30 November 2017

Library Limelights 147

Peter May. The Chess Men. UK: Quercus, 2013.
Another Isle of Lewis pot boiler. May's style is to integrate the back stories of Fin Macleod's island life with present-day troubles. As with the cormorant hunt in The Blackhouse and the Iolaire disaster in this one, May incorporates true Lewis events into the plot. Fin has a new job as security head for the Red River estate, catching poachers. That means meeting up with some old friends like Whistler who carves oversize chessmen similar to the famous twelfth century pieces. In a barely accessible part of the island the two men discover a downed airplane with the seventeen-year-old remains of their schoolmate Roddy Mackenzie inside. All three, and more, in their college days had been involved with the still highly successful Celtic rock band called Amram.

Turns out Roddy was murdered all those years ago; now Whistler comes to a sorry end for no discernible reason. The man had been facing a custody hearing for his daughter Anna. Friend Donald the minister is about to be censured by a church court. Fin's son has gone off-island to university; the renewed relationship with first love, Marsaili, is scarcely mentioned. One-time girlfriend Mairead, the iconic singer with Amran, reappears in Lewis. In the midst of all this, it's a challenge for Fin to find motives, let alone perpetrators of the murders. Classic Peter May. The Hebrides have never been so well portrayed in scenic and human terms. To really enjoy the three-part "stand alones" I recommend starting with The Blackhouse and continuing with The Lewis Man.

"It was black as hell that night, boys, and we could all feel the presence of the devil come to take us." (95)
And all the lines I had been repeating in my head disappeared in a sea of hormones. (240)
This was theatre of a kind never before seen on the island, the playing out of a human drama that the Church itself would have frowned upon had it come from the pen of a playwright and been performed by actors. (362)

Beginnings of the band:
And then there was Whistler. So-called because he played the Celtic flute as if he'd been born with it at his lips. Pure, haunting liquid music it was that poured from that flute of his. Sounds that swooped and soared with a flick of his finger, or a curl of his mouth. Strange somehow, coming from such a big brute of a boy whose temper and black moods would become so familiar to me. A boy so clever that while I spent untold hours studying for end-of-term exams, Whistler was off trapping rabbits, or pulling trout from the Red River, and still got the best grades in the school. (78)

Neglect causes outrage:
"Look!" She lifted his socks. "They're full of holes." And as she held them up I saw that they were. Worn to holes at the heels and the ball of the foot, and wafer-thin along the line of the toes, almost at the point of disintegration. "And these." She held up his underpants, stretched out between fastidious thumbs and forefingers. It took a great effort of will for her even to touch them, and there was a look of extreme disgust on her face. "The elastic's perished." She dropped them. "And his trousers. Look how he keeps them up." She showed me the safety pin at the waistband where a button had once been. The zipper was broken. "And here." She turned them over and I saw where the seam between the legs had burst open, the stitching rotted and broken. 
Then she held up his coat and turned it inside out. "And this isn't much better. The lining's all torn and worn thin. And look at his trainers for God's sake." She stooped to lift them on to the counter. "You can't see it at a glance, but the soles have come away from the uppers, and it looks like he's used duct tape to stick them back together." She glared at me with accusation in her eyes. "How could you not notice?" (172)

Full circle for a day:
He had forgotten all about the gala day. The return of all seventy-eight Lewis chessmen to their last resting place for just one day. Sixty-seven of the chess pieces were permanently housed in the British Museum in London, that repository of stolen artifacts from around the world. The remaining eleven were kept in Edinburgh, but still a long way from home. He remembered Whistler's exhortation the day they had met at his croft for the first time since they were teenagers. They should be in Uig all year round. A special exhibition. Not stuck in museums in Edinburgh and London. Then maybe folk would come to see them and we could generate some income here. (335)

Ross Pennie. Tampered. Toronto: ECW Press, 2011.
Dr. Zol Szabo of the Hamilton (Ontario) public health unit investigates a serial illness at a seniors' facility. Actually, Zol's associates are more active and engaging than he is ― Natasha the lab technician and Hamish the epidemiologist. Some of the infected seniors at Camelot Lodge are dying, so the pressure is on to find the source of contamination. Zol enlists his girlfriend Colleen, a private detective. A group of seniors at Camelot also use their skills to assist. Pennie has created a tricky, clever plot with assorted issues thrown into it ― geriatrics, gayness, racism, the Balkan wars, illicit drugs, and more diseases or symptoms than you ever wanted to hear about. Zol could do with a little loosening up in character, though.

A freebie from the Boucheron Conference, this ‒ or any medical mystery ‒ is not a genre I would normally read. Medical terminology inserts itself everywhere possible and I end up examining my own manufactured symptoms of gut ailment, fierce headache, is that a fever I'm getting? Am I getting meningitis or C difficile? ... until a rash of itching makes me stop reading and go bleach my kitchen. I will never eat deli meats again. While it will be a treat for some readers, for me it's a gift horse I wanted to muzzle.

