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28 August 2014

Library Limelights 65

Martin Cruz Smith. December 6. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.
Long ago I was smitten with Arkady Renko in Gorky Park, and devoured all the subsequent novels featuring the incomparable Moscow detective. Here, no Arkady; instead a great device the author uses to explore all the disparate elements underlying the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour: a most engaging fellow by the name of Harry Niles. Son of a Baptist missionary couple, having lived in Tokyo most of his life (colourfully reenacted as a street urchin), Harry's lens encompasses a broad if jaundiced view of international machinations, sometimes being accused of being more Japanese than the natives. His reputation as a gambler and profligate ne'er-do-well is belied by his humane but anonymous acts of benevolence. He has wriggled out of many a tight spot before.

Spy or informer? It's all we can do to follow the web he's woven in an attempt to stop the impending war. At times Harry has credibility with officials of different stripes; but his dramatic reckoning comes when they all hunt him down, right up to the crucial moments. His biggest nemesis, Ishigami, is particularly fearsome as a crazed, born-again Samurai. The reader's immersion in the doomsday climate is complete; the suspense is brilliantly built. Until the last minute, we don't know if Harry will make it or not. Highly recommended for historical fiction fans. And whoopie, I see Smith's latest Renko novel (Tatiana) is out; already on my TPL holds!

Michiko:
He had literally run into her when they met, Harry at the wheel of his car, Michiko bloody from a crackdown on the last Reds in Tokyo, a police sweep that scattered the comrades over rooftops and down alleys. Harry had pulled Michiko into the car and driven off, the first in a series of impulsive decisions he regretted, such as taking her home, patching her head, letting her stay the night. She left in the morning and returned a week later, her hair hacked short, with a pack containing a prayer wheel and the works of Marx and Engels. She stayed another night and another and never left Harry's for good; that was two years ago. If he'd left her on the street, if he'd given her over to the police, if he hadn't fed her the morning after he'd rescued her. That was probably the worst mistake of all, the fatal bowl of miso. ... Gratitude was always a dicey issue in Japan; the very word arigato meant both "thank you" and "you have placed a sickening obligation on me." (38)

Tojo:
With his bowed legs, shaved head, mustache and spectacles, Tojo fit the bill of a cartoon Japanese. Harry remembered him from the geisha houses in Asakusa as a loudmouth with a big cigar. In fact, what always struck Harry was how un-Japanese Tojo was. Most Japanese strove so hard for modesty they could be virtually inarticulate, while the general had a paranoid's talent for public ranting. On the other hand, his paranoia was well deserved. There were army officers ready to shoot Tojo because they thought he wasn't warlike enough. (72-73)

Close to zero hour:
"Harry, you must get on that plane tomorrow.""My thought too."Alice was quiet for a moment. "Do you imagine if I thought anyone would heed our warning of an attack, that I would abandon my post? It's too late for warnings, Harry. There are no brakes on the bus and no ears on the driver. This crash is going to happen.""We can try." (299)


Lee Child. Never Go Back. New York: Dell Mass Market Edition, 2014.
Say hello to Jack Reacher again, in Child's umpteenth novel about the man. Reacher never goes stale because he always meets a new problem-situation thrust upon him, and the prose is no-nonsense, pedestrian style. In this case, the ex-army MP, a drifter by choice, goes to DC on a whim. Visiting his old command post triggers a series of planned traps and unpleasant encounters designed to get rid of him. The mysterious opponents (are they army? government? private interests? all three?) have a probable connection to Afghanistan. He forges doggedly ahead in his usual, meticulously logical way like a well-oiled machine ― no introspection here: Reacher is a physical Superman but more or less verbally inarticulate.

The female interest, Major Susan Turner, was made a target for career disaster so they team up after Reacher busts her from prison. She turns out to be just as tough as Reacher: his ideal woman? The nearest he seems to come to human emotion is thinking to himself a few times that she's "worth it." One of the traps involves a brand-new idea of family for Reacher. As they chased around the eastern seaboard and then Los Angeles, I got a little tired of Reacher's continual reference to the coin toss and 50-50 odds. But Child is always great for macho fight descriptions. And anyone who can employ the description "voiceless alveolar fricative" (150) has my admiration.

