fuck-off private? Or private private?"
"Private private. We're not talking aggression. Far from it. I had the impression he'd be a good guy to have a drink with." (118)

The officer returned with the breathalyser. Suttle blew into the tube. The PC watched the figures on the readout climb and climb. His mate had joined him by now. Their backs were turned and Suttle caught a mumbled exchange before the officer was back in his face. The reading was just short of the figure that would haul him back to the nick for a blood test and a great deal of paperwork.
"Who's a lucky boy then?" He didn't bother to hide his disappointment. "Would you step this way, sir?" (216-7)

Lizzie's meltdown:
She parked across the road and switched the engine off. The light was on in the upstairs flat and the curtains were pulled back. She stared up at it for a long moment, trying to steady her pulse, trying to regain control of herself. She'd never snapped like that in her entire life, and the knowledge of where it might lead alarmed her deeply. She'd never been frightened of making decisions. On the contrary, especially at work, she'd won a reputation for being on top and ballsy in the trickiest situations. (237)

Chris Brookmyre. Flesh Wounds. UK: Abacus/Little, Brown, 2013.
Are all his books like this? ... intricate, enigmatic, constantly time-shifting? This one is a saga of the Glasgow underworld and the cops who catch (or are caught by) them, almost a historical review of power battles. Of course there are redeeming characters like DS Catherine McLeod and DI Beano Thompson, and like private investigator Jasmine Sharp who seeks the identity of her unknown father. The death of money-laundering businessman Stevie Fullarton in his own carwash sets off a chain of enquiries that leads back to old feuds and crimes.

Jasmine's mentor Glen Fallan drifts almost like a ghost behind the scenes; his role everywhere is a mystery in itself. McLeod has her own dark secret that may prevent her from exposing police corruption. Overwhelmed at first by the abundance of names and mysterious references to clustered relationships of the past, I felt like I was floundering through a thick fog for a while. And I did glaze over a bit on the inventive criminal money scams. Brookmyre does not stint on the Glaswegian vernacular. But on the whole, the story is actually brilliant; advanced armchair sleuths will find great satisfaction.

These guys worked hard to put layers of deniability between themselves and their activities. (115)
Something hung in the air between these two that was not precisely blame or accusation, but definitely a cousin of both. (237)
Doing the job was what kept the darkness from swallowing her for ever. (396)

Reading his rights:
"I am arresting you on suspicion of the murder of Stephen Fullarton. You do not have to say anything ..."
He watched the erstwhile roadblock part slowly as the two police cars reversed away from each other in order to let the custody van drive through. Glen's head swam as they picked him up and dragged him toward it.
You do not have to say anything.What was there to say? He was at their mercy now, and he wasn't expecting much of that.
There was only one way left for him to play this, a way he had learned a long and very dark time ago. He would not resist. He would let them have their way, let them dole out the damage until they themselves were tired from the blows. Then, once they were satisfied that he couldn't take any more, he would strike. (67)

The maze begins:
"I've got officers talking to Fullarton's people but I'm not expecting them to give us anything. I'm sure they'll all be baffled as to how anybody could possibly wish the slightest harm upon such a gentle spirit and widely respected pillar of the community."
"All the while making their own inquiries as to who might be behind the hit. That's assuming they don't know you've arrested Fallan, but even then, they'll be working on their conspiracy theories."
"Fallan did used to work for Tony McGill," she suggested.
"And so did Stevie Fullarton," Abercorn replied. "That's Glasgow bam politics for you: it can be labyrinthine in its complexity and yet staringly obvious at the same time. The farther back you go, the murkier it gets, and this particular love triangle goes all the way back to the late eighties." (78)

An unexpected witness:
Catherine had to remind herself that she was talking to a priest. It wasn't just that he was dressed in muddy football kit, but his language and even his metre jarred with all her previous experience. The others she had met tended to slip into this auto-piety register that seemed an attempt to imbue their mundane and frequently asinine contributions with some deeper meaning and authority.
"How did he die?"
"He went off a roof at Bailliehall prison."
McGhee arched his brow. Clearly there were layers to this. (249-50)

Catherine's burden:
She was with her husband and her boys, sitting in the kitchen, present but not quite connected. Was that how it was going to be now? Was that the price?
What really hurt ‒ what always hurt most about this ‒ was that she couldn't tell Drew what was wrong. He was the first one she went to when she needed to unload, to pour out her troubles and be shown they weren't so awful now that they weren't flapping around manically inside her skull like a bird trapped in an attic.
She had been missing him, even as he was sitting right beside her. It had been this way many times down the years, but tonight she had experienced a far more acute version of it, and found herself facing an entire future of feeling this way. (397)

Peter May. The Lewis Man. (large print) USA: Thorndike Press, 2012.
A splendid work from the master of Outer Hebrides crime novels: stand-alone, yet building on his The Blackhouse. Fin Macleod has left the Edinburgh police force to face unresolved personal issues on his native Isle of Lewis. His son Fionnlagh is at a critical stage with a new baby and a disapproving father-in-law. His former lover Marsaili contends with aging parents, especially her father in the grip of dementia. And a well-preserved "bog body" has turned up: a murdered young man whose identity is a mystery. Naturally Fin becomes involved in the search for clues that reaches back to an earlier generation and sterner social practices. We learn the bygone customary procedure for Catholic orphans in a Calvinist society.

