30 June 2015

Library Limelights 86

Jo Nesbø. The Son. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.
Nesbø hasn't failed his fans yet, even though this is a stand-alone novel without Harry Hole. Your reviewer finished it nicely on time to avoid stuffing it, a heavy hardcover, into my flight carry-on. It's about a young man, Sonny, bent on rehabilitation after leaving prison where he had chosen to be wrongfully incarcerated. His self-redemptive action plan throws the city of Oslo into an uproar. Police partners Simon and Kari do their best to follow and find Sonny on his murderous spree.

Nevertheless Sonny is one of those misguided but rather naive characters who elicits sympathy. If this was a film, the audience would cheer every time he eliminates another scumbag. An experienced social worker falls under his spell (oh yes, subplots). The interplay between Simon and Kari is great, even though Simon keeps the worry to himself about his wife's health. Ultimately, we wonder if Simon will find the treacherous mole who caused Sonny's problems or be forced to make a trade-off. Totally compelling with a long line of interesting characters, not to mention Nesbø's perfect pacing, tension, and surprises. I'm not the only one who suspects The Son might be the start of a new series.

Hostel interview, next of kin:
"So that your parents, friends or girlfriend can get in touch with you, for example."
He smiled ruefully. "I've none of those."
Martha Lian had heard this reply many times before. So many times it no longer made an impression on her. Her therapist called it compassion fatigue and had explained that it affected most people in the profession at some point. What worried Martha was that it didn't seem to get any better. Of course she understood that there is a limit to how cynical a person who worries about their own cynicism can be, but she had always been fuelled by empathy. Compassion. Love. And she was close to running on empty. So she was startled when she heard the words I've none of those touch something, like a needle causing an atrophied muscle to twitch. (82)

The cleaning lady, his confidante:
Simon leaned his head against the neck rest. "If you knew you were carrying the devil's son, would you still give birth to him, Sissel?"
"We've had this conversation before, Simon."
"I know, but what did you say?"
She sent him a reproachful look. "I said that nature sadly doesn't give the poor mother any choice, Simon. Or the father, for that matter."
"I thought Mr. Thou abandoned you?"
"I'm talking about you, Simon."
Simon closed his eyes again. He nodded slowly. "So we're slaves to love. And who we're given to love, that's a lottery too. Is that what you're saying?"
"It's brutal, but that's how it is," Sissel declared. (283)

Loyalty or betrayal?
Kari cleared her throat. She had planned what she had to say with all sorts of reservations and assurances that she hadn't come to tell tales, only ensure the quality of their work. But now, as she sat here with Parr, who seemed so relaxed and welcoming, who had even admitted he was goofing off, it felt more natural to get straight to the point.
"Simon is on a mission of his own," she said. (356)

Jo Nesbø. Blood on Snow. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2015.
Nesbø overkill, I know. But whaddaya do when two Nesbø books become available about the same time? Would that all favourite authors were thus prolific! Blood on Snow is a short novel, two hundred pages. It represents a slight change in style, making me think of the unique novels by Malcom Mackay. Because here the anti-hero is also a "fixer," a contract killer. An unlikely profession for Olav, the closet romantic, whose propensity for re-writing his life stories is all in his head. He loves Maria, he also loves Corina, but he lacks knowledge of love. His newest assignment to kill his boss's wife deeply shakes his self-image. Playing off Oslo's two criminal gang leaders against each other becomes his only way to survive. Something different and a must for Nesbø fans!

Anyway. To sum up, let's put it like this: I'm no good at driving slowly, I'm way too soft, I fall in love far too easily, I lose my head when I get angry, and I'm bad at math. I've read a bit, but I don't really know much, and certainly nothing anyone would find useful. And stalactites grow faster than I can write.
So what on earth can a man like Daniel Hoffman use someone like me for?
The answer is ‒ as you might have worked out already ‒ as a fixer.
I don't have to drive, and I mostly kill the sort of men who deserve it, and the numbers aren't exactly hard to keep track of. Not right now, anyway. (13)

Reading books:
"Sometimes the story I get into my head is completely different. So I sort of end up getting two stories for the price of one."
She laughed. A loud, bubbly laugh. Her eyes twinkled in the semi-darkness. I laughed too. It wasn't the first time I had told someone I was dyslexic. But it was the first time anyone had continued to ask questions. And the first time I had tried to explain it to someone who wasn't my mum or a teacher. Her hand slid off my arm. Sort of unnoticed. I'd been waiting for it. She was slipping away from me. But her hand slid into mine instead. And squeezed it. "You really are funny, Olav. And kind." (82-83)