Dining out:
The cafe was a rural greasy spoon as perfect as anything Reacher had ever seen. It had a black guy in a white undershirt next to a lard-slick griddle three feet deep and six feet wide. It had battered pine tables and mismatched chairs. It smelled of old grease and fresh coffee. It had two ancient white men in seed caps, one of them sitting way to the left of the door, the other way to the right. Maybe they didn't get along. Maybe they were victims of a feud three hundred years old.
Turner chose a table in the middle of the room, and they rattled the chairs out over the board floor, and they sat down. There were no menus. No chalkboards with handwritten lists of daily specials. It wasn't that kind of place. Ordering was clearly telepathic between the cook and his regular customers. For new customers, it was going to be a matter of asking out loud, plain and simple. (219)

Dining again, their cryptic relationship:
Turner chose a booth at the front window, and they watched a bus go by, and Reacher said, "I'm a detective and I know what you're going to say."She said, "Do you?""It was always fifty-fifty. Like flipping a coin.""That easy?""You have no obligation even to think about it. This was my thing, not yours. I came here. You didn't come to South Dakota.""That's true. That's how it started. I wasn't sure. But it changed. For a time. Starting in that cell, in the Dyer guardhouse. You were taking Temple away, and you looked over your shoulder at me and told me to wait there. And I did." (511)

22 August 2014

FEC Fire Drill

Past performance (pun intended) by the denizens of FEC (Fading Entertainers Central) prompted Upper Levels in the Chain of Command to issue orders: FEC will have a Fire Drill.

 Mr. OCD is fuming because he the IC (Inmates Committee) was not consulted. He has a need for position recognition. What he feels is an oversight causes him to upgrade his usual operatic humming to intermittent but furious Wagnerian bellows as he paces the communal lobby. His stress kills the initial excited buzz recalling fire drills in school days of yore.

It's no secret FEC has a rocky relationship with the Fire Department thanks to said past performance. To date about a hundred false alarms have rousted the local firemen, and often the deputy chief, from whatever they normally do, engines screaming up to our doorstep at all hours of day and night. Mostly night. To the great annoyance of the neighbourhood. Our lunatics residents have sent the smoke alarms blaring with stove fires, malfunctioning ovens, forgotten cigarettes, faulty wiring, and occasionally, an orgy of candles running amok. Also never forgotten, a memorable balcony explosion from an illegal barbecue that blackened six surrounding suites and actually incurred the use of hoses.

Firemen are also beckoned by 911 calls, sometimes legitimate, followed by the paramedics, till the street is filled with whooping sirens, flashing lights, and our heroes dressed in all their heavyweight gear. Then there are the calls blamed on the faulty intercom, bathtub floods, accidentally pushing the call alert thingy, perhaps even a few pocket dials.

So the FEC Upper Levels decided a proper Fire Drill will go a long way to ass-kissing improving our reputation public relations with our boots-and-helmet brethren. Demonstrating competence in their eyes, we will become a sterling example of community compliance.

Building manager Simon distributed information sheets to each suite for an orderly exercise. We know, we know. The alarm goes on and the elevators turn off. Everyone descends the stairways to safety outside on the sidewalk. The logistics are thrust on Simon and to a marginal degree, Sandor the Super.

Oh wait. Inmates residents with mobility issues are to remain in their suites. No further instructions for them beyond that. Rapid, rampant speculation circulates through the rumour circles that aerial ladders will be employed to extricate them. Or since they can't climb down the stairways, perhaps they could climb up to the roof. Much heated discussion, does the fire department have a rescue helicopter or not.

Certain elements are seen hastily pasting CAT RESCUE signs to their doors. More discussion: does the fire department rescue cats or not. [Forget me? and just get Whiskers the hell outta here?]

Comes the appointed day. One might notice that the garage is almost empty, those with cars and foresight having fled the exercise well in advance. The rest of us with cars and no mobility issues snuck away minutes beforehand to gather in the Hearty Tartan pub for a quick one. And debate how long a Fire Drill might take. The HT has a convenient window to accommodate our crowd of spies.