Fin is on it before a detective can arrive from the mainland to take charge of the case; Fin's plan to rebuild his parents' old home is put on hold. It's hard to put down this book as pieces from the past surge from old memories and the surprise conclusion is right in keeping with an ageless tradition. Bill Lawson, well known genealogist of the Isle of Harris, makes a guest appearance. The dominant surroundings and the weather on those austere windswept islands are integral to the characters' personae. May's portrayal of dementia is extraordinary, unforgettable!

Someone had hung out washing at the manse, and white sheets flapped furiously in the wind like demented semaphore flags urging praise and fear of God in equal measures. (55)
All along the ragged coastline, the sea sucked and frothed and growled, tireless legions of riderless white horses crashing up against the stubborn stone of unyielding black cliffs. (138)

There is always a moment of internal silence after being in the presence of death. A reminder of your own fragile mortality. (156)

That old feeling:
She pushed herself, laden with weariness, away from the counter and sat heavily in her chair. Her face was strained by tension and fatigue, pale and pinched in the harsh electric light. But he saw in it still the little girl who had first drawn him to her all those years before. The little girl with the blonde pigtails who had sat next to him that first day at school and offered to translate for him, because for some reason inexplicable to the young Fin his parents had sent him to school speaking only Gaelic. He reached across the table and brushed the hair from her blue eyes, and for a moment she lifted a hand to touch his, a fleeting moment of recollection, of how it had once been long ago. She dropped her hand to the table again. (129)

Where the heart is:
Home? Was this really his home now, he wondered. This wind-ravaged corner of the earth where warring factions of an unforgiving Protestant religion dominated life. Where men and women struggled all their lives to make a living from the land, or the sea, turning in times of unemployment to the industries that came, and went again when subsidies ran out, leaving the rusting detritus of failure in their wake.
It seemed, if anything, more depressed than it had in his youth, entering again a period of decline after a brief renaissance fuelled by politicians courting votes by the spending of millions on a dying language.
But if here wasn't home, where was? Where else on God's earth did he feel such an affinity with the land, the elements, the people? (207)

Distracted driving:
" ... Most of the men were fishermen in those days, at sea five days a week, and the Eriskay jerseys knitted with that oiled wool were as good as waterproofs. They all wore them."
She swerved at the foot of the drive as she took a draw on her cigarette, and missed the fencepost by inches.
"Each of the women had their own pattern, you know. Usually handed down from mother to daughter. So distinctive that when a man's body was pulled from the sea, decayed beyond recognition, he could almost always be identified from the knitted pattern of his pullover. As good as a fingerprint, it was."
She waved at the old man and his dog to whom Fin had spoken earlier, and the Mercedes nearly went into a ditch. (366-7)

08 September 2017

Library Limelights 141

Linwood Barclay. A Tap on the Window. Toronto: Seal Books/Doubleday Canada, 2013.
Reliable, trusty Barclay for trademark twists and thrills in the fictional town of Griffon in western New York. Here's another mystery dealing with child loss as two teenage girls go missing. Private detective Cal Weaver is innocently sucked into emotional and political infighting as the search goes on for the mayor's daughter Claire. Weaver's own son Scott died recently in a drug-fuelled accident; Cal and wife Donna struggle to accept it and reconcile their feelings. Cal's brother-in-law Augustus Perry is the chief of police, at loggerheads with the mayor. In fact the police are highly unpopular among the town teens whose favourite pastime seems to be driving around, or driving around seeking illicit booze.

Barclay is always a pleasure to read, dialogue rich; it's easy to enter his world of ordinary protagonist caught in extraordinary events. I found it rather inactive at first, unusual for Barclay, while Cal slogs from one parental interview to another. But the discovery of a murdered body galvanizes as-yet unseen forces. Are the cops playing straightforward or not? Dropped into the action are inserts of a strange scenario taking place behind some locked doors in Griffon―making you guess about the relevance.

