Craig Russell. The Deep Dark Sleep. UK: Quercus, 2011.
Waited ages to obtain some of Russell's Lennox (Glasgow) series; for some reason they are about impossible to find in Canada, whereas his Jan Fabel (Hamburg) series novels are available here. And Lennox being a New Brunswick boy originally! So here we are, midstream in his career as a P.I. or, rather, enquiry agent. It's 1955 in Glasgow where he's growing a small business and moving away from his earlier associations with rough elements such as the Three Kings (of crime). Recovery of a skeleton from the bottom of the Clyde seems to be the remains of Gentleman Joe Strachan, the city's most daring robber in 1938. Lennox is approached by a variety of interests to prove whether Strachan is dead or not.
It's Glasgow noir at its finest, complete with the wisecracks. Lennox meets with a Hollywood star being locally blackmailed; a frightened photographer and his gay lover; each of the Three Kings; assorted underworld figures; a shifty lawyer; a frosty blonde; and not least, examines his feelings for his landlady Fiona. Then there's sidekick Archie, long-suffering cop contact Ferguson, and Ferguson's hostile boss McNab. From Lennox's deft observations and often hilarious comments, Glaswegians are a race unto themselves. Yes, Lennox finds the conclusion of Strachan's legend, not without experiencing some painful bloody knocks. Russell has it all and nails it.
▪ "It would be my pleasure," I said and shook his hand, somehow managing not to add you sententious little prick. (173)
▪ Unfortunately my hearing seemed to have deteriorated, and no matter how loud instinct screamed, I didn't seem to hear it. (181)
▪ He was the only man I had ever encountered whose face looked like a deadly weapon. (186)
▪ It was the kind of place the Black Death would have been happy to call home. (234)
▪ In India, they used to have a saying, he who rides a tiger may never dismount. (250)
▪ Now, as Dr Johnson had once quipped, a tree in Scotland was as rare as a horse in Venice. Mind you, comedy had come a long way since the eighteenth century. (197)
The way it is:
Coming home after being with a woman was not something that troubled me, to be honest. It was the difference between men and women, I supposed: women wanted you to remain after intimacy. For the average Scotsman, this was rather like being asked to hang around a football stadium for three hours after the game had ended. What they really wanted to do was get out as quickly as possible so they could get drunk with friends while giving them a summary of the match highlights. (97)
I got up and headed into my office early, but as soon as I stepped out of the front door of my lodgings I was grabbed by the throat. Except it wasn't some thug that went for me but the lurking Glasgow climate. September was turning into October and something cold from Siberia, or worse still from Aberdeen, had moved into the city and collided with the warm air. And fog didn't linger long in Glasgow before it became a thick, choking, yellowy-green-grey smog.
Glasgow had been the industrial heart of the British Empire for a century. Factories belched thick smoke into the sky, and the greasy fuming of a hundred thousand tenement chimneys combined into a single, diffuse caliginous mass above the city. And when it combined with fog, it turned day to night and took your breath away. Literally. (101-2)
"Here's the last known address for him." I handed Archie the address given to me by Jock Ferguson. "That's a starting point. Could you see if you can track him down?"
"Is this me started, then?" Archie raised his eyebrows. "When do I get my trenchcoat and six-shooter?"
"I think you're confusing Humphrey Bogart with John Wayne. Yes, this is a job. Keep a tally of your time and expenses. Just see if you can trace him. But try not to spook him. I just want to talk to him, okay?"
"I will move like a panther in the night," said Archie. (144)
"Please," she said coquettishly. "Call me Ethel."
Do I have to? I thought. Do I really have to? (381)
John Harvey. Lonely Hearts. NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1989.
Nice to see you again, Charlie Resnick. Although this is the first book in the series, I'm sure my past delving was somewhere midway. A Midlands city in Britain with a tired, well-experienced detective inspector heading the hunt for the killer of two women, in the days when "a giant Holmes computer" was the latest in technology. For a longtime cop, Resnick is unusually sensitive to the victims of crime and circumstance. This is a painstaking procedural, complete with the relentless sniping amongst his macho, often misogynist, team members.
The middle-aged Resnick's attraction to social worker Rachel becomes mutual, a blossoming love story despite the hard realities of their daily grind. Harvey's writing gently but graphically underlines the plight of the lonely, the abused, the frail, the poor, who cross the path of police or social services. Beyond the distinct personalities and colourful colloquialisms, humanity is expressed in the most sympathetic way. Highly recommended for beginning a great series.
campanology - the art/skill of bell-ringing
embrocation - ointment, salve, liniment, etc to relieve body aches and sprains
▪ Nostalgia was arthritis of the brain. (59)
▪ Gold was tastefully placed at strategic parts of his body. (91)
▪ Rachel doubted if Kerouac had stuck his thumb in the air with an American Express card in the back pocket of his jeans. (178)
▪ "With surgery," Resnick told him, "you could probably have your brain moved back above your waist." (183)
The children, from deprived backgrounds, were caught up in a maelstrom not of their own making. They have been abused and chosen because of their poverty. (175)
"Oh, and Charlie?"