This time the Volvo started at once.
I knew where I was going, but it was as if the streets had lost their shape and direction, becoming gently swaying tentacles of a lion's mane jellyfish that I had to keep swerving to follow. It was hard to see where you were in this rubber city where nothing wanted to stay as it was. I saw a red light and braked. Tried to get my bearings. I must have nodded off, because I jumped when the lights changed and a car behind blew its horn. I put my foot down. Where was this, was I still in Oslo? (190)

Martha Grimes. The Black Cat. New York: Viking/Penguin, 2010.
A change of pace from the above; Grimes is an author I haven't visited for a long time. Therefore I am not up on police superintendent Richard Jury's background or prior cases in a long series, some of which are referred to here. His odd relationships with Melrose Plant and Harry Johnson are leavened with much-appreciated humour. His relationships with several women are less transparent! The mystery concerning the deaths of three unrelated call girls flows smoothly from the pen of an expert. Interjecting a live black cat (or three of them) into The Black Cat pub seemed dubious at first ― who needs invented cutesy dialogue between Morris the cat and Mungo the dog? ― but eventually the purpose of the device is revealed. Clever Grimes.

Hospital, intensive care:
Jury sat for a few minutes watching her before he rose and walked round the room, back and forth, stopping to look at her. An effigy was what she reminded him of. The incomparable, commanding, relentless detective inspector Lu Aguilar, still as stone and helpless. What he felt now was that he would never be able to understand his feelings for her, what they had been. Or hers for him. That part of his mind would be still as stone and helpless, too. (107)

Underling Wiggins:
Boss. Wiggins had started this more edgy form of address. He was also rendering more opinions than usual. He frowned more. He contemplated more. "I hope you're not losing your common touch, Wiggins."
There it was. Wiggins frowned. "What do you mean?"
"That you're sounding more coplike. More Prime Suspect."
"She's a woman. Helen Mirren."
"I'm aware Helen Mirren is a woman. Her team calls her 'guv' and 'boss.'"
"But that's what we do, guv. There something wrong with that?"
"No. Not at all. Except you're sounding more like you're on our side."
Wiggins' frown deepened. "But ... whose side would I be on if not ours?"
"The other side. The poor bloody public's that's got to put up with us. As I said, you could be losing the common touch." (131-2)

A nine-year-old rakes Jury over the coals:
She sighed and shook her head, fielding one more disappointment. "Then why hasn't he found Morris? If he works for Scotland Yard, he ought to be able to find a cat. How does he keep his job?"
With as much condescension as he could muster, Melrose said, "He has missing people to look out for; he can't just―"
"But if he can't find a cat, how can he ever find a person? Finding people's a lot harder."
"I beg your pardon. It is much harder to find a cat than a person. A cat is much smaller and can get into places a person can't."
"A cat can't read street signs so it's harder for her to know where she is."
"Don't be silly, cats find things by instinct; they don't have to read." What point was being made? He'd forgotten. He rustled his paper and gave it a snap. (209-10)

24 June 2015

FEC Fitness

Health crisis. Apparently the tiny FEC gym in a tiny dedicated room is not doing its job. Instructions for the rowing machine are incomprehensible and the walking machine has been abandoned since Arthur had his freak accident. We suspect most of the equipment is antiquated, somewhat like the users.

Funds from Upper Levels in the FEC management have been allocated in an effort to rehab the sedentary as well as the house hippos: get 'em exercising. Naturally Mr. OC of the Inmates Committee is miffed at not being consulted. His spiteful demented humming can be heard late at night.

Therapy fitness classes are hereby the new distraction. Attendance is voluntary, of course. Nevertheless it draws the bored, the socially-challenged, and those who think free food might be involved.
To that end, a perky Y-generation person bounces to the front of the common room to lead the class and introduces herself as Kaylie. She faces an assortment of FEC inmates residents in various stages of decay. Her beaming smile never lets up. Even when McElroy starts a running commentary that booms off the walls. Ms Etoile, ever the cheerleader for any new FEC enterprise, adds her own stage voice to encourage and create the essential esprit de corps.
"Darling!" Ms E fawns, "So COOL!! Your wonderful tats!"
"Looks like she fell into a dye vat," Ophelia says to Sheila.