She hadn't reached total inebriation, although I had a sense it was her destination. (68)
"We're teenagers, so we must be guilty of something, right?" (396)

Combative mayor:
Sanders nodded smugly, like he was no fool. "I know he's your brother-in-law." 
"What of it?" 
"Didn't think I knew, did you? Figured you might get that one past me." 
"I don't give a damn whether you know or not," I said. "He's my wife's brother. What's that got to do with anything?" 
"You think I'm stupid?" he asked. "You think I can't figure out what's going on here? Perry doesn't like losing leverage, does he? Doesn't like it that he's got one less person to intimidate. You can tell him I know what he's doing. You can tell him it's not working. I don't care how many cruisers he's got watching me, or how many people he thinks he can turn against me. Because that's what he's doing, you know. He's making this an 'us against them' kind of town, using fear to turn people to his side. If you're not with the great Augustus Perry, you're on the side of the criminals. Well, it's not gonna work. I'm not backing down. He doesn't run this town. He may think he does, but he doesn't." (118)

Glum teen:
"If anything, Claire's dad cares too much. That can be kind of hard to live with, too." 
"Do your parents care too much?" I said. 
"Sometimes I wish they cared a little less. My dad's on my ass all the time, and he's pissed about Hanna being over and all, but her parents, they don't care that much about what she does. She's lucky that way." 
Was that what defined luck for these kids? Parents who didn't give a shit? I seemed to recall Hanna's parents being worried about something. A business Hanna was involved in with her boyfriend that could end up biting her on the ass. 
"You and Hanna got something going on the side," I said, not asking a question. "To make some money." 
His head jerked. I'd hit a nerve. "What?" 
"What is it?" I thought immediately of Scott. "You guys selling something? You selling drugs?" (142-3)

Domestic aftermath:
Donna said, "I'll get breakfast going." 
A few minutes later, in the kitchen, things felt slightly different. Not unlike the feeling after a tornado whips through. You've been through this horrendous storm, wondering whether the roof will fly off, the walls will come crashing in, the car will get flipped over on its roof.But then the storm's roar fades away and you think it's safe to venture outside. The sun is coming out. You've lost a few trees, the power's out, half the shingles on the roof have been blown off.But you're still standing. 
We brushed against each other as we went about our morning routine without the recent awkwardness. I placed a gentle hand on her hip in a way I hadn't in some time. She made enough coffee for two. (229)

Susie Steiner. Persons Unknown. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2017.
Steiner's style is different, her plots extraordinary, her characters addictive. DI Manon Bradshaw is not a predictable cop and not the most sympathetic person at first meeting. But counterpointed by her lovable colleague Davy, she grows on you as a murder story explodes all over her private life. Manon is now living in Huntingdon again with adopted son Fly; her sister Ellie shares the house. Ellie's high-flying financier ex-husband is the victim, throwing the police into a tizzy. Mainly because Fly appears to be the killer. The side story of Birdie and Saskia is going to merge; we know it, but the cops don't.

Some Latvian thugs seem to be involved (to my amusement), although evidence is scant as the police puzzle over scenarios. At least the ubiquitous British CCTV cameras enable reconstruction of parts of the crime scene. Events are told alternately by a pregnant Manon, Davy, and Birdie—the first two still dreaming of stable partners for a relationship. Life can be a struggle for all of them, finding their own support and humour in different ways. This is dense, substantial, credible fiction ... strongly suggest you begin with Steiner's first: Missing, Presumed.

Word: tesselate - to fit together tightly, as in tile floors

He wishes his face was more Jack Reacher, less Charlie Brown. (37)
Is Davy looking in on him through the square window in the door, then slamming it shut? (132)
Our only job is to protect children from the shoddiness of adults and I've already failed. (138)

Dual reality:
[Manon] "They don't afford a black boy the same presumption of innocence or the same need for protection as they do white boys." 
She knows this from experience rather than from any study and she feels it sadly, rather than as a lefty crusade, as he seems to. She cannot change this difficulty for Fly, the way the world mistakes him time and again. How fraught with peril life will be for him. All she wants is for him to survive despite it and prosper. She'd had to have "the conversation" with him, back in London, when he was repeatedly being stopped and searched: her sermon on how to behave with the police. Don't get their backs up, don't be impolite, don't question their authority. And she'd thought, as she said it, that what she was really saying was, "You cannot be fully yourself in this situation. You must reduce yourself, because the justice system that protects me is a risk to you." (193-4)

The cop shop:
[Birdie] I went to my local nick, couldn't think what else to do.Reception was the colour of sick. Yellow floor, yellow walls. The desk was being a sliding window, it's thick frame painted blur gloss. An empty chair on the other side of the glass. I pressed on the intercom. Eventually, someone said, "Yes?" like I'd interrupted their favourite TV show. 
"I need to talk to a police officer." 
"Have you called the main switchboard telephone number? It's there, on the wall." 
"Why would I do that when I'm here, in person?" 
"What's it about?" 
Well, how do you answer that in a nutshell? A murder. A prostitution racket. The City and all its money. The death of a child. A cover-up. 
"Well, it's a bit complicated," I said. (241-2)