We see, from our comfort zone, a few hapless lunatics residents stumble out of FEC, directed by Simon in his teamwork zeal not to our sidewalk but to better safety across the street. These are the loyal FEC minority who are genetically programmed to obey all management memos. Sandor the Super is manning the intercom with the demeanour of an East Berlin border guard.

Dear Simon ― of whom we are generally fond ― obliviously scheduled the Drill at rush hour for crossing the street. To safety. Single-handedly he manages to direct and assist, obstructing traffic for blocks. Some like Fragrant Elayne and dear Blanche and distracted Daphne need a good five minutes each to totter across. McElroy is grinning like a maniac with half a cigar defiantly clamped in his teeth. Sally (who else) and Luther trail Simon back and forth in the frenetic crossing chain, demanding he wear a day-glo orange vest. Blockaded drivers exit their vehicles to contribute their own demands. One of Marietta's wretched creepy dogs escapes her bundle buggy and hightails it between the cars, having spotted a kid with a hot dog. Plenty of screeching and bad language.

Oh, look. Here comes our amiable friend Officer Strombolopolus to have a word with Simon and unsnarl the traffic.

No telling how many sneaks residents actually stayed put ― a few would be long passed out in their recliner chairs at the TV set and others clandestinely peeping at the excitement from their windows. A few waiting for the helicopter. Poor Simon looks dangerously close to collapsing. George and Jiminy Crickets try to marshal the motley evacuees while Mr. OCD stands by, glowering.

Not a fireman in sight.

So perfectly FEC'd up, we in the Hearty Tartan agree. Let's have another quick one since we're here anyway. With no official witnesses appearing to approve the sorry pandemonium Fire Drill, Upper Levels in the Chain of Command can stop chewing their nails. And go back to the drawing board.

It's true we can't see the roof from here, but we know Bella is up there, waiting for the helicopter. Sandor will find her on his nightly inspection and tell her to go home.

Another pointless feckless day in the life ...  

  

17 August 2014

Library Limelights 64

Andrew Pyper. The Guardians. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2011.
The paranormal is not my cuppa, something I should have remembered from reading Pyper's Killing Circle. There's no question the author is very good at this genre; his grasp of the psychological effects on witnesses in the story is excellent. It's a mystery tale as well ― boyhood friends return to small-town Ontario for a funeral only to face their mutual past secrets. Then a woman disappears and history seems to repeat itself. If Trevor, Randy, and Carl help the police, they will have to reveal old crimes. But they discover the first crime was even before their time. The story is structured between the present-day and Trevor's re-creating a diary of the past.

Object of boyhood fear:
The Thurman house was no different in its construction than any of other squat, no-nonsense residences it shared Caledonia Street with, two rows of Ontario re-brick built at the last cebntury's turn for the towns first doctors, solicitors and engineers. So why did it stand out for us? What made it the one and only haunted house in Grimshaw for our generation? Its emptiness was part of the answer. Houses can be in poor repair, ugly and overgrown, but this makes them merely sad, not the imagined domicile of phantoms. Vacancy is an unnatural state for a still-habitable home, a sign of disease or threat, like a pretty girl standing alone at a dance. (91)

Trevor struggles with Parkinson's:
It's my legs ― kicking and side-swinging worse than at any other point since my arrival in Grimshaw ― that seem to know I'm going to Sarah's before I do. I must now appear, as one of my doctors said I would eventually, as a "top-heavy drunk," leaving my shoe prints on dew-sodden lawns. You'd think, in my condition, presenting myself before a woman I like would be a bad idea. But the thing is, I don't have time to wait for good ideas anymore. (306)

Mark Billingham. From the Dead. Toronto: McArthur & Company, 2010.
Despite the publisher's blurbs, I find DI Thomas Thorne is not as engaging as, say, Rebus (Rankin) or Banks (Robinson). Meaning I didn't enjoy this as much as Billingham's Rush of Blood which is not in the Thorne series. Nevertheless, From the Dead is an unusual crime story. New information re-opens an old case when the convict Donna is released from prison. Was the wrong man killed? Her intended victim is alive and mocking police efforts in England and Spain. Tracing the actual victim's identity looks hopeless. To complicate matters, her daughter disappears. Donna hires would-be private eye Anna Carpenter to help her.