"We can do the first part sitting down," Kaylie announces.
McElroy: "SPEAK UP, LITTLE GIRL, SOME OF THESE OLD COWS ARE DEAF!" Sheila kicks his chair.
Ms E: "Does it hurt, hon? Piercing your skin like that?"
Kaylie: "Now. Spread your arms wide like this and we'll do circles."
Mouthy Monica takes the opportunity to swat Mildred across the face. Feuds keep some of these people alive.

Kaylie: "Now we do neck circles, like this. Not so fast, George! You'll hurt yourself."
George: "I already did. Now my neck is stuck."
Ms E: "I was thinking of getting a nose piercing myself."
Bella: "I like yoga better."
McElroy: "YOU LIKE VODKA EVEN BETTER, HARHARHAR YOU LUSH!" Jeremy whacks McElroy on the back with the effect of a feather striking a bouncy castle.
"Okay," says Archie, "that's enough for one day."

Kaylie: "Next. We want to bend over and reach for the floor. Like this."
McElroy: "NICE ASS!"
Wanda looks around wildly. She only has peripheral vision, unsure whose ass is under scrutiny. Maxine is napping. Sally is on the floor doing her own exercises.
Ms E: "Get your fat butt outta my face!"

As Kaylie advances to finger rolls, the mutters grow:
"My physiotherapist doesn't do it that way."
"She's far too young to know what she's doing."
"I'm choking."
"Is that a dragon or a snake on her neck?"
"What about tea and cookies? Like the yoga teacher does."
McElroy: "ARE WE DONE YET?!"

Kaylie's smile never falters. She is demonstrating bicep curls. Jeremy is slumped over his walker. Bella is edging her chair toward the door. Mildred is knitting. Wanda is crying. Trevor is lost in thought gazing out the window, perhaps watching the last bits of enthusiasm float away.

Upper Levels of Management haven't got it right yet. Just show these inert fossils a karaoke machine and watch them spring into action.

Another feckless day in the life ...  

11 June 2015

Library Limelights 85

Catharina Engelman Sundberg. The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2012.
It's a bit much, innit? I mean after Barfoot's Exit Lines and Jonasson's The One Hundred YearOld Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Are senior citizens a big literary buzz now? Cunning Seniors in retirement homes with devious escape plans? Somehow, Jonasson spoiled me for the rest of them. That was zany; that really did break all the rules. Seeing the well done, Swedish-produced, eponymous film only reinforced it. Whereas Sundberg approaches from a low-key, ever-so genteel sense of humour, largely with characters as stereotypes. It's ideal for lovers of Brit "cosy" mysteries. And voilà, a sequel already appears.

Ringleader Martha wants to bust out of a no-frills, rigidly-confining retirement home and enlists four friends for a caper intended to land them in a state prison where inmates enjoy a far more salubrious lifestyle. Of course Murphy's Law kicks in and the plot has some very good moments, but it's more like events were made up haphazardly as the author went along. Trial and error go on a bit endlessly. Screwball comedy works best with zingy dialogue; the friends' chatter amongst themselves is just too politely demure and cute for me. Yet it's that tone that wins the novel praise. Okay, so I'm lowlife in my mystery/crime preferences. I do try to read around.

When her final moments came, she would walk to the grave, crawl into the coffin and put the lid on herself ... (33-4)

Martha yawned widely, but her thoughts were all confused and she really couldn't think straight. Oh dear, oh dear, how slow and tired she was feeling. Ever since the party it had felt as if she had small clouds of chewing gum clogging up the inside of her head. Of course, the wine and all the pills she took every day didn't mix very well. But what fun they had had! If only they had had time to tidy up and return to their rooms ... Yes, if only they hadn't fallen asleep ... (19)

Not so hot on the trail:
When the three police officers gathered at the station to go through what they had seen, they were exhausted and very dejected. Chief Inspector Petterson folded his hands on the table in front of him.
"As you all know, the paintings and the money have disappeared, and five people have confessed to the crime. Even though we haven't found anything incriminating, the prosecutor will want to have the five suspects remanded in custody. After all, we are talking about paintings to a value of thirty million, and we don't have any other leads."
Strömbeck put his feet up on the desk and stared straight ahead.
"Can you see the headline before you? 'Five pensioners remanded in custody. The police have no other leads.'"
They all sighed, saying they would call it a day and it was high time to go home. Not only did they have a perplexing art robbery to solve but now they were also saddled with five troublesome oldies! (200)