[Davy] Davy is surprised to feel sorry for DerryDerry who strides about HQ like some grim-reaper colossus; busy, busy, busy. Derry who depends on minions falling on his expertise. Derry who wears bow ties as if he were a private school headmaster. At this moment, he looks frightened and old. 
"It seems I may have been wrong. I would like to show this to colleagues," he says to Mark. 
"Of course," Mark says. 
Davy steps out of the way and avoids Derry's eye on the way out, not wishing to add to his humiliation. It is very hard to climb down. The shame and then, waiting in a dank pool at the bottom, guilt. (314)

Denise Mina. The Long Drop. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2017.
You've gotta have some Scots blood to appreciate Mina in her true grit element―she is right down to business in her bailiwick, the shady underside of Glasgow. Based on the 1950s true story of Peter Manuel, one of the last men hanged in Scotland, the novel is a character study more than anything. Mina fictionally explores a relationship between Manuel and William Watts, who lost three members of his family to the killer. Because the mind of the killer―in the author's rendition―is so vacillating, the convolutions in chronology and in the trial itself are not an easy read.

Manuel's self-identity as a story-teller leads his audience and the reader to other possible scenarios. His mental stability was never really considered at trial. As only Mina can do, the pages bristle with lives lived―not well, but scrabbling against poverty and/or consumed with small ambitions. Personal foibles leaven a night of bar-hopping; the history of the relevant guns is a showpiece of cunning. The decaying (now-destroyed) old tenements of the poor and the ubiquitous hole-in-the-wall bars are testament to Glesga's once-reputation for endemic alcoholism. A thorny, thoughtful read from a brilliant writer.

This is when Manuel loves Glasgow, when it's defenceless and the people are still.
Talking to Cameron is like talking to a wall with eyebrows. (195)
"My knees are broken with praying for you." (224)

Watt sees himself as the coming man. He's a businessman, not a tradesman, his path will be through the Merchants House, but still, as he locks his car door, his eyes linger on the warm windows of their sister association, the Trades Hall. He thinks he will soon take his place in that line of dynamic men who made the world cleave to their will. This they did by having the mettle to do things others would find distasteful. They gain mastery by enslaving weaker men, by profiteering, doing that which must be done, by meeting Peter Manuel. It is a timely reminder of what he is doing this for. The lights warm the back of his fat neck as he crosses the road away from it. (69)

Truth blinkered:
Everyone is lying. 
Day five of the trial is a whistle-stop tour of Glasgow's underbelly. There are two handguns on the productions table in the middle of the court: the Webley used to kill the Watts and the Beretta used to murder the Smart family. Sworn witnesses tell the court that these guns have tumbled from hand to hand, unbidden. They have dropped themselves into paper bags, hidden themselves away on the top shelves in cupboards. No one ever buys them, no one ever sells them, though, it is admitted, unrelated fivers have passed from hand to hand, always in the opposite direction from the guns, during approximately the same time frame. Buying guns is illegal and has a steep sentencing tariff. This deception is understandable. (115)

A time of clubs:
Both Watt and Manuel have been to the club before. That's not surprising. Every man of interest in Glasgow has been in the Gordon Club at one time or another. This is a time of clubs. Men with common interests meet in closed rooms and make deals, lend money, decide outcomes before formal negotiations are even timetabled. Still, though, the Gordon is special. It is a social portal through which the bottom and the top can meet and drink and talk, in the absence of women and church and moralising judgement. 
The Gordon Club is a thrumming valve in Glasgow's mercantile heart. But mostly it isn't about deals. Mostly it is about bonhomie and men acknowledging their common interests across the chasm of class distinction. But it's no place for the faint-heated, it takes audacity to be part of this. It hazards disgrace. (126-7)

30 August 2017

Library Limelights 140

Jean Pendziwol. The Lightkeeper's Daughters. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2017.
Wow, just wow. Look for it! Not only is it a literate novel about growing up on Lake Superior, it's a mystery, or series of mysteries, unveiled piece by piece. I firmly relate to the first, and have some experience with the second, but it will bamboozle the most compulsive reader. Elizabeth and Emily Livingstone grow up on Porphyry Island between the headlands of Thunder Bay and Black Bay where their father mans the lighthouse. It's mainly a carefree, if solitary, existence in the 1930s. Elizabeth finds herself the natural caretaker for her mute sister. They live every inch of the land with its dramatic seasons and wildlife. Sometimes others come to visit or stay and the family makes occasional trips to Port Arthur for supplies. Several surprising events coalesce just as brother Charlie returns from wartime service.

An elderly Elizabeth is relating the story by means of her father's old log books. Profanity-inclined Morgan is the rapt young listener; orphaned very young, her grandfather was the only family she knew. Elizabeth had once known Morgan's beloved grandfather but admits her memory has gaps. Morgan begins to piece together missing bits on her own. How did the Livingstones' tenure on the island end in tragedy? Why did Charlie die in his sailboat on the lake? Where did the toy engraved "Anna" come from? Did Emily ever learn to speak? Together the two women find a deep companionship. Structurally perfect, it's a tale to lose yourself in.