Anna latches onto DI Thorne to his chagrin but with the blessing of his superiors, Brigstocke and Jesmond. We see how this new association affects Thorne's bumpy relationship with girlfriend Louise. The policeman is mentally suffering over the jury's acquittal of a dangerous felon in a prior case; Thorne's evidence had not been strong enough for a conviction. He agonizes about unsolved cases of missing and/or assaulted women. But it's as if he does more observing than detecting. Donna triggers the climax, not unexpectedly, but Billingham provides a great anti-climactic ending.

Anna makes a career decision:
Her father did not often lose his temper, and seeing him looking so lost, so genuinely confused, when Anna announced that she had thrown in her job at the bank had been hugely upsetting. She felt ashamed just thinking about it; prickling with sweat and as close to tears as he had been when she'd told him.
"What are we supposed to think, your mum and me?"
Her mother had slowly risen from her seat as soon as Anna had begun saying her piece, but had made no response. She had just stared, red-faced and breathing noisily, as thought she were trying her very best not to march across the carpet and slap her daughter. (32)

Teamwork?
"Have fun with young Miss Marple," Brigstocke said.
Thorne took his tea and sandwiches and swore loudly enough to provoke disgusted looks from the elderly couple across the aisle when Anna told him there was no change from his tenner. He sugared his tea and lowered his voice and said, "So, what the hell was all that about back there?"
"All what?"
"I told you not to say anything."
"Come on, I couldn't just sit there like a plank," Anna said. "It would have looked really strange."
"I don't care how it would have looked. I was there to question a potentially crucial witness and you were there to observe, that's all. I did not want you chipping in."
"I thought we made a good team."
"We're not any sort of team," Thorne said.
"Whatever." (67)



05 August 2014

Library Limelights 63

Mo Hayder. Wolf. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2014.
Beware, this book has some scary characters who will creep you out. The psychological torture within is not to everyone's taste and I wouldn't recommend it except for the most diehard crime readers. Hayder has a reputation for shocking her fans. That said, this story of a home invasion is superbly developed, fraught with dread. We meet series character police detective Jack Caffery of past books. He is on a separate mission of his own and part of the suspense is when ― or whether ― his search will dovetail with the main story, with help of a dog called Bear. The Walking Man is another repeat character; he serves as a foil to Caffery's internal anxiety.

The family caught in a nightmare trap had only a peripheral involvement in murders of fifteen years ago. Who could be orchestrating their current plight? Potential motives slowly unfold. Are the criminals really who they appear to be? The truth may lie somewhere in their transforming thoughts. If there's a plan, it begins to disintegrate in unpredictable ways. The more we learn, the more Hayder finely balances our sympathy and antipathy among the players. And perhaps Caffery finally resolves his personal quest. If you want the challenge of mind-messing, go for it!

The parallel universe?
Matilda stares at him. All their lives Oliver has been the one with the answers. Whatever the question, he always has an answer. Except now.
She looks around herself, completely bewildered. The kitchen ‒ the place she feels most at home ‒ is a different landscape. Yes, she hung those candy-stripe curtains. She chose the pink range kettle to match. She stocked the painted shelves. There's a jar at the back no-one would ever notice, its lid open to release the smell of cinnamon. All of this is familiar. Yet somehow they've crossed into a different reality.
A door bangs overhead and there's the noise of scuffling on the staircase. Again Matilda strains to lift the table with her back. It gives a tiny way but the effort is too much. She squats, panting. "Oliver? What do we do?" (65-66)