Daniel Silva. The English Girl. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2013.
Ooooooh, this was a good one! Full of crafty spies, sleazy politicians, and assorted oddballs on a wide European-Middle Eastern stage. It seems I caught master espionage agent Daniel Allon in the middle of a series; good to hear there is more before and aft. French kidnappers have taken the British prime minister's clandestine mistress as a hostage. It takes Allon and his backup man, Christopher Keller, to learn what the criminals really want as they chase around France with high-level blessings from London. Daniel, you see, is a storied veteran of the Israeli secret service. Compared in some circles to the James Bond character, Daniel is more introspective and modest, with a wife Chiara whom he adores.

One element I particularly like is the detailed background scenes in Corsica, Jerusalem, London, St Petersburg, and other places. Such verisimilitude helps when some of the logistics seem a bit improbable, like planting support teams and complicated tactics and technology into one foreign venue after another (it's not always clear, but the entire story consumes months, not days). As with all the best mystery novels, just when you think it's over, it's not. I sussed a major plot-changer before it happened but that did not spoil the effect. Good characters, good writing, and my kind of dialogue.

Word: revanchism – basically revenge, but generally applied to a state's policy dedicated to recovering territory lost through military or political strife.

The exchange approaches:
"How are we going to do this?" she asked.
"The usual way," answered Gabriel. "You're going to examine the money, and I'm going to hold a gun to your head. And if you do anything to make me nervous, I'm going to blow your brains out."
"Are you always this charming?"
"Only with girls I really like."
"Where's the money?"
"Under the bed."
"Are you going to get it for me?"
"Not a chance." (189)

Reference to a previous adventure:
"Zizi al-Bakari was killed as the result of an operation initiated by the Americans and their allies in the global war on terror."
"But you were the one who pulled the trigger, weren't you? You killed him in Cannes, in front of Nadia. And then you recruited Nadia to take down Rashid al-Husseini's terrorist network. Brilliant," she said. "Truly brilliant."
"If I was so brilliant, Nadia would still be alive."
"But her death changed the world. It helped to bring democracy to the Arab world."
"And look how well that worked out," Gabriel said glumly. (247)

Change of bosses:
"Who are you?" Keller asked of the unsmiling, bespectacled figure standing in the entrance hall.
"None of your business," replied Navot.
"Strange name. Hebrew, is it?"
Navot frowned. "You must be Keller."
"I must be."
"Where's Gabriel?"
"He and Chiara went to Guildford."
"Because we ate all the fish in the stock pond."
"Who's in charge?"
"The inmates."
Navot smiled. "Not any more." (353-4)

23 May 2015

Library Limelights 84

Stephen King. Mr. Mercedes. New York: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2014.
Stephen King is not just a horror-meister, of course; he's a talented writer in any genre and this detective novel is a fine example. Brady is a mass murderer, never caught, who goads retired Mid-west cop Bill Hodges into pursuing him again. The reader is privy to the minds of both detective and criminal as they race to outguess and outwit each other. Teenaged scholar Jerome and unstable, middle-aged Holly end up being Hodges' only assistants in preventing another disaster. Hodges' former partner, still a working policeman, is unaware of the secret drama in his own domain. Amid the growing tension, King deftly inserts a sweet love story.

The author has an acknowledged penchant for detail, particularly when a psychologically unbalanced individual is involved. So much so that the perp's repulsive home life is probably TMI for most readers. Will Hodges' analytical experience be enough to identify Brady in time? I found myself asking who is going to have the last word when all is said and done! But only one question, really: Stephen, whatever happened to rock star concerts having a less-known band to open for them?

One-liner: They're wondering if I'm riding into the Kingdom of Dementia on the Alzheimer's Express ... . (73)

Old friends have lunch:
They thump each other on the back the requisite number of times and Pete tells him he's looking good."You know the three Ages of Man, don't you?" Hodges asks.Pete shakes his head, grinning."Youth, middle age, and you look fuckin terrific."Pete roars with laughter and asks if Hodges knows what the blond said when she opened the box of Cheerios. Hodges says he does not. Pete makes big amazed eyes and says, "Oh. Look at the cute little doughnut seeds!"Hodges gives his own obligatory roar of laughter (although he does not think this is a particularly witty example of Genus Blond), and with the amenities thus disposed of, they sit down. (48-50)