The crusty lesion was perched at the crest of the tattooed waterfall Zol could see cascading down Nick's forearm. (32)
"Albert Schweitzer said that happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory." (75)
Phyllis stopped him with her I'm speaking look, then bestowed Myrtle with her smile of approval. (115)
Fire lit Art's face, the patches of rosacea on his cheeks glowing more crimson than ever. (197)

Two-liner: "Old age is contagious, you know. The more you let people do for you, the less you can do for yourself." (74)

Not Martha Stewart's kitchen:
Natasha pulled a large plastic bag from the bottom of a chest freezer. She grunted at the effort of dislodging it. Frosty condensation obscured the bag's contents, but Zol could just make out what appeared to be a jumble of vegetables — corn, celery, broccoli, and a couple of beets.
"What's this?" Natasha asked. "This stuff should be labelled and dated."
"Hey —" Nick chuckled "— we use everything up so fast we don't waste time with dating."
"But what is it?" said Zol. "At least the bag should be labelled."
Nick shrugged. "I can tell they're veggies." (33)

Chewing it over:
Phyllis pulled a hanky from her sleeve and dabbed the drops of watery dribble from the tip of her nose. Her eyes narrowed and her hand jerked as she clutched her chest. "How's Betty?" 
"Just the same, I'm afraid," Hamish said. 
The others helped themselves to the bagels while Hamish washed his hands in Art's sink. There was no bottle of hand sanitizer anywhere in sight. Hamish took the unclaimed muffin and broke off a mouthful, taking care to leave the paper wrapping intact. 
"Maybe you don't have the correct diagnosis, Doctor," said Phyllis. "My sister's pulmonary embolism was misdiagnosed by four different doctors before somebody got it right." 
"For heaven's sake, Phyllis," Art said. "Of course Dr. Wakefield has got Betty's diagnosis right." 
Hamish chewed on the muffin and said nothing. Maybe Phyllis was correct. (105-6)

Job description interferes:
"Do you believe them?" 
"They say they've got pictures. Phyllis's camera. And part of a licence plate. SJJ something." 
Public health involved far more facets of modern life than Zol had imagined at the start of his training. But one thing was for sure: kidnappings were not part of his mandate. "Sorry. I'm drawing the line right here. I can't let myself —" 
He suddenly noticed Max's quizzical stare, pupils wide as hockey pucks. The boy was an unrivalled listening machine. 
"Just a sec, Hamish," Zol said, then cupped his hand over the phone and told Max to fetch a roll of paper towels from the kitchen. As soon as Max shuffled out of earshot, Zol whispered to Hamish, "For God's sake, I can't get involved in an abduction." (273)

Christopher Brookmyre. A Snowball in Hell. UK: Abacus, 2008.
Curious about this author's style after a previous novel (LL142) led to this find at Bouchercon, and yes, he's different! Here, Brookmyre savagely does black satire on the world of celebrity. The arrogant criminal, Simon Darcourt aka Black Spirit, retires from contract killing to kidnapping Brits of various claims to fame culminating in a special game contest. Broadcasting to the nation, he skewers the popular entertainment genre, not without some torture and killing. His motive is unknown to police, including super detective Angelique de Xavia. Intense complications ensue as Angelique finds herself in an impossible personal dilemma; she's secretly forced to betray her colleagues, co-opting the aid of her former lover Zal, a thief and magician.

Lonnng contempt-laden rants by Darcourt against society's superficial values and inadequate human beings are brilliantly expressed but so over the top the self-righteousness becomes tedious. Nonetheless, there's that hard core of black humour. He's fond of quoting others, and also makes good use of staging and technology that some may find hard to follow. Or swallow. Zal is not the only one practising deft sleight-of-hand activities. His relationship with Angelique is totally up in the air — oh no, more desperately inarticulate feelings once again! The cerebral Brookmyre is effortlessly ingenious if you appreciate invective-laden rage against modern inanities.

Word: zoetrope - A 19th-century optical toy consisting of a cylinder with a series of pictures on the inner surface that, when viewed through slits with the cylinder rotating, give an impression of continuous motion; also called thaumatrope (Oxford Dictionary).

But as Voltaire put it: once you can get people to believe absurdities, you can get them to perform atrocities. (39)
Jack Nicholson once remarked that when people said they wanted to be rich and famous, he'd suggest they try just being rich, and see how that works out for them. (72)
Angelique thinks about three adolescents gasping like landed fish, surrogate outlets for one narcissistic, self-obsessed psychopath's jealous rage. (171)
This sexually repressed little backwater of a country needs to undo a few buttons and confront reality. (331)
It was one of the most enduring truths of human deception: the harder it is to come by certain information, the more credibility you attribute it. (343)

Cynicism of the narcissist:
Al Qaeda is usually described as a network, but with 9/11 it was obvious that they had discovered global branding, corporate synergy and vertical integration. They would not be outsourcing any more, would not have dealings with anyone who was not a fellow fundamentalist headcase. and had in any event no need for mercenaries when there were thousands of idiots willing to do the work for free. 
My skills were not only redundant, they were arguably anachronistic. Any fucking lunatic can take out a target if he's prepared to sacrifice himself to do so. But never mind the skill, where's the fucking fun in that? (8)

Hazard of the job:
She hadn't actually announced her intention to quit before, but she'd been through the feeling that she couldn't go on, couldn't recover from what she had just been through sufficiently to pick herself up and head back into the fray. Yet every time, she had: no matter what she had witnessed, no matter what she had been required to do, no matter the danger or pain she had endured. The scar tissue, she knew, would soon form over what happened at the mosque like it had formed over so many previous wounds. Each time she went through something like this, she emerged just a little bit tougher, which meant that she was able to feel just a little bit less. (58)

24 November 2017

FEC Elections

Mr OCD gets to preside at the IC elections, being the current Chair. Incumbent IC members have speeches prepared ... more or less. Attendance at this important meeting is running about 18% of the total inmates residents.
OCD wastes no time. "You all know I am pleased and willing to stand for Chair again, so that's easy. All in favour?"
Gordon Gerald: "Not so fast, sir. I'm a candidate too. I've had experience, I'm articulate and connected; it's time for more energy, more action, more advocacy!"
Luther: "Only thing you're connected to are those mouldy books you read."
Fitzharoldo: "Who's Gerald?"
Ophelia: "Well, I do all the work so why shouldn't I run for Chair?"
Fitzharoldo: "Who are you?"
OCD: "People, I'm the only one on the ballot. The job demands strong leadership. My leadership."
Bella: "What would we advocate?"
Wanda: "Bella dear, don't prolong this."
Gordon Gerald: "I advocate better representation in issues with Upper Levels and external rapprochement."
Luther: "Here come the big guns words."
OCD: "Gordon, you forgot to put yourself on the ballot therefore I am acclaimed Chair again."