Looking for clues:
"Thank you." The colonel shakes his hand. "Thank you and goodbye. You can find your own way out, I take it."
He turns, using his stick, and makes his awkward, limping way back to the house. His shoulders are hunched, his head lowered, as if it's a fight to hold it up under the force of gravity.
Bear watches him go, her head on one side. Caffrey says nothing. Doesn't move for a while, because he's thinking that it's always the same when he meets older people, all he sees is their fragility. All he can picture in his head is his mother ‒ and wonder where she is, what she is doing. Whether she's alive. And if she is, whether she has ever got over loving Ewan and being left with the other child Jack. The one that, given the choice, she'd have preferred to lose.
"Come on," he tells Bear, when the sound of the slamming door has echoed across the lawn. "Let's go have a look in those trees." (174)


James Lee Burke. Feast Day of Fools. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
Burke is widely acknowledged as a brilliant American author of any genre; it's difficult to describe such illuminating prose. Atmosphere broods over all: here are not the author's familiar Louisiana bayous, but the border country of Texas, never more beautifully painted. The human landscape is something else, a stark contrast ― lost innocents, bankrupt souls, and corrupt predators. Some seek redemption, some seek victims. One might get the idea that the state is populated with nothing but sociopaths. All the major characters are haunted by their pasts. Sheriff Hackberry Holland patrols his county with the grim mettle and instincts of a survivor. His deputy Pam Tibbs provides down-to-earth counterpoint to Holland's unbending principles.

The Feast of Fools was a mediaeval annual church liturgy that became subjected to perverse abuse whereby unthinking adherents would go wild in self-indulgent excess, fully expecting their sins to be forgiven the following day. Forgiveness is seldom sought here; the story is about murders, not so much about who did them but will they be caught. Strange outlaw Jack Collins has appeared before in Burke's Texas novels. Holland also has to deal with Krill the mestizo, Sholokoff the arms dealer, Cody the delusional preacher, Riser the doomed FBI agent, and "La Magdalena" with her own warrior past. The combination of fascinating (often chilling) characters and suspense had me reading way past my bedtime. Feast Day exemplifies Burke at his best.

Samples of environmental consciousness:
• ... the air was dense and sparkling with humidity, coating every surface in sight, clinging to the skin like damp cotton, as though the sunrise were a source not of light but ignition. (93)
• Danny Boy watched the figure draw nearer, the toes of his boots cracking through the shell of baked clay along the streambed, the sky behind him a royal purple, the mesquite and pi┼łon trees on the hillsides alive with birds that only minutes ago had been sleeping. (118)
• The thunder rolling through the hills, the smell of the ozone, the cold tannic odor of the rain and dust, the branches of the mesquite and scrub oak bending almost to the ground all seemed like the pages of a book flipping before his eyes, defining the world and his role in it in a way he had never thought possible. (148)
• The sand in the streambeds was white, the rocky sides of the declivities as sharp as knives, the land rustling with desert greenery and tables with slabs of sedimentary rock that looked like the marbled backs of albino whales. (353)
• The road through the hills was narrow and rock-strewn and dusty, the wind as hot as a blowtorch, smelling of creosote and alkali and dry stone under the layer of blue-black clouds that gave no rain.(428)

One-liner: Jack decided there was nothing wrong with Mexico that a half-dozen hydrogen bombs and a lot of topsoil couldn't cure. (411)

Self-defining:
Hackberry Holland had come to believe that age was a separate country you did not try to explain to younger people, primarily because they had already made up their minds about it and any lessons you learned from your life were not the kind many people were interested in hearing about. If age brought gifts, he didn't know what they were. It had brought him neither wisdom nor peace of mind. His level of desire was the same, the lust of his youth glowing hot among the ashes each morning he woke. He could say with a degree of satisfaction that he didn't suffer fools and drove from his company anyone who tried to waste his time, but otherwise his dreams and his waking day were defined by the same values and frame of reference that came with his birthright. (23)

Voice of authority:
"Sheriff, who do you think runs this country?"
"You tell me."
"Lyndon was put into office by Brown and Root. Lyndon is moldering in the grave, but Brown and Root merged with Halliburton and is still alive and well. You think our current president is going to rescind their contracts at almost every United States military base in the world?"
"I wouldn't know."
"Temple Dowling stood up from his chair and removed a strand of cat hair from his sleeve. "My father said you were never a listener." (81-2)

30 July 2014

Words 7

Some to abhor, some to perhaps adopt.