Once someone was in her icy clutch, Superior was not inclined to let go. (162)
War and death can silence the strongest of men. (174)
He had known, for a long time, he had known. (201)

Two-liner: "You're a goddamn Indian witch," he said, his voice hoarse, almost a whisper. ""I'll get you for this." (157)

And sometimes, when the wind crept through the cracks in the walls and drove icy snow against the windows, he drank whiskey out of an old chipped mug and talked about my mother. "She loved you, Morgan," he told me, his accent getting thicker the more he drank. "In some ways she reminded me of your grandmother. She was like the wind. Unpredictable. Free. Never knew what to expect from her. You can't tie down the wind, Morgan. It dances where it pleases." And then he'd take a big swallow, and tell me that my mother had fought. She fought so hard, but she wasn't strong enough, and the wind had carried her away. I was only a baby when she died. 
I don't remember her, and I didn't miss her. Not then. He was enough. (33-4)

Winter visitors:
When I raised my head, I was close enough to see the yellow eyes of a large male as he glanced in my direction before returning his focus to my sister., circling as a unit with the others in the pack. Emily turned slightly and crouched down, catching those piercing yellow eyes with her striking gray ones, fearless in her round, pale face. I lay still in the snow, my bare hands prickling from the cold, not daring to move. The wolf stopped. Their eyes locked. The other wolves stopped too. I could hear them whining, see them pacing in tight patterns while they waited on the alpha. Minutes passed before Emily moved again, and then she simply stood, turned and walked past the brute toward me. (127)

November terror:
She broke through the fog less than thirty yards away, a specter, rearing like the cliffs of the Sleeping Giant, massive and gray, bearing blindly toward our little wooden boat. We were a tiny cork bobbing on the blanketed surface, far beneath her decks, invisible, and right in her path. 
"David!" I screamed. 
David was in the stern already, straining with the outboard. He yanked; it sputtered and failed once, twice, before roaring to life. I cowered in the bottom of little Sweet Pea. The steel hull of the freighter towered over us, and as David turned out of her path, I could hear the tapping of the water as it parted for her prow. (199)

Alice Sebold. The Lovely Bones. USA: Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company, 2002.
How can the effect of a young teenager's violent death be warmly expansive into her family and circle of friends? Sebold shows us how in this very inventive novel. Suzie Salmon died at the age of fourteen and went to her version of heaven where she can watch the earthly figures she left behind. Gifted sister Lindsey, her parents, boyfriend Ray, her perverted killer, the extra-sensory Ruth ... all these and more are explored as they deal with mourning. They will never have a body or Suzie's bones for closure.

Suzie's memories are sweetly funny as only fumbling teenage life can be; her observations from a distance gradually reflect a spiritual growth. Her father instinctively knows who committed the murder but there's no proof. Mother Abigail goes off the rails with the investigating detective; Lindsey stays strong and true to herself; Grandma Lynn is an unforgettable character. A few of them have the ability to sense Suzie's presence although she cannot interfere with them. Heaven and dead spirits are all too believable; wouldn't we all prefer such a hereafter? The book was such a bestseller, it doesn't seem like it was fifteen years ago.

There wasn't a lot of bullshit in my heaven. (8)
The guilt on him, the hand of God pressing down on him, saying, You were not there when your daughter needed you. (58)
Had my brother really seen me somehow, or was he merely a little boy telling beautiful lies? (95)

Two-liner: If he died, I would have him forever. Was this so wrong to want? (258)

Grandma rules:
"Okay, clear off the table and get your mother over here. I'm doing a makeover." 
"Mother, that's crazy. I have all these dishes to do." 
"Abigail," my father said. 
"Oh no. She may get you to drink, but she's not getting those instruments of torture near me." 
"I'm not drunk," he said. 
"You're smiling," my mother said. 
"So sue him," Grandma Lynn said. "Buckley, grab your mother's hand and drag her over here." My brother obliged. It was fun to see his mother be bossed and prodded. (101)

Camp for Gifteds:
"What's the fish for?" Ruth asked, nodding her head toward my sister's nametag. "Are you religious?" 
"Notice the direction of the fish," Lindsey said, wishing simultaneously that they had vanilla puddings at breakfast. They would go great with her pancakes. 
"Ruth Connors, poet," Ruth said, by way of introduction. 
"Lindsey," Lindsey said. 
"Salmon, right?" 
"Please don't," Lindsey said, and for a second Ruth could feel the feeling a little more vividly ―what it was like to claim me. How people looked at Lindsey and imagined a girl covered in blood. (116)