OCD: "Moving on to committee members."
Ms Etoile: "Darlings, I hope you're voting for me. I bring you lavish entertainment nights; you know you love 'em. Plus ... I am the fine cosmic balance in the decision-making pantheon."
Sally: "Oh gawd she's been at the Feng Shui again. Or something."
George: "The new guy on the second floor wants to be on the IC."
Ophelia: "If elected, I promise more butter tarts."
George: "He's not here, so I'm in."
Luana: "I'm not running if Sheila doesn't get in."
Luther: "She's the only secretary who can spell."
Daphne: "Where's Sam?"
Wanda: "Oh get on with it."
Ms Etoile: "Sam's toast, darling."
McElroy: "Is this over yet?!"
Jiminy Crick: "Point of order, Mr Chair."
Gonzo: "And I'm the only one who can count ..."
OCD: "Point of order is not how we do it."
Trevor has a flashback to his last stage play: "What droll event is this I see before my"
Sally: "Not now, Trevor."
Mouthy Monica: "This is taking forever, you idiots!"
Gonzo: "Ya want me to stay as treasurer or what?"
Dominic applauds this cutting to the chase; several whoops erupt.
There's a slight scuffle as McElroy decides he's had enough, reversing to the exit where his scooter collides in the doorway with Marilyn's. "Women!" he is heard bellowing in the distance while Marilyn checks her vehicle for damage.

Rose is co-opted to count the show of hands for each candidate. Gordon Gerald is indignant that only the Saturday Morning Librarian votes for him. Bella and Luana squeak in thanks to votes from Trevor and Jeremy. Thomas the Dread Bastard is seen to peer around the common room door and instantly retreat to a chorus of malicious nays.

Mr OCD: "OK, what have we here. Besides myself as Chair, we have basically the same committee members as before. A little round of applause, please, for democracy and harmony." 
Fitzharoldo pulls out a harmonica to salute a job well done for an appropriate quick jig before the scramble to the door.

Another status quo feckless night in the life.

17 November 2017

Crime Fiction Heaven

Never heard of it till this year. Where have I been?! If it hadn't take place in Toronto would I still be lost in the darkness? I'm a little overdue at posting this.

The ultimate conference for lovers of crime fiction. A candy store of mystery. Over 700 authors, largely North American but many other countries represented. Louise Penny and Christopher Brookmyre (the latter recently "discovered" by moi, LL142) were among the extra-special guests.

Kathy Reichs, mid-panel; Lindsay Barclay far right

The panoply of program events was dizzying and so difficult to choose which to attend, who to see. Like Ian Hamilton! Sarah Paretsky! William Deverell! Robert Rotenberg! Ruth Ware! Ann Cleeves! Laurie R. King! Peter McGarvey! Rick Mofina! Lawrence Block! Charles Todd! Okay Brenda, dial it down.

Talks, panels, interviews, signings, booksbooksbooks, books. Globe and Mail reviewer Margaret Cannon was there.

Something for every fan British cosies, legal/courtroom drama, foreign locales, espionage, medical or science or technology thrillers, tough detectives, funny detectives, forensic-heavy, spooky, historical, wartime — you name it.

Scandinavian and Scottish Noir were under-represented, but who would notice? So many established authors to uncover or new ones to discover. I saw .. almost touched some of my faves .. Alafair Burke, Kathy Reichs, Linwood Barclay.

Alafair Burke, third from left

New authors to try: Terry Hayes; Yrsa Sigurdardottir; Alexandra Sokoloff; and some freebies Ross Pennie; Ed Lin; Leighton Gage. Appearing soon (within reason) on the pages of The Famdamily.


Karin Slaughter! And that man of my Edinburgh dreams, Ian Rankin himself! Why not this year, Ian? Why? Ian, why would you go to Florida when you could have come to Toronto? Whywhywhy, she moans.


13 November 2017

Library Limelights 146

Jussi Adler-Olsen. The Alphabet House. 2007. (large print) USA: Thorndike Press, 2014.
Peculiar, bewildering, and not for everyone. This is so far from Adler-Olsen's popular series featuring Copenhagen cop Carl Mørck, I find myself repetitively asking Why? Why is a Danish author writing of two Englishmen who spent WWII in Germany in the most horrific circumstances? Bryan and James are young Brit pilots shot down while on photo reconnaissance, ultimately incarcerated in a German mental hospital. By chance they are able to assume valid German identities. Several of their fellow inmates are also simulating madness. The graphic details of their behaviour, treatment, and torture ‒ so gruesome, they must be real ‒ made me begin skimming large passages hoping it would change or else abandon the novel. Mimicking becomes madness. No doubt about it, background research must have consumed countless time. Prolonged story short: Bryan escaped.

To my surprise, it did change. To Bryan's life over twenty-five years later. He's feeling guilt over the unknown fate of his buddy. Off he goes to Germany to find James' story ― James who is alive and known as Gerhart. The three other former malingerers are keeping him, sedated and nearly mindless, without knowing who he really is. With the narrative POV changing from one character to another, the story is full of murky feelings and mental struggles. Can anyone adequately describe what a seriously mentally disturbed man thinks or feels? Even with tense sequences of stalking and murder, the motives and feelings of Bryan and James become more and more confusing by the page. The plot has some holes but they are overshadowed by the persisting pain. Why on earth did the author tackle such a plot? I've no answer to that; read at your own peril.