Brady muses on the 9/11 terrorists:
Those clowns actually thought they were going to paradise, where they'd live in a kind of eternal luxury hotel being serviced by gorgeous young virgins. Pretty funny, and the best part? The joke was on them ... not that they knew it. What they got was a momentary view of all those windows and a final flash of light. After that, they and their thousands of victims were just gone. Poof. Seeya later, alligator. Off you go, killers and killed alike, off you go into the universal null set that surrounds one lonely blue planet and all its mindlessly bustling denizens. Every religion lies. Every moral precept is a delusion. Even the stars are a mirage. The truth is darkness, and the only thing that matters is making a statement before one enters it. Cutting the skin of the world and leaving a scar. That's all history is, after all: scar tissue. (323)

Karin Fossum. In the Darkness. 1995. London: Harvill Secker, 2012.
Note the dates above: Fossum is not the only excellent Scandinavian author to suffer what one reviewer dubbed the "TOOO syndrome" Translated Out Of Order![1] It's not the first Fossum I've read but it happens to be the first in her (Norwegian) Inspector Konrad Sejer series. It begins with Eva, the artist, discovering a dead body in the river; it's a man who went missing six months before. She's clearly terrified and does not report it. Sejer has a more recent murder case that possibly ties into the drowned body. Midway, the story backtracks into more detail that was largely predictable. In fact, we get so much detail that I felt it detracted from the suspense it was intended to create. Also, thanks to Eva's wandering thoughts, I found myself skipping through tedious paragraphs. Therefore I wasn't crazy about this book but it won't stop me picking up another Fossum later in the series when she found her chops.

To the nursing home:
He always had to psych himself up before he went, needed that extra bit of energy. It was lacking now, but a fortnight had passed since his last visit. He straightened up and nodded to the caretaker who was just coming along with a stepladder on his shoulder, he had a relaxed swing to his walk and a contented smile on his face, the sort of man who loved his job, who lacked nothing in life and who perhaps never understood what everyone else was making such a fuss about. Extraordinary. There aren't many expressions like that, Sejer thought, and suddenly caught sight of his own gloomy face in the glass door facing him. I'm not especially happy, he thought suddenly, but then I've never been very concerned about it either. (88)

The suspect panics:
He'd found the note. After six months he'd found the note.
The police had handwriting experts, they could find out who's written it, but first they had to have something to compare it with, and then they could study each little loop, the joins and circles, dots and dashes, a unique pattern which revealed the writer, with every characteristic and neurotic tendency, perhaps even sex and age. They went to college and studied all this, it was a science. (114)

[1] Jeremy Megraw, 10 July 2013, "A guide to Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer," Crime Fiction Lover (http://www.crimefictionlover.com/2013/07/a-guide-to-karin-fossums-inspector-sejer/ : accessed 8 April 2015).

Jussi Adler-Olsen. The Purity of Vengeance. New York: Dutton/Penguin, 2013.
Timely translation tells you how highly Adler-Olsen is regarded. In Copenhagen's police department Q, Carl Mørck is juggling more cases than ever, not all of them consigned to the cold past. In fact a couple of them feel like a conspiracy against himself. The accidental death of his uncle many years ago, a recent acid-throwing attack, and the ever-present haunting of a police shoot-out are enough to occupy him. Not to worry, his eccentric assistants Rose and Assad keep him focused on what's important ― the suspicious disappearance of five people on the same day in 1987.

The repeat characters (this is fourth in a series) are irresistible. Their humour leavens the balance with the gritty social message about übermensch and eugenics. Adler-Olsen has an exceptionally fine way of dealing with society's marginalized or forgotten groups, represented here by Nete who suffered numerous injustices. The pacing of the disparate elements in her story is brilliant. I'm ordering the next book now!

Girlfriend Mona's surprise:
"This is Samantha, my youngest daughter," Mona announced. "She's been looking forward to meeting you."
The eyes of this clone of a twenty-year-younger Mona did not, however, exude quite as much pleasure as her mother's introduction seemed to warrant. She gave him the once-over, clearly noticing his receding temples, his rather crumpled posture, and the knot in his tie that suddenly felt far too tight. It was obvious she wasn't impressed.
"Hi, Carl," she said, already revealing resentment of her mother's latest dip into the bottomless pit labeled "Men the Cat Dragged In."
"Hi, Samantha," he replied, struggling to produce something resembling an enthusiastic smile. What the hell had Mona been telling her about him that made him such a disappointment in real life?
The situation took a further nosedive when a small boy came charging in and gave him a whack over the legs with a plastic sword. (107-8)