A neighbour ruminates:
While Ruana's hands grew wet and swollen paring apple after apple, she began to say the word in her mind, the one she had avoided for years: divorce. It had been something about the crumpled, clinging postures of her son and Ruth that finally freed her. She could not remember the last time she had gone to bed at the same time as her husband. He walked in the room like a ghost and like a ghost slipped in between the sheets, barely creasing them. He was not unkind in the ways that the television and newspapers were full of. His cruelty was in his absence. Even when he came and sat at her dinner table and ate her food, he was not there. (314)

Jane Harper. The Dry. USA: Thorndike Press (large print), 2016.
From the reading list of Belgian Waffle, my fave blogger, I entered the dry, dry, dry land of southeast Australia farming country. Aaron Falk, federal financial cop from Melbourne, returns to Kiewarra, the home of his youth. His old friend Luke Hadler has been cruelly murdered along with his wife Karen and young son. Falk has no friends there. It's widely believed he was implicated in the drowning death of Ellie Deacon twenty years before; only old friends Gretchen and Luke's parents have time for him. Reluctantly he agrees to join the investigation of the family murders, establishing a working relationship with local Sgt. Raco.

The town is tight with anxiety and tension due to the effects of the prolonged drought, and the violence against the Hadler family brings it to boiling point. Motivation seems non-existent but gossip is rife. Some suspicions are directed toward Mal Deacon who stores a grudge against Falk. Overt threats force Falk to watch his back. In this debut novel, Harper blends the current mystery well with flashbacks to the teenage days of Aaron, Luke, Gretchen, and Ellie.

One-liner: The signs of a community in poverty were everywhere. (128)

"I blame age and hormones. We were all stupid back then." (187)
"This is a pub. This is not a democracy." (261)

Deacon's nephew Grant had moved into their farmhouse to lend a hand. Ellie's mother left two days after that. One man to resent was plenty enough for anyone. 
Throwing two old suitcases and a clinking bag of bottles into an old car, she had tried halfheartedly to stem her daughter's tears with weightless vows that she would be back soon. Falk wasn't sure how many years it had been until Ellie had stopped believing it. He wondered if part of her might have believed it until the day she died. (103)

He reached the riverbank, breathing fast, and pulled up short at the edge. There was no need. 
The huge river was nothing more than a dusty scar in the land. The empty bed stretched long and barren in either direction, its serpentine curves tracing the path where the water had flowed. The hollow that had been carved over centuries was now a cracked patchwork of rocks and crabgrass. Along the banks, gnarled gray tree roots were exposed like cobwebs. 
It was appalling. (155)

A supporter:
Earlier in the parking lot, Gretchen had given him a hug. 
"Bunch of absolute dickheads," she'd whispered in his ear. "But watch yourself anyway." She'd scooped up Lachie and left. Whitlam had ferried Falk toward the pub, waving away his protests. 
"They're like sharks in here, mate," Whitlam had said. "They'll pounce at the first sign of blood. Your best move is to sit in there with me and have a cold beer. As is our God-given right as men born under the Southern Cross." (262)

23 August 2017

Lost and Found: Autographs

Autograph books were a widespread fad in the 1950s ... how many years did that last, I wonder. Most girls of a certain age had a favourite rhyme memorized for requests to fill a page in my book.  A lot of them started with "Roses are red, ..."!

A cousin wrote:

My favourite elementary school teacher was well-prepared:

And my aunt! Words for the ages:

This is much more representative of my autograph book entries and boarding school days:

15 August 2017

Library Limelights 139

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)

Miriam hears:
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)

Manon recovering:
"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 UllevÄl 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)

Ingrained reserve:
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)

29 July 2017

Library Limelights 138

Scott Turow. Identical. USA: Vision Paperback, 2013.
It's a great day when Turow comes out with a new book; I'm a little late for this one. Once again his fictional Kindle County comes alive as state senator Paul Gianis campaigns in a race for city mayor. Paul's identical twin Cass is being released from prison after twenty-five years for killing his then-girlfriend Dita Kronon. No-one knows, or is telling, the truth of exactly what happened the night Dita was murdered and it all becomes headline news again as Hal Kronon publicly accuses Paul of being implicated. Their mutual Greek heritage is writ large across three generations of inter-family relationships.

Kronon employees Evon Miller and Tim Brodie are charged with unearthing more evidence against Paul. As they proceed, a great deal of background is peeled away on key figures in the old drama and the present day. Even the private lives of both Tim and Evon as outsiders play into a bewildering mass of information, sometimes almost TMI. This is a true forensic work ― fingerprints, blood typing, DNA; Turow is impeccably detailed in his legal knowledge. It seems there are no heroes as such, and who will guess the ultimate double (or triple?) twist?

Phrase: "this bag of loose nuts and bolts" describes a habitually out-of-control emotional person.