Regrettable:
debankify OMG, coming from my very own bank! A pathetic touch of straining too hard for Z-gen customers? I don't even want to know what they have in mind.
victimology As in Nesbo's Cockroaches but becoming common all over the place now. Seems to reduce real pain to an all-inclusive label, a pedantic study.
signalized On a construction site, a sign to warn of a traffic intersection ahead. An intersection with signal lights. What happened to standard English? MUST we ADJECTIVIZE everything?!

Laudable:
rhisomatic ― Recognizable language root here, rhizome actually meaning root, quite botanical. A very fine word indeed. My family surname Jurikas that translates into English as root could use the much more musical variation of Rhizome. Thank you.
Gardy-Loo!! ― Let's resurrect this! From those fun-loving Edinburgh high-rises of yore. I might be addicted to "Today's Scots Word" on Facebook's Scottish Genealogy.
● butterscotchness ― Made that up myself. Sometimes it's okay to invent nouns. Contemplating perfect ice cream on a hot day.
vernissage ― As in Koch's Summer House with Swimming Pool; a semi-archaic word for the reception to preview an art gallery's new exhibition. Koch liked it so much he employed it several times (but then he's European).

Neutral:
Johari window In Galbraith's The Cuckoo's Calling, a character dismisses this self-awareness exercise, a crowd-sourcing kind of technique choosing adjectives to describe your personality. Oh really?
● gravamen ― Lescroart used it in its appropriate legal context, in The Ophelia Cut, as the most important or substantial part of a charge against an accused person.
alveolar ― to do with pronunciation of certain consonants, but its noun is even more interesting. Alveolus can refer to the socket a tooth sits in, or other small anatomical hollows or pits.
homophily ― support of homosexual rights, and,
heterophily ― support of heterosexual rights; neither of which made the Oxford Online Dictionary last time I looked (shame, Oxford!). 

23 July 2014

Library Limelights 62

John Lescroart. The Ophelia Cut. Atria Paperback/Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2013.
Courtroom drama fans: For those who follow Lescroart's dramatic novels, the familiar characters are back ― Dismas Hardy, Moses Maguire, Abe Glitsky, Gina Roake, and company ― and they are as engaging as ever. A few allusions to a highly secret prior incident involving the crew are intriguingly tossed out but never explained (they took place in a previous book but for the life of me I can't figure out which one, possibly Lescroart's 2009 A Plague of Secrets). Here, Hardy takes on his most difficult legal case ever. Backroom politics in San Francisco and questionable ethics play into it, not unusual in Hardy's world. For the reader, it's a credible, realistic world.

Without giving away the surprises ― Moses' gorgeous daughter Brittany is the catalyst for a murder of far-reaching consequences. The police department, the district attorney's office, and several families are all hit by the fallout, not to mention jeopardizing a man in the federal witness protection program. Which of several possible motives is the strongest for committing the crime? How representative of her generation is Brittany? Lescroart's plots usually reflect issues in today's news. No trial detail escapes Hardy's attention but the outcome for his client looks hopeless. He keeps us guessing until the shock ending. My only quibble is the rather nebulous, unconvincing epilogue.

Word: gravamen (375)

Glitsky gets reprimanded:
"Lieutenant." Her repetition of his rank struck him as ominous. As recently as this morning, he had rarely been anything but Abe. She went on. "I really don't feel that now is the appropriate time to air this matter completely. In the past several hours, I have learned several allegations ― unsubstantiated, to be sure, but bothersome nonetheless ― regarding your relationships with Mr. Hardy, Mr. Farrell, and some other members of their law firm, which, I must say in a police officer, are at best unusual. I was hoping that tomorrow you and I could set aside a little time to discuss these matters privately and determine to what extent you will still have my confidence as a department head. Am I making myself clear?" (215)