Nete was standing before her father. There was a darkness about him, a bitterness she had never seen before.
"All through school I defended you, Nete. Do you realize that?"
She nodded, knowing it to be true. More times than she cared to recall they had been summoned to the dismal classroom, where her father had protested against the headmaster's and the schoolmistress's threats. But each time, he had softened up sufficiently to listen to the charges and promise she would mend her ways. He would teach her to abide by the word of God and to think twice about what words she took in her mouth. He would lead her onto a better path and correct her licentious behaviour.
But Nete never understood why he could swear so profusely himself and why it was so wrong to talk about what males and females did, when it was all around them every day on the farm. (141)

A day at the office:
It was the kind of day Carl detested most. December slush in the streets and Christmas lights in everyone's eyes. Why the sudden glee over water turning white and the department stores' unscrupulous abuse of the world's dwindling energy resources?
It was bollocks, all of it, and his mood was long since ruined.
"You've got visitors," Rose announced from the doorway.
He swiveled round, ready to spit out his annoyance. What was the matter with people? Couldn't they phone first? (496)

02 May 2015

Library Limelights 83

Denise Mina. The Red Road. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2014.
A well-structured, compact puzzle offered by the acknowledged mistress of tartan noir. Sensitivity alert: the noir has its gory moments. However, the story revolves around a sad child now struggling to be grown up. Readers are well into the characters' lives before we know what the crime is. Then, solving the case hinges on contradictory forensic evidence. It's not so much a mystery of who committed a few murders, but how the system was perverted in a strange interlocking collusion of corrupt authority figures.

As the revelations unfold, DI Alex Morrow chews her nails over exposing the insidious mess and how badly that will affect her career. Her new-motherhood glow is breeding a creeping empathy at times, with Brown, a convicted killer and Atholl, the self-destructive lawyer. Morrow's criminal brother Danny makes his usual appearance, perhaps his last. This is definitely the dark side of Glasgow but if you're a Mina or Morrow fan, don't miss this one.

[Grace] We're grateful for the food we eat and thank you for the comfy seat. (208)
A wind so sharp, Robert thought, it could strip a soul of original sin. (216)
She longed for some high ground to scramble towards but there wasn't any. (261)

After the crime-scene walk-through:
"Well," Wainwright stood tall, looking over her head, "back to the glamour.""So, what's on your board?""Got this," he nodded back at the flats, "got another murder, a domestic. Got two big lassies that stabbed a pal with their jaggy heels at a club. And a missing person." He leaned over her, smiling. "The missing person's a lawyer.""Aye? What does that mean?""Nicer biscuits," he said, and they laughed loud and long because they weren't dead. (113)

Father on life support:
Robert was trying to feel something, devastation, some loss. He was embarrassed at how little he felt for the man. When the staff consoled him with hollow pleasantries he dropped his eyes and nodded. A very difficult time, yes. Keep hoping, he knows you're here, yes. Make sure you get enough sleep, yes.So he sat by the bed with his own cold heart, hoping his emotions were in there somewhere and he would be feeling big things shortly. Then came the hand, crawling towards him like the sea coming in, and the dry lips trying to move under the oxygen mask. (210)

"Do you remember what you were doing the night Princess Diana died?"He did remember it and again tried to derail her. "In Paris?""You were in Paris?""No." He laughed, light, sparkling. "She was in Paris. She died in Paris. Very sad." And he made a face that told her he was feeling sad and he shook his head to tell the world that it shouldn't have happened and it made him sad."Where were you the next day?" Morrow sounded flat but she felt righteousness flare in her chest. They were all lying, all of them, dodging the truth out of fear or self-interest or for a few quid. But she wasn't. (270-271)

Lisa Gardner. Catch Me. New York: Dutton, 2012.
Gardner is one of those best-selling suspense novelists but this time she went so far into abnormal psychology it strained credibility. Crime authors are still trying to outdo each other with original, new scenarios. Charlene, who suffered childhood abuse, has found a good niche working as a police dispatcher. Except someone is killing her friends, on the same day every year. It's looking like she will be next and self-survival is paramount. Charlene pulls in Boston detective D.D. Warren who is investigating paedophile crimes originating online. "Everyone has to died sometime. Be brave" is a recurring theme.