Life was much too cruel to go through it alone. (68)
He didn't feel it made sense to waste the energy on relationships that would only pull him under some emotional waterfall in which he'd never catch his breath. (93)
The closest thing to changing the past is to leave it unspoken. (390)

Campaign advice:
Mark stood up, all five-six of him, but still looking, from the hard set of his face, like somebody you wouldn't want to mess with. He was done wasting time. 
"You have to sue. Period. Personally, Ray, I'm not spinning my wheels asking what Hal's got. Because if he's got anything real, Paul's not gonna be mayor anyway." Crully turned toward his candidate. "So, Paul, either quit now or sue." 
Crully flipped his pencil in the air and let it bounce on the table and left the room. (38-9)

Courtroom tactics:
"Your Honor," said Tooley, "we still haven't heard any answer to our request for DNA."Du Bois raised his hand toward Ray, who responded. 
"Judge, we're eager to come forward with all probative evidence, but this request for a DNA test is clearly a bridge too far. In order to be entitled to discovery, a party must show that there is a reasonable likelihood that whatever proof is sought is potentially relevant. Dr. Yavem concedes that there is no better than a one in one hundred chance that an examination of DNA will lead to admissible evidence in a case like this with identical twins. So that part of the motion is little more than the effort to embarrass and harass Senator Gianis." (153)

Never giving up:
"I'm not letting him get away with it." 
"With what?" Tooley asked."Hiding whatever he's hiding." 
"Hal, what could he be hiding if the test is 99 percent likely to be inconclusive? Don't smoke your own dope." 
Hal's bulging eyes ran back and forth behind his glasses as he considered his friend's advice. 
"I want the DNA." 
Mel dropped his glance to his hands, then tried another approach. 
"Hal, you won. Don't you see this? You won this motion. You made a convincing case that this guy knows more than he's telling. And Paul said uncle. Accept victory, Hal. Celebrate for a second." (206)

Greg Iles. Mississippi Blood. USA: William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2017.
Emphatically: the most amazing courtroom trial, ever. Mississippi Blood is the final, culminating drama in an acclaimed trilogy of recent American history in the deep south ... so much more than "merely" crime genre. It's a stand-alone novel and you'll be fine if you missed the first two books,* but I highly recommend them. The Cage family and a large cast of characters continue in a complicated mass of relationships. Natchez mayor Penn Cage stands almost helpless while his father, Dr Tom Cage, is tried for murder. Defence lawyer Quentin Avery seems strangely mute as the trial spins out of control. The suspense at strategic points becomes unbearable.

Viola Turner was the victim in the case ― Dr Cage's lover, mother of his child, terrorized by racist killers. A parade of witnesses reveals one surprise after another. Some are lying for venal gain, some to protect others. Penn himself risks death by seeking the truth of the night in question, despite threats from the vicious Double Eagles, desperately hoping his hired security will keep his mother and daughter safe. There's not much room to catch your breath in the close to 700 pages. Iles' finely-tuned gift for nuance never misses a beat; what more can one say about a masterpiece?
* Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree.

The people on this jury represent a divided city, a fractured state, a wounded nation. (176-7)
My mother gives me a glare that could freeze vodka, and I face forward again. (314)
"Mr Johnson, don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining." (500)

Find the witnesses:
His suggestion has stunned me. "Testify in open court? You've got to be kidding. The FBI has been working that angle all along." 
"You're not the FBI. You're my son." 
"Do you think that grants me some kind of superpower? These aren't grateful black patients, Dad. These are pissed-off, defiant old rednecks." 
Dad's eyes flicker with conviction, even excitement. "I believe you can do it. You've got a gift with people." 
"Hell, you couldn't even do it! You got up at Henry Sexton's funeral and asked everyone in the community to break their silence and tell what they knew about the Double Eagles. But nobody has come forward. Have they?" (46)

Strong Blood:
A distant fondness comes into Serenity's eyes, and she quotes her uncle word for word: "I been all over the south, man. Cutting pulpwood and playing the blues. Mississippi blood is different. It's got some river in it. Delta soil, turpentine, asbestos, cotton poison. But there's strength in it, too. Strength that's been beat but not broke. That's Mississippi blood." 
"That says it, right there," I tell her. "Beat but not broke." (97)

Crowd suspense:
When the big back doors open, I don't see the witness, but two federal marshals. One holds open the dorr while the second stands a few feet inside it, awaiting their charge. With a jangling clink of metal on metal, a black man of medium height enters the courtroom with a graceful walk and a twinkle in his eye. Junius Jelks's hair is gray, but he still looks virile, and he seems to draw keen pleasure from the hundreds of eyes now riveted upon him. As he walks down the aisle, an audible hiss arises from the gallery. The sibilant rush is soft, snakelike, but when it continues without break I realize it must be coming from many mouths at once. This crowd clearly remembers Lincoln's testimony about how cruel this man was when he acted as Lincoln's pretend-father. And if the crowd remembers that description, the jury does, too. (451)