Hardy tries alternate theories on his investigator:
"Maybe he stole one of his friend's girlfriends. Maybe he sold dope on the side and stiffed his supplier. Maybe he had a jealous gay lover. Maybe he ran over some crazy lady's cat. The dude was a rapist. He had roofies, right? So there were probably other victims. What about if one of them killed him? Did he have any family?"... Hardy heard a heavy breath over the line. "Am I getting desperate?" he asked."Sounds a little like it to me.""Can you give me twenty hours?""I'll give you all the time you want. But I feel like I'm wasting your money, and I hate that.""If that feeling gets too bad, you don't have to take the money.""Good one, Diz.""I know," Hardy said. "I'm a laugh riot." (273)


Sean Slater. Snakes and Ladders. London, UK: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2012.
First reaction: the second book about homicide detective Jacob Striker is more polished than the first. Second reaction: a series of small inconsistencies (Valium readily available over the counter?) and improbable climaxes became irritating. The cryptic thoughts of the supposed perpetrator, a wacko who calls himself The Adder, are interspersed throughout the story and I began to wonder if some authors today are simply trying to out-psycho each other.

The discovery of a murder or two, and subsequent investigations, take a turn into a different underlying crime of unimaginable scale. Current news topics, such as privacy laws and identity theft, come into play. Slater sets a good pace here and I was finding it a good read. For about two-thirds of the book. Winding up in slightly clumsy melodrama, it never explains why Striker himself had become a target. His enigmatic relationship with cop-partner Felicia remains unresolved. The third book in the series (The Guilty) has been published and Slater has plans for at least three more.

Typical Jacob and Felicia sparring:
She gave him an uncertain look, like she wasn't sure which way to take the conversation. In the end, she kept quiet. The passenger window was still fogged up, so she took a moment to power the window down and up. When it remained fogged, she wiped away the condensation with her hand. Afterwards, she turned in her seat and met his stare once more. She spoke softly."Maybe you should see Larisa one more time."Striker groaned. "Oh Jesus, not you, too. Leave it be, Feleesh.""I'm just saying―""You're always just saying something. Serious. Just let it go for once, will ya? Let this one ride."Felicia's eyes narrowed at the comment, and for a moment she looked ready for a fight. She tucked her long dark hair back over her ear and her mouth opened like she was ready to say more.Striker looked away from her. He was in no mood for small talk or bullshit. And in even less of a mood for arguing. (48-49)

Psycho's secret agenda:
The DVD began playing and the screen came to life.
On it was the woman cop. Standing in the laneway. Watching the big detective move slowly up the stairs. She was beautiful ‒ the Adder could see that in his analytical, separated way ‒ with her long brown hair draping down the caramel skin of her neck. She was in her prime, no doubt, bursting with beauty and energy and radiance. Like a star going supernova.The Adder watched her, standing there, completely unaware of the hidden threat. Then the bullets came. (315)

18 July 2014

Library Limelights 61

Jo Nesbo. Cockroaches. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2013.
I believe this is the last Nesbo to receive a belated English translation; originally published in Norway in 1998, chronologically it is the second novel in the popular Harry Hole series (following The Bat.) Now yours truly can say she has read every one of them. Since Nesbo may have laid Harry to rest, Cockroaches is like a bonus to the detective's often-electrifying career. Norway's ambassador to Thailand is murdered in embarrassing circumstances and instant cover-up is the first diplomatic reaction. Harry gets chosen as a token presence in the investigation―his previous assignment in Australia seems to qualify him for a complicated task. With a mighty effort, he sobers up and flies to Bangkok.

We know Harry's no token and won't stay discreetly in the background as his political superiors instructed. Once on the ground there, he works with the Thai police, meeting a mixture of Norway's ex-pats. What kind of criminal activity instigated the murder? There are plenty of motivations to choose from. An abduction and more killings ensue. Each new revelation points in a different direction as we catch glimpses of city life where crime and corruption seem rampant and alien. Some scenes trigger flashbacks for Harry ― suffering the loss of innocence. He and his new police acquaintance, Liz Crumley, face an adrenalin-thumping climax. It's deliciously complicated. As is Harry, of course.