My patience is sorely tried when we are forced to dwell in a seven-year-old's tedious thoughts far too long. As well as extended dreary talk of babies, living and dead. It doesn't help that editing oversights such as "undo caution" and "pour" through old memories and slapping with "the heal of his hand" catch my attention and stop the flow. If you are not into convoluted psychology dealing with repressed memories and conditioned responses, Catch Me is probably only for die-hard Gardner fans.

One-liner: I never asked, unanswered questions being the whole key to my relationships. (186)

Repressing memory:
Jackie and Randi used to tease me I'd forget my own head if it wasn't attached to my shoulders. I'd laugh with them, but often self-consciously. Jackie had really called me on the phone last night, we'd talked for two hours, and I'd forgotten all of it? Randi had told me all about her first date with local heartthrob Tom Eastman, and I couldn't recall a single detail?Small glitches in the operating system, I'd tell myself. I mean, given the amount of resources I'd dedicated to wiping eight entire years from my general consciousness, some errors were bound to occur. Besides, no matter how much I screwed up, forgot, genuinely overlooked, those occasions were still better than the few times I began to remember. (101)

Resenting memory:
Her mother had gotten that look again. Like she was sucking on lemons. Which had pissed D.D. off, because if memory served, her mother hadn't exactly played house when D.D. was a baby. Her mother had gone back to teaching, too close to tenure to give up now. D.D. had gone to day care. Hell, D.D. remembered loving day care. There were other kids who rolled and tumbled and got dirty and laughed hard. Day care was nirvana. Home was all "Sit still, don't make that face, for God's sake can't you stop fidgeting for just one minute?" (257-258)

Joan Barfoot. Exit Lines. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2008.
Barfoot was recommended as a Canadian author, of Scotiabank Giller calibre. Set in the Idyll Inn retirement lodge (not a nursing home, the residents are quick to point out), the residents seemed to promise dry humour but for the most part I found it dry, period. In other words, simply not my taste and no reflection whatsoever on the author's literary merits. Four different souls ―cynical Sylvia, amenable Greta, cranky George, and plucky Ruth ― meet up here and establish friendship, as their backgrounds reveal both mutual thoughts and differences. One of them wants the others to assist in a death plot. The weak suspense is lost in interminable discussions of morality and human failings. The book really requires more concentration than I was prepared to give.

One liner on dying: My time, my place, my way. (189)

George recalls:
An eighty-year-old man gets up in the night because he has a bad headache that requires an Aspirin. He makes his way to the bathroom cupboard in darkness, because after years and years in a house, who needs lights? Then he's off to the kitchen for a glass of water, and next thing he's waking up on the floor with the strangest dead-fish quality to at least half his limbs and an inability to picture just what a fish would be, much less say the word. He lies waiting for answers, and learns that getting up, or unscrambling the sense of things, is not going to come naturally. (22)

Sylvia sighs:
They're used, almost, to the faltering of their own bodies, toppling in interesting and dull ways like dominoes, one ailment or pain leading to a medication that threatens to create another kind of ailment or pain and―on and on it goes, in careful kill-or-cure calibrations. Sylvia's specialist measures dicey bones and swollen joints, and while doling out anti-inflammatories and supplements and pain meds, may or may not recommend trying a newly authorized drug, that may or may not cascade into happy or unhappy long-term effects. Tough decisions. (250)

27 April 2015

Library Limelights 82

Greg Iles. Natchez Burning. New York: William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2014.
Greg Iles is a favourite, and this is a EPIC book in more ways than one (800 pages). It's a blockbuster chronicle of endemic civil rights struggles in the deep south Mississippi River country. It's also one of the most intricately plotted mysteries you might ever come across. Or one mystery after another, you could say. Penn Cage ‒ who features in other Iles novels ‒ is the mayor of Natchez; he is forced to investigate when his ailing father, Dr. Tom Cage, faces a murder charge. A swamp full of alligators might be an apt metaphor for what boils to the surface after forty years of secrets. Wayward politicians, powerful businessmen, redneck killers called Double Eagles, stubborn journalists (Penn's fiancée Caitlin is one of them), musicians, Ku Klux Klan, law enforcement ― they're all here.

Family secrets, town secrets, Double Eagles secrets: keeping them buried is worth even more murders. Penn is after the truth from surviving participants and victims of the associated racial violence. Mostly he wants to learn the truth about his uncooperative father and whether he compromised his own family. The story moves forward through dozens of characters and never stops with the surprises, threats, murder, and arson, from the 1960s assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK to the perpetuation of racism in modern fictional families. They all tie together. Truly a masterpiece of both crime fiction and history.