All his mental states were churned up like mud, leaving him in a chronic state of anxiety and melancholy. (143)
His blubbering and whining were to no avail as the staff pulled him out of the bed. (159)
For the sake of finally avenging all these atrocities, he could easily wait a bit longer. (490)
In their eyes he now belonged to a part of the past best left unspoken. (572)
Petra had finally lost her hold on Gerhart's and her own life. (600)
The old man's face had turned completely colorless with fury and he was frothing at the mouth. (612)

Electroshock fear:
Bryan was afraid of how such a treatment might affect him. Pictures he had been clinging to in his head slowly disappeared. The idea of seeing his girlfriend again, of being able to talk to James, or of simply going for a walk unescorted in the gray drizzle outside ― everything was blunted and reduced. His memory played tricks on him, so that one day he could recall a forgotten childhood experience in a Dover side street and the next day he couldn't even remember what he looked like. 
Escape plans fizzled out even before they were thought through. (120)

Encountering Petra the nurse:
"I'm sorry!" he said. She was startled to hear his English. For a couple of seconds he stopped breathing and his pulse almost disappeared. The blood drained from his face, leaving his skin pallid. He swallowed a number of times in order to stave off a sudden feeling of nausea. 
She was different, but her troubled face was painfully unchanged. It was precisely the small, fine characteristics and movements that never changed. The hard life that had apparently worn her out and turned her into an ordinary middle-aged woman had not been able to remove these, in spite of everything. 
What an incredible coincidence. Cold shivers ran down his spine. The past became all too present as a totality of repressed impressions was reconstructed with unbelievable precision. Suddenly he could even remember her voice. (456)

By now it was many hours since Gerhart had last had his pills. So much time had never elapsed before. A couple of minutes previously, while he was down on all fours, being pistol-whipped on the kitchen floor and staring at the small white things scattered under the kitchen table, the main sensation he'd felt was one of astonishment. 
It was as if the room had grown longer than usual, and he had to keep on swallowing the saliva that had begun flowing unhindered. The sensation of his body growing and shrinking made him giddy. Andrea's steps sounded like the tramping of an ox. All the words came to him as if through a megaphone. 
As the old man began to count, Gerhart felt defiance finally taking hold of him. The man's face was in his way. It brought shadow into the room and coaxed disgust up to the surface. He smelled sourish and the stubble around his beard gave him a slovenly appearance. (611-2)

Karin Slaughter. Faithless. Large print. USA: Random House, 2005. 

In the series featuring Dr Sara Linton and police chief Jeffery Tolliver, this book is midway: as they contemplate re-marrying. Small town residents and rural Georgia are horrified by the discovery of a missing teenage girl buried in a wooden box in the woods. Abigail did not suffocate, she died from a forced ingestion of cyanide. Her extended family, operators of a successful organic farm with many transient labourers, is clean-living and pious. Naturally, secrets and surprises await. Sara has her own suspicions about the redheaded family leader.

Detective Lena Adams unexpectedly feels a bond with an abused wife who's on the periphery of the murder case. Apart from her job, Lena is a basket case of repressed, inarticulate emotions about her boyfriend Ethan and his negative influence on her. A harrowing climax saves the life of another young girl even though Lena faces a stand-off. Sara finally stops nagging Jeffery (thank you). Slaughter doesn't miss a beat, always on form. But sad to say she's an "off of" writer.

The baby on her hip was at least two, with a set of lungs on him that rattled the windows. (93)
He had a Bible in his other hand, and he raised it into the air like a torch, shining the way to enlightenment. (136)
"Just because you're sitting in the henhouse, that don't make you a chicken." (382)
This was the only time in his life that his father's miserable habits had actually benefited Jeffery instead of kicking him in the ass. (472-3)

Truth hurts:
The cop in her knew she should arrest him. The woman in her knew he was bad. The realist knew that one day he would kill her. Some unnamed place deep inside of Lena resisted these thoughts, and she found herself being the worst kind of coward. She was the woman throwing rocks at the police cruiser. She was the neighbor with the knife. She was the idiot kid clinging to her abuser. She was the one with tears deep inside her throat, choking on what he made her swallow. (45-6)

Same old, same old?
"Of course I know what it means," he insisted, his body feeling slack all of a sudden, like he couldn't take one more thing. How many times had they done this? How many arguments had they had in this same kitchen, both of them pushed to the edge? Jeffery was always the one who brought them back, always the one to apologize, to make things better. He had been doing this all his life, from smoothing down his mother's drunken tempers to stepping in front of his father's fists. As a cop, he put himself in people's business every day, absorbing their pain and their rage, their apprehension and fear. He couldn't keep doing it. There had to be a time in his life when he got some peace. (256-7)

Evasive witnesses:
"I don't recall blaming anybody." 
She shook her head as she turned around. "I know what you're thinking, Chief Tolliver." 
"I doubt―" 
"Paul said you'd be this way. Outsiders never understand. We've come to accept that. I don't know why I tried." She pressed her lips together, her resolve strengthened by anger. "You may not agree with my beliefs, but I am a mother. One of my daughters is dead and the other is missing. I know something is wrong. I know that Rebecca would never be so selfish as to leave me at a time like this unless she felt she had to." 
Jeffery thought she was answering his earlier question without admitting it to herself. He tried to be even more careful this time. "Why would she have to?" (327)

Tanya Talaga. Seven Fallen Feathers. Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2017.
Non-fiction. This is Ontario's True North. This is how our Native population exists at home and away from home. For high school and higher education, most northwestern Native families in our province have to send their children away to board, often with strangers, in a highly unfamiliar urban environment. The teenagers come from very small, tightly-bound communities (despite their lack of decent facilities) where one hundred years of cruel residential schooling have made profound scars on their parents and earlier generations. Lonely, homesick kids trying to adjust to "bright lights, big city" ‒ experiencing local insults, racial slurs, threats, assaults ‒ feeling like aliens, meeting each other for booze or drugs as consolation.

Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School (DFC) in Thunder Bay opened in 2000 to address their educational needs. But the support system is not wide enough, not deep enough, to guarantee safety of the students. Some DFC students have died in "undetermined" circumstances. The bodies of seven Native youths (at the time of publication) have been pulled from the Neebing-McIntyre floodway. Beyond the young losses, adult Natives have met suspicious deaths. Police and government authorities from municipal to federal are accused of indifference and neglect.

Despite the call from Nishnawbi Aski Nation and significant other groups, the pleas, reviews, reports, commissions, recommendations, etc have pretty much come to naught. Lack of funding to address the situation is appalling. The lack of justice and equality is worse. The entire Indian Act (1870) as an unconscionable, racist failure has to go. There is no justification for our fellow human beings having to live in the most primitive of conditions.

There was a time when I was proud to say, "I'm from Thunder Bay." It's more than seven fallen feathers. It's more than just Thunder Bay. Generations of us white folks have just accepted that's the way it is ― if we were even conscious of it. I wonder what my old school friends think of this, the ones from Kenora, Redditt, Sioux Lookout, Fort Frances, Rainy River, Red Lake, Ear Falls. While we enjoyed the comforts of an elite boarding school, we had not the slightest awareness of other youngsters existing miserably, bullied, stripped of basic respect and dignity in residential schools, not so far away from us.

What have we done and when will we undo it?! The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 2016 ordered the Canadian government in one regard to make it right ―to make it legally and financially possible for Native children to be treated the same as any other Canadian child. Jurisdictional wrangling continues; reviews of the police continue.

Talaga factually exposes the racism, the ignorance, the heartbreak, the bureaucratic inefficiencies, how residential school trauma haunts any teenager who must go away for further education. Every Canadian should read this book.

Trudeau is sympathetic, but Fiddler knows that he will never truly grasp the enormity of the issues his people live through every single day. (51)
Some days the pain was unbearable and his head would pound with the weight of remembrance. (53)
For many Indigenous families, keeping young First Nations students safe from harm means keeping them out of Thunder Bay. (267-8)
[From the DFC guidebook for students] "Look confident, walk with your head up as if you know where you are going. The appearance of being lost or being anxious may render you vulnerable to unwanted attention."

Part of the residential school legacy:
What the statistics don't tell you is how some of the older children would form their own abusive circles, preying on the younger, more vulnerable kids. The abuse suffered at the hands of adult supervisors took its toll on the students. They became further disengaged from the classroom, angry, and in need of someone to take their rage out on. For some of the kids, the younger children were easy victims. 
This is the life Chanie ran from. (80)

Re Chanie Wenjack's inquest:
She knew there were only four recommendations but they were something. 
The most important one for her was the establishment of proper schools on every single reserve. This way kids would never have to leave their community. 
"When I heard about the kids in Thunder Bay, I could feel them running, of being scared," Pearl says. 
She understood their anguish. Their deep loneliness for home. Their confusion living in a big city so unlike where they were from and communicating in a language not their own. 
"When I am alone at home, I think about my brother. The drive to go home was so strong. I don't want his death to be in vain," she says. "As a residential school survivor, you can feel it all over again, what these students felt. Yes, you can feel it." (89-90)

PM Harper's residential school apology 2008:
As Alvin listened quietly to Harper's speech, he thought about the children of the Nishnawbi Aski Nation and the situation they were in right now. Most of them didn't have any clean water to drink or to bathe in. Many lived in houses without plumbing or proper heating. Fires were constantly claiming the lives of NAN kids because they lived in poorly constructed tinderbox houses that used homemade wood stoves to heat the rooms. Alvin thought about the abject poverty most of his people lived in and the addictions they suffered in the hopes of making all their misery go away. (240)

The irony:
And yet still the inequities rage. Northern First Nations families are faced with the horrific choice of either sending their children to high school in a community that cannot guarantee their safety, or keeping them at home and hoping distance education will be enough. Families are still being told ‒ more than twenty years after the last residential school was shut down ‒ that they must surrender their children for them to gain an education. Handing over the reins to Indigenous education authorities such as the NNEC without giving them the proper funding tools is another form of colonial control and racism. (267)

NAN lawyer, 2016 inquest:
The truth is none of the kids were safe by the river but it wasn't because they were drinking, Falconer argued. They weren't safe because Canadian society set them up for failure as human beings. "We didn't have space for them in our world and we didn't make space for them in theirs," he said. Without schools they couldn't be educated in their world, so they had to leave to come here, said Falconer. "They died of flat neglect." (282)

04 November 2017

Library Limelights 145

Camilla Lackberg. The Preacher. 2004. UK: HarperCollins, 2011.
Nice young cop Patrik Hedström in Fjällbacka, Sweden, is in charge of a murder enquiry, the girl's body found lying on top of two skeletons. So three murders. The small town police team is aghast and inexperienced. The prolific, repugnant Hult family is eventually under suspicion; it takes a while to sort out their family tree with various generations, brothers, cousins and so on. To makes matter worse, another girl goes missing which means time is of the essence to find her. Nevertheless many days go by while some of the cops merely goof around — attempts at humour to leaven the mix — and Patrik tries to pay more attention to his very pregnant wife Erica.

Can't help seeing the blurb on the front cover and in my opinion the cosiness was forced and the horror was fake. None of it sat right with me — the superficial personalities of the distasteful suspects, the meandering trails the cops follow, the DNA evidence. Suppressed rage seems to be a common factor among assorted unappealing characters. Erica's trials with unwanted house guests are occasion for a bit of action missing elsewhere; developing the dispute with her sister Anna and Anna's fate might have aroused more interest. True suspense is lacking in the mundane prose. Despite some mercifully non-detailed (but creepy) scenes of the kidnapped girls, this is not classic Scandinavian noir, more like Scandinavian-lite. Granted, it was a difficult case for the police to solve but I could hardly wait for it to be over.