"Do you ever do anything - in the way of exercise?"
Resnick looked at the superintendent a shade blankly. Weekend before last he'd lugged that Hoover all over the house, up and down stairs, rooms whose only function was to gather dust and the dried remains of dead birds. Was that the sort of thing Skelton meant?
"No, sir," he said. "Not really."
"Maybe you should." He looked appraisingly at Resnick's figure. "You're starting to look a little plump." (57-8)
The regular dreary visit:
Vera Barnett's head was angled towards her daughter in a look of petty triumph.
"There's no winning with you, is there?" Mary was unable to keep silent.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"If we don't come to see you, that's wrong, and if we do, that's wrong too."
"I don't sit here to be ignored."
"Nobody's ignoring you."
"That's not what it looks like."
"You can't expect to be made a fuss of all the time."
"Fuss! A civil word would be something. A kiss from my own grandchildren."
"Mother, they kissed you when they got here. You know very well."
"A peck.""Oh, now you're being ridiculous!"
"Ridiculous, am I? Well, at least I know how to behave."
Mary couldn't believe it. She was starting this all over again. (80-1)
Not his type:
She closed the door by leaning back against it, holding the pose for just long enough for Resnick to do what he was supposed to be doing and register how good she looked.
"Take a seat."
What he wasn't supposed to be doing was wondering why he had never found her attractive. He didn't think it was because they were adversaries, not that at all. He wasn't fazed by strong professional women. No, more a question of image – the one Suzanne Olds was forever presenting. Not because there was anything wrong about it, but because he could never, convincingly, find her inside it. (109)
Miriam Toews. Women Talking. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2018.
Fave author! Not quite like any of her previous novels; the background is the Mennonite life she so often draws upon, but the construction is different. It takes time to sort and familiarize oneself with the victimized women (and their voices) of this South American Mennonite colony, Molotschna. Females of all ages had been surreptitiously raped and brutalized by men who first rendered them unconscious — men of their own community. Those men have been named, accused, and jailed, but are about to be released on bail; they will soon return to the colony they violently disrupted. With the trusted teacher August recording their discussion, the women debate what they can or should do about it; illiteracy scarcely hampers them.
The women are past their initial shock and horror although who is to say what repercussions the youngest victims will have. Bishop Peters says they must forgive or else deny themselves a place in heaven; his personal deviousness is revealed through (parenthetical) comments by narrator August. As the women collectively work their way through the options and consequences of staying to face those men or leaving their home, even the central tenets of Mennonite faith are questioned. Pacifism and obedience are only some of the issues; defiant Salome, antagonistic Mariche, gentle Ona, are a few of the diverse main characters, with surprising interjections such as worldly slang and smoking. Finally they develop a "manifesto" of entitlement: to ensure their children's safety; "to be steadfast in our faith"; to be allowed to think for themselves. It's a brilliant polemic not without humour, these very human women of a strong community within, but apart from, the world. Another triumph from Toews.
▪ Most of us, she said, absolve ourselves of responsibility for change by sentimentalizing our pasts. (11)
▪ She was a reliable target because she slept alone in a room rather than with a husband, which she doesn't have. (28)
▪ Nettie's unusual behaviour—giving herself a boy's name and speaking only to children—is an understandable response to the prolonged and especially horrific attack she endured. (93)
▪ (I am struck by a thought: Perhaps it is the first time the women of Molotschna have interpreted the word of God for themselves.) (159)
▪ (I'll mention here that Mariche, in broken English, also told Ona to "fuck it off." So much of what exists in the outside world is kept out of Molotschna, but curses, like pain, always find a way in.) (106)
▪ Nietje whispers: It's "fuck off," I think. The others nod in agreement. (106)
Ona speaks: If it has been decided by the elders and the bishop of Molotschna that we women don't require counselling following these attacks because we weren't conscious when they happened, then what are we obliged, or even able, to forgive? Something that didn't happen? Something that we are unable to understand? And what does that mean more broadly? If we don't know "the world," we won't be corrupted by it? If we don't know that we are imprisoned then we are free? (39)
Salome continues to shout: She will destroy any living thing that harms her child, she will tear it limb from limb, she will desecrate its body and she will bury it alive. She will challenge God on the spot to strike her dead if she has sinned by protecting her child from evil, and furthermore by destroying the evil that it may not harm another. She will lie, she will hunt, she will kill and she will dance on graves and burn forever in hell before she allows another man to satisfy his violent urges with the body of her three-year-old child. (94-5)
Salome interrupts. We're not members! she repeats. We are the women of Molotschna. The entire colony of Molotschna is built on the foundation of patriarchy (translator's note: Salome didn't use the word "patriarchy"—I inserted it in the place of Salome's curse, of mysterious origin, loosely translated at "talking through the flowers"), where the women live out their days as mute, submissive and obedient servants. Animals. Fourteen-year-old boys are expected to give us orders, to determine our fates, to vote on our excommunications, to speak at the burials of our own babies while we remain silent, to interpret the Bible for us, to lead us in worship, to punish us! We are not members, Mariche, we are commodities. (120-1)