One- Two-liner: Harry was reminded of an old friend who used to chuckle the same way. He had buried him in Sydney, but he paid Harry regular visits at night. (270)

The diplomatic corps:
"His career ended in a cul-de-sac. He came from some job in Defence, but at some time there were a couple too many 'buts' by his name."
"Buts?"
"Haven't you heard the way Ministry people talk about one another? 'He's a good diplomat, but he drinks, but he likes women too much' and so on. What comes after the 'buts' is a lot more important than what comes before; it determines how far you can get in the department. That's why there are so many sanctimonious mediocrities at the top." (103)

Illegal entry:

He had heard something. That is, he had heard a thousand things, but one sound among the thousand did not belong to the now familiar cacaphony from the streets. And it came from the hall. It was a well-lubricated click. Oil and metal. When the draught told him that someone had opened the door, he thought of Sunthorn, until it struck him that the person who had just entered was trying to be as quiet as possible. Harry held his breath while his brain whirred through his sound archives at a furious pace. A sound expert in Australia had told him that the membrane in your ear can hear the difference in pressure between a million different frequencies. And this had not been the sound of a doorknob being turned but a recently oiled gun being cocked. (228-9)

Denise Mina. Still Midnight. Toronto: McArthur & Company, 2009.
Trial run here. I'd been looking for another Tartan Noir writer (take a leading bow, Ian Rankin). It took a while to warm up to this book, mainly because the pair of criminals we meet right off the bat are incredibly wretched, inept, incompetent goofballs. There's a fair amount of Glaswegian vernacular to surmount as well. Detectives Morrow and Bannerman are not exactly loveable at first, either, but with a little perseverance they all grow on you. A kidnapping/ransom plan goes awry although the arms-length instigator and the police are not aware of it. The hapless intermediary duo has to contend with the wrong victim, an accidental shooting, and a dead body. Several threads skillfully come together as the plot boils up and it's hard to stop reading.

Bannerman is chosen to lead the investigation to the deep resentment of his rival, Alex Morrow, who bests him at every opportunity she can. Her character is thorny and abrasive; she avoids going home to an unpleasant, undefined domestic life. We witness various interactions with an immigrant Muslim family, not a major theme but so well portrayed. The narrative switches between Morrow, the two goofballs, the victim, and the affected family members. Our questions about character mysteries are eventually resolved. The odd love fantasy one young man creates is a master touch from the author. Now I know why Mina is called "the grand dame of Scottish crime fiction."

Morrow muses on police interrogation:
Family myths and fables were more than conscious fibs; they were a form of self-protection, conversational habits, beliefs too embedded to challenge: she loves me, we are happy, he will change. But there was always a tic. It amazed Alex, the craven need of people to tell the truth. During questioning, when inconsistencies started to show in a story, people often broke down, sobbed with the desire to be honest, as if getting caught lying was the very worst that could happen. She'd seen men carving fingernails into the palms of their hands, breaking the skin to relieve the pressure to tell. ... She'd never again trust anyone who began a sentence, "Honestly," or, "To tell the truth." These were flags raised high above a statement, drawing the casual viewer's attention; here be dragons. (36)

The Anwar family:
Omar saw his father looking at his spoiled, lucky children, sensed his bewilderment, his disappointment. They expected new clothes and cars and bedrooms of their own, they wanted shoes and food and holidays and iPods. Sadiqa wanted books and new clothes all the time because she was getting fatter. They didn't want to pray in the night, they didn't want to walk anywhere, they didn't want to work shifts in the smelly wee shop with Johnny Landry telling the same stories over and over about his time in the army. They were private school kids and thought it was humiliating to sit behind a counter, taking shit from alkis and shoplifters and racist fuckwits out in their slippers looking for bottles of ginger and teabags. (219)

Pat dreams:
She was making a face in the picture, puffing up her cheekbones and pouting a little, not tarty, just sweet. Pat reached out to pick up a copy and felt the rough texture of the paper kiss his fingertips, smelled the hot fat as sweet, the daylight glinting on the greasy wall as a sparkle. That she existed made the tawdry present bearable. He folded the paper and tucked it under his arm, smiling, as happy as if it was her arm, and went over to the counter, ordered two egg and bacon rolls and two cans of ginger, handing over the money to the beautifully hungover fat man behind the counter. (147)