When shit happens:
The irrevocable events of our lives happen in seconds, sometimes fractions of seconds. [...] 
As a prosecutor, I dealt with countless people who suffered from split-second breaks of fate, and most never stopped wondering: What could I have done to avoid that? If only I'd locked my car doors, if only I'd turned left instead of right, if only I'd skipped that last drink, if only I'd listened to my instinct and given that guy a fake phone number, if only I'd remembered my pepper spray or bought that gun I looked at in the sporting goods store ... 
Hindsight is always 20/20; foresight rarely better than a blur. (504)

Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke. The Cinderella Murder. USA: Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster, 2014.
To fill a gap while waiting in a TPL lineup for bestsellers, I grabbed this book because of Burke. But the pedestrian prose seems all Clark, a popular author who never appealed to me. Alafair's contribution is the real mystery. OK, so the 20-year-old cold case murder of a college girl is revived by a television program that sics the former suspects on each other. More people die. Laurie, the producer, is in danger. Her father is conveniently an ex-cop. Aspiring actors, evangelistic quackery, computer geekery. It's hard to feel engaged by mostly cardboard characters. Under Suspicion, the name of the TV show, seems also to be a book series from the two writers.

One-liner: Laurie could empathize with Nicole, but she couldn't sympathize. (305)

The show goes on:
Laurie wasn't sure how she felt about living with all her coworkers, but from a financial perspective, she couldn't argue with Jerry's logic. "Sounds like a plan," she said. "If nothing else, I'd say we've already earned this delicious lunch." 
As the waiter recited elaborate food descriptions from memory, Laurie nodded along politely, but her thoughts were spinning as she envisioned all the work they had in front of them. She had guaranteed Brett Young the best Under Suspicion possible. And just this morning, she had given her word to her nine-year-old son that she would do it all while being a full-time mother. 
How could she possibly keep both promises? (129)

Janwillem Van de Wetering. The Hollow-Eyed Angel. USA: Soho Press Inc., 1996.
An odd little piece from the in-house library: the author indulges in extravagant whimsy among his characters in a mystery on a level of its own. Amsterdam detectives Grijpstra and de Gier are appalled when their commissaris goes off to New York to investigate Dutchman Bert Termeer's death in Central Park. De Gier follows at a decent interval. All three have theories about the death, fodder for psychological and philosophical debate. Whether it is even a murder is anyone's guess, what with red herrings thrown around amid absurdist conversations. Every New York inhabitant they meet seems off-the-wall eccentric while the commissaris' dream of a sightless but sexy tram driver recurs aimlessly. Often the book reads something like bipolar musings on an acid trip ― not to everyone's taste but plenty of sly humour.

One liner:
His boots were suede, recently steelbrushed to straighten the little hairs. (13)
"Well now," Grijpstra said, "adultery, adultery...I'm afraid that idea is extinct now, Simon." (240)

Chance meet of two poets:
"You speak good Dutch," Grijpstra said. 
"Not all that difficult," the Turk said peevishly. "Not too many words, no grammar to speak of." 
Grijpstra liked that. He passed the Turk a croquette from a paper bag. 
"Pig?" the Turk asked suspiciously. 
"Calf," Grijpstra said generously. 
The Turk said that he had been known to eat pig. Not by mistake either. The Turk was against religious rules that bully. The Turk would consume, Allah be praised, whatever he liked, but if he did eat pig it would be nice to be aware of his sinning. His eye caught the flash of a car's brake lights. The Turk swallowed, smiled, straightened his back, recited: "At alien streetcar stop in slashing darkness my soul glows sudden red, lit up by sin." 
Grijpstra applauded a fellow artist. (26-7)

Permission to go to New York:
"How is the old man doing?" 
Grijpstra thought that the commissaris was ill. 
"He has been ill for years now," the CC said. "He could have been on permanent sick leave since he started using a cane." He looked at his long slender hands, then dropped them under the desk top. "But maybe my respected colleague doesn't like doing nothing." 
"What are you going to do, sir? Grijpstra asked. "When you retire?" 
The chief constable smiled. "I will just fade away, Adjutant. I am good at that. I have been practicing for years." 
Grijpstra, as he left the room, remembered the commissaris saying that lack of substance makes people float to the top. (131)

Futuristic visions from airplane:
Would the New York skyscrapers degenerate into crumbled shapes leaning across each other, with skeletons staring out of broken windows? Would vines, mold, lichens and mosses gradually smooth their jumbled lines? 
Maybe, de Gier thought, it will all slide into the ocean, to the bottom of the sea, like Atlantis, like Amsterdam. With Amsterdam there is the certainty, in a foreseeable, calculable future, that the sea will flood the city. Ice caps melt and ocean levels rise and dikes cannot be built up forever. 
There would be fish again, huge schools, unbothered by hunger at the top of the food chain. De Gier imagined fish swimming through his apartment. (133)