Through the open window he could smell the rain in his nostrils. (60)
Certain duties demanded more of him than he could humanly bear. (77)
He had barely opened his mouth when she was already heaping scorn on him in her mind. (147)
Even when you had a lousy hand you had to play the cards you were dealt. (226)
"Every time we made love it was like dying and being reborn." (351)

Just say No, eh?!
"What a belly on you! Have you got twins in there or what?"
She really hated hearing people comment on her body that way, but she'd already begun to realize that pregnancy seemed to give everyone a free pass to make comments on your shape and touch your belly ‒ it was altogether too familiar. Complete strangers had even come up and started pawing at her stomach. Erica was just waiting for the obligatory patting to begin, and within seconds Conny was running his hands over her swollen stomach.
"Oh, what a little football star you have in there. Obviously a boy with all that kicking. Come here, Kids, feel this!" (28-9)

"How pleasant this is, don't you think?"
Solveig dipped a pastry in her coffee and peered at Laine, who said nothing.
Solveig went on, "It's hard to believe that one of us lives in a manor house and the other in a crappy shack. Yet here we sit like two old friends. Am I right, Laine?"
Laine closed her eyes and hoped that the humiliation would be soon over. Until next time. She knotted her hands under the table and reminded herself why she subjected herself to this torment, time after time. (197)

Joseph Kanon. Istanbul Passage. 2012. USA: Washington Square Press/Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2013.
Here's a Cold War espionage novel written by a master; no dull moment. Leon Bauer works in Istanbul, at times acting as courier for Tommy King in the U.S. consulate, unaware of the true nature or potential consequences of these "favours." The iconic city is full of political intrigue after WWII, the Turks seeking a balancing act in their international status. Leon's wife Anna was active in smuggling Jews to Palestine but now lies hospitalized, her mind lost to the world. Suddenly, Leon's latest errand backfires into murder; he finds himself stranded as the guardian of a wanted man and, known only to himself, the subject of a police hunt. The murder of U.S. embassy official (read: intelligence officer) Frank heightens the tension as Leon scrambles to verify his own network of resources.

Even Leon's dalliance with Frank's wife is fraught with guessing at the shifting alliances around him. Emniyet, the secret para-military police, suspiciously watch him. The history of some sordid Romanian and Russian actions during the war is but one influence on his decisions. What I like best ― it may take some mental adjustment ― is the narrative being all from Leon's perspective and absolutely spot on with the urgency of fleeting thoughts flicking through, and digesting, a catalogue of constantly updated information. Rich in Istanbul imagery and moral dilemmas, Istanbul Passages ranks with the best of spy tales in plot and style.

"He never thought he could have something like this, a girl in a room, waiting for him." (30)
They were going to make it, hanging like bats in the dark. (331)
You couldn't fight the next war until you'd lied about the last one. (381)

An old friend:
"I didn't know you were still in touch with the comrades. Anna said you'd left the Party."
"Old ties, only. It's a serious matter. They have to use every channel."
"And not the police."
"Georg looked away, watching the dog.
"What, Georg?" Leon said, then pointed to the trees. "Nobody's listening. Or is that why we came here? So we could talk. They asked you to approach me. Why?"
"You were a ‒ business associate."
"Of Tommy's? We weren't in business together."
"An acquaintance then. Maybe you have an idea why he was shot. Maybe he told you something. A man who's drinking with him the night before. You understand, they have to ask." (78-9)

The Romanian:
He turned. "Is that what you're asking? What's on my hands?" He held one out. "Not so clean. Are yours? In this business?" He lowered his hand. "Do you know how easy it can be? Something you never thought you could do. Easy. Later, it's harder. People forget, but you live with it, whatever you did." He turned. "We penetrated their military intelligence. That's all that should matter to you now. You want to put me on trial with Antonescu? For what? The Guard? The camps? All of it my fault. Maybe even the war. My fault too." He stopped. "Nobody cares about that anymore. Not them, not you. It's in the past." He looked up. "Except your Romanian friend maybe. So eager to tell you things. Maybe he'd like to tell someone else. A Romanian will sell anything. Maybe me." (84-5)

On the stair landing, stopping to catch his breath, he felt he could hear an actual ticking. How long? He looked up the steps. Think for a minute. Down the corridor a police photographer was probably still taking pictures. A crime scene. And the man who could link him to it waiting in his office. First deal with him. Then what? The car in Űskűdar. Alexei on the ferry to Haydarpaşa. The mountain road. But all that seemed impossible now, the drive endless, exposed. Something else. Think. People make mistakes when they're running. He tried to slow his breathing. (270)

"We don't think we're a bridge. We think we're the center. The world used to spread out from here, in every direction. For years. But then it began to shrink. Piece by piece, then all at once. And now there's only us. Turkey. So we have to keep that." (350-1)

Daniel Silva. House of Spies. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2017.
In great contrast to the above, bold Israeli spymaster Gabriel Allon's method for catching ISIS leader Saladin is by patiently weaving an intricate trap. It's Silva's trademark style. Gabriel's measured plan over a period of months perforce includes input from French, British, and American agencies. Many of his colleagues, including Mikhail, Natalie, and the semi-Corsican Christopher Keller, go undercover in the elaborate ruse for making contact with a middle man. And that man, Jean-Luc Martel, is a celebrity in France, hiding his drug trafficking behind legitimate enterprises. Even his mistress Olivia is unaware of his hidden schemes.

The plot moves slowly but inexorably to climactic action in Morocco. A certain amount of suspending disbelief is necessary. The expense involved to set up the entrapment is in the scores of millions, supposedly funded by an earlier theft from the Syrian leader's secret offshore bank account. Silva unveils a slew of characters who are treated in depth, and one must remember the true identity of some beneath their disguises. The pace made me impatient for more action yet it's an entertaining, complex, devious journey.