Swamp memories:
Sonny hadn't seen the Bone Tree since 1966, but he remembered it all too well. The colossal cypress reared up out of the swamp like the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. But this was no paradise. More than a dozen men Sonny knew of had died under that tree, and Frank claimed the real number was over a hundred. He'd shown Sonny hand-forged chain links embedded in the bark that dated back to slave times. Runaway slaves had supposedly been hanged or hobbled beneath this cypress. High inside the hollow trunk, Sonny had seen carvings Frank swore were Indian sign, from before the French came. (35)

"I think she knew she could trust your father to give her a painless death. To her, that was worth the risk of retaliation by the Eagles. It's about as sad as anything I ever heard."
"But she didn't get a painless death," I point out. "And that's how I know my father didn't kill her. We've got to explain all this to Shad, Henry."
Henry's skepticism is plain. "Without proof?"
"We have to get him proof. A statement from your Double Eagle source. Did you tape any of the stuff he said today?"
The reporter shakes his head. "I took good notes."
"Christ, man. You should have taped the bastard on the sly. That may have been a once-in-a-lifetime chance." (251)

The trooper drew his pistol. "Inside the van!" he yelled. "Open the door and come out with your hands out in front of you!"Sonny Thornfield shouted something unintelligible from within.
Tom's throat sealed shut with fear.
"How many of you are in there?" called the trooper.
This time there was no response. Tom's back began to ache between his shoulder blades. He prayed it wasn't heart pain.
"Open that damned door!" the trooper yelled at Tom. "Do it now, then back away!""Hey, take it easy, brother. We got nothing to hide."
The trooper waved his gun at Tom. "You get that goddamn door open." He glared at Walt. "And you stay right where you are!"
It is heart pain, Tom realized, rotating one shoulder to try to relieve the ache. I need a nitro. (497-498)

Olen Steinhauer. The Cairo Affair. New York: Picador/Minotaur Books, 2014.
Anything with the word Cairo in it, I am likely to pick up. At first I was not comfortable with this unfamiliar author until his modus operandi became more clear. It's an espionage novel, in Steinhauer's own words, about "the mess of contemporary international relations." Indeed! At the book's beginning, Sophie sees her American diplomat husband shot before her eyes in Budapest, and she loses no time embarking on a strange few days to seek his killer. The consequences reach into consulates and intelligence agencies of several countries. No-one trusts anyone and everyone is lying.

Mainly set in Egypt in the Arab Spring of 2011, just months before the overthrow and death of Libya's Muammar Ghaddafi, the story unfolds from the perspective of four key figures. Each of their sections overlaps with the preceding so that time and timing often become jumpy or blurred; the style can be disconcerting. The invasion plan underlying and motivating the entire plot is unclear for a long time, and Sophie is rather a cipher until you grasp her inner secrets. Altogether an intriguing look at high-level duplicity and manipulation ... if you can overlook the "off of" appearing on almost every page.

... he showed his anxieties by launching into overstatement and weak metaphor. (181)
He tried to be agreeable for everyone, which, like most things in life, is just a matter of showing up. (215)

Re-living the nightmare:
She had never imagined that it would be like this. Not that she'd ever imagined this, but whenever she'd imagined something terrible happening before her eyes, her imagination would take in the event itself, that first taste of horror, and then ... cut: to the next day, or the next week. Her brain worked like a film editor, even dicing up actual memories, jump-cutting over hours, balking at the grimy minutes and hours that stretched between the initial shock and the final passing out, when a night's sleep would come along to wash away a little of the metallic taste of disaster. (31)

Two intelligence officers:
Eventually, Harry said, "You know, Stan, it may have nothing to do with Cairo. Maybe Emmet made the mistake of sleeping with the wrong Hungarian girl."
"Whose boyfriend just happened to be an international hit man?"
"I've seen worse luck in my time."
"I haven't," said Stan.
"Then you need to get out more." (85-6)

One intelligence officer:
He was influenced by the same misinformation the Agency had done too little to combat, the failed operations and occasional misdeeds that painted the Agency as a monster that needed to be kept caged if the world wanted its sons and daughters to remain safe. To people like Omar Halawi – and, perhaps, Busiri – CIA was part pf a conspiracy to turn the planet into drones friendly to American business. (194-5)