"Your career has been a series of disasters interspersed with the occasional calamity." (105)
And so he built an army of streetwise killers, mainly Moroccans and Algerians, and unleashed them on his rivals. (141)
He was big and bluff, with a face like an Easter Island statue and a baritone voice that rattled the beams in the old house's vaulted entrance hall. (314)

"So," said Seymour finally, "how does it feel to be a member of the club?"
"Our chapter of the club isn't as grand as yours," said Gabriel, glancing around the magnificent office. "Not as old."
"Wasn't it Moses who dispatched a team of agents to spy out the land of Canaan?"
"History's first intelligence failure," said Gabriel. "Imagine how things might have turned out for the Jewish people if Moses had chosen another plot of land."
"And now that plot of land is yours to protect."
"Which explains why my hair is growing grayer by the day. ..." (97-8)

No touching:
In fact, Herr Müller liked looking at Olivia more than her paintings. He was not alone. Her looks were a professional asset, but on occasion they were a distraction and a waste of time. Rich men―and some not so rich―made appointments at the gallery just to spend a few minutes in her presence. Some screwed up the nerve to proposition her. Others fled without ever making their true intentions known. She had learned long ago how to project an air of unavailability. While technically single, she was JLM's girl. Everyone in France knew it. It might as well have been stamped on her forehead. (228)

"Fifty percent!" Martel waved his hand dismissively. "Madness."
"It is my final offer. If you wish to remain my distributor, I suggest you take it."
It was not Mohammad Bakkar's final offer, not even close. Martel knew this, and so did Bakkar himself. This was Morocco, after all. Passing the bread at dinner was a negotiation.
And on it went for several more minutes, as fifty shrank to forty-five and then forty and finally, with an exasperated glance toward the heavens, thirty. And all the while Mikhail was watching the man who was watching him. (400-1)

26 October 2017

Library Limelights 144

Peter James. Dead Simple. 2005. UK: Pan Books/Macmillan, 2011.
A stag night prank spins out of control: the groom-to-be, Michael, lies underground in a coffin, lord knows where, all contact lost. Brrrr ... our attention is engaged. The lovely bride-to-be Ashley is frantic; Michael's business partner Mark is distraught. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of the Sussex police is reluctantly drawn into the missing person investigation by his friend DS Glenn Brannon. Grace is suffering peer ridicule over consulting a mystic on a previous case and the mysterious disappearance of his wife Sandy still haunts him. Suspense becomes almost unbearable as the cops work 24/7 to locate Michael; how long can someone like that survive?

But buried alive is not the only creepy aspect to this story. Grace and Brannon suspect someone is lying about events behind the search. Who among Michael's circle is not who they seem? Will a walkie-talkie save Michael? Culminating in a long, breathless car chase that seems written for a movie script, credibility is stretched regarding a new villain and an evil woman. James is new to me — another green light on the waiting list.

His friend looked like a laboratory experiment. (40)
The best predators were the most patient ones. (82)
It looked like an infant had texted them, not a grown man. (386)

Routine gave you structure. Structure gave you perspective. And perspective gave you a horizon. (50)

"Roy, what I know is that you are an intelligent man. I know that you've studied the paranormal and that you believe. I've seen the books in your office, and I respect any police officer who can think out of the box. But we have a duty to the community. Whatever goes on behind our closed doors is one thing. The image we present to the public is another." 
[annoying, uncooperative font change] "The public believe, Alison. There was a survey taken in 1925 of the number of scientists who believed in God. It was forty-three per cent. They did that same survey again in 1998, and guess what? It was still forty-three per cent. The only shift was that there were fewer biologists who believed, but more mathematicians and physicists. There was another survey, only last year, of people who had had some kind of paranormal experience. It was ninety per cent!" He leaned forwards. "Ninety per cent!" (64-5)

Mark had never forgotten a wildlife documentary he'd seen on television, filmed in a bat cave in South America. Some tiny micro-organism fed on the bat guano on the floor of the cave; a maggot ate the micro-organism; a beetle ate the maggot; a spider ate the beetle; then a bat ate the spider. It was a perfect food chain. The bat was smart, all it had to do was shit and wait. (82-3)

" ... They were killed in a traffic accident on Tuesday night." 
"And you walk in here with your big swinging dicks, looking for some poor sodding landlord to blame for plying them with drink?" 
"I didn't say that," Grace replied. "No, I'm not. I'm looking for this lad who was with them." He pointed at Michael's photograph. 
The landlord shook his head. "Not in here," he said. 
"Looking up at the walls, Branson asked, "Do you have CCTV?" 
"That meant to be a joke? Like I have money to buy fancy security gizmos? You know the CCTV I use?" He pointed at his own eyes. "These. They come free when you're born. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a barrel to change." 
Neither of them bothered to reply. (157-8)

Grace was tiring of it ‒ but did not know what to do about it. What if he found someone? Fell in love with a woman, big time? And then Sandy turned up? What then? 
He knew in his mind that she wasn't ever going to turn up, but there was a part of his heart that refused to go there, as if it was stuck like some old-fashioned record needle, in an eternal groove. Once or twice every year, when he was low, he would go to a medium, trying to make contact with her, or at least try to prise out some clue about what might have happened to her. But Sandy remained elusive, a photographic negative that lay forever black and featureless in the hypo fluid of the developing tray. (210) 

Graham Hurley. Touching Distance. UK: Orion Books, 2013.
Hurley just gets better and better, if possible. Jimmy Suttle, our Devon detective, faces the worst scenario of his career — several sniper killings have panicked the media and the public. Each death involves intense scrutiny of the victim and his associates. The pressure is on Sutton and his partner Luke Golding from their bosses, Houghton and Nandy, although the entire Devon police force is at work on it. Possibly the three separate investigations have a mutual link but the plot becomes very complicated with disrupted marriages and vengeful motives.

Meanwhile, trouble seems to be the middle name of Lizzie, Suttle's estranged wife. She's found an ex-army captain as a source for explosive press coverage that would ensure her re-entry to journalism. She's also willing to transfer her affections to this Rob who, among a large cast of well-outlined characters, seems the one stiff exception. On the other hand, details of the Afghan war effects on British soldiers are memorably vivid. "Touching distance" applies to relationships as well as the critical climax. Perfect Hurley; more to come.

"Knock too often on hell's door and one day it's gonna open." (183)
"The thing had got out of hand and she was binning the marriage for matey down the road." (259)
The big mistake, he said finally, was believing that doctors knew best. (278)

Granny rant:
"You don't like being a grandmother?" 
"I don't appreciate being taken for granted." 
"Is that what I do?" 
"Yes, if you want the truth. One day it might occur to you that I've got a life too. Most days Grace is no problem. I'm lucky to have her. I'm lucky to have the pair of you. But if I was that desperate for company, I'd never have given up the job. I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but some days, especially lately, I can see this thing ... this little arrangement of ours ... going on forever. That's not what I want. And neither should you." 
"What are you telling me?" 
"I'm telling you to decide on who you really want to be. We can't have it all, Lizzie. Sometimes we can't even have most of it. You have to compromise. And that way you might start getting the most out of motherhood." (29-30)

The best of friends:
After the darkness and silence of his first and only winter in the cottage with Lizzie, sharing the place with Lenahan had been a lifesaver. The man cooked like an angel. He was an unending source of stories, all of them framed to capture the madness of the world around him. Lenahan, on his own admission, had a cheerful pessimism about the human condition that had been coloured by postings to the far corners of the planet, but nothing, it seemed, could shake his faith that the journey ‒ wherever it led ‒ was still worthwhile. You had a duty to squeeze laughter out of chaos, to salve life's wounds as best you could, and to recognise that certain battles were best left unfought. In this respect, Suttle had often thought, he'd led a cop's life. He'd seen the worst. Yet he soldiered on. (59-60)

Doomed to repeat ...:
The Americans' key mistake, he said, had been to conflate al-Qaeda with the Taliban. The two elements were chalk and cheese. The Taliban had little time for a bunch of well-financed Arabs bent on world jihad and absolutely no interest in bringing America to its knees. They simply wanted to impose a certain way of life on their own country. And they didn't welcome interference from a coalition army determined to stop them. 
"But we stayed." This from Lizzie. 
"We did. A lot of our guys went off to Iraq for a while, but that didn't work out either so back they came." 
"To take on the Taliban?" 
"Sure. And the corruption. And all the tribal unhappiness. And the poppy. And the infrastructure ‒ which mostly didn't exist. You're talking about a country that had been at war for forty years. Things were just going backwards. And in so many respects I'm afraid they still are." (127-8)

Val McDermid. The Skeleton Road. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2014.
More war politics, rather surprising from McDermid. Skeletal remains of a murder on an Edinburgh rooftop become a cold case landing on the desk of DCI Karen Pirie. Two bureaucrats in The Hague offices of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia are tasked with finding a leak that enabled a freelance killer to assassinate individual Serbs in their relocated hiding places. The Balkan Wars are still very much alive in some quarters. Both investigations find common ground in Oxford professor Maggie Blake who lived in Dubrovnik during the seige. Blake's lover Mitja Petrovic had been a general in the Croatian army, coming to live with her in England in the aftermath; he has since abruptly disappeared.

Maggie is a well-established figure in the world of geopolitics, acclaimed for her teaching and publications. But she finds it difficult to write about her personal experiences in the Balkans, so heavily twined with the love of her life. Increasing circumstances make others question how well she really knew Petrovic despite the pain of losing him — her part of the narration reflects her loyalty. Pirie the cop has her own personal problems as she hunts for the skeleton's killer. This is classic McDermid using the complicated history of the Balkans as slightly different territory.

"I don't know how long it takes to turn into a skeleton, but I'm guessing it would be a few years?" (11)
"All you get from an eye for an eye is a lot of people stumbling around in the dark." (252)
How can ethnic cleansing make any sense when the people you are cleansing are the same as you under the skin? (291)

Maggie took a step away from Tessa, letting her friend's hand fall from her shoulder. "I love that you think so much of me you have to come up with some noble theory to explain why my lover walked out on me." She looked around the room, taking in the dancers, the talkers, the drinkers. The vista of the people who loved and respected [her] had no hope of chasing the sorrow away. "Whatever I was to him, Tessa, it wasn't home. That's why he left. Mitja just went home." (26-7)

Everyone thinks themselves unique when they fall in love. The truth is, we all lose ourselves in the same way. Whether it takes hours or days or weeks, we all find ourselves in a place of wonder and urgency, where we believe nobody has ever been before to quite the same degree. If everyone felt like this, our script goes, the world would come to a grinding, grinning halt. (173)

Humanity's flaws:
Karen desperately wanted to ask about Petrovic, but she forced herself to stay silent. "A wee bit different from Fife," she said. 
Maggie gave a wry smile. "Yes and no. The extreme sectarianism that infects parts of Scottish civil society isn't so very different from the religious hatreds that divide communities in the Balkans." 
"You mean Rangers and Celtics? Protestant against Catholic?" 
"Exactly. As in the Balkans, what they have in common is that all sides share the same mix of ethnicity. It's as if they have to be twice as fierce in their hatred of what they perceive as "difference" so they can establish the right of their own position. It's madness. And it's gone on for centuries. But finally, with this generation, there seems to be a sliver of hope for change." 
"In Scotland?" 
"I don't know about Scotland. I mean in the Balkans. And it's thanks to the internet." (186)