10 February 2016

Library Limelights 101

Linwood Barclay. Broken Promise. Toronto: Doubleday/Random House Canada, 2015.
Welcome to the microcosm of Promise Falls, somewhere in upstate New York. It's a quiet town in economic depression, but dangerous secrets seethe below the bland surface of every home. David Harwood finds himself unemployed and living with his parents; it's not the first time he's been featured in Barclay's prolific panoply. His slightly mad cousin Marla is the prime suspect in the murder of a woman whose baby she apparently kidnapped. Local detective Barry Duckworth's major concern is finding the evidence to convict her; his shorthanded department is also trying to catch an elusive rapist and some mysterious vandals on the college campus. David does his own nosing around to help Marla only to experience everything going from bad to worse.    

Barclay is always reliable for a rousing tale of mayhem; he captures reality in individuals' reactions and dialogue, with never a dull (and often humourous) moment. During the investigations, we meet a wide array of characters who contribute more threads to tangle the problems. There's some satisfaction to the ending but uncharacteristically, not every mystery was resolved loose ends obviously beg a sequel.

Word: prosopagnosia the brain's inability to recognize faces

All about Dave:
I'd had six dates in the last few years, with six different women. Slept with one. That was it. Since losing Jan, and the circumstances around her death, had made me averse to commitment, and Mom should have understood that."I'm just saying," she persisted, "that I think she'd be pretty receptive if you were to ask you out. Whatever her name is. Next time we're in there together, I'll point her out." 
Dad spoke up. "For God's sake, Arlene, leave him alone. And come on. He's got a kid and no job. That doesn't exactly make him a great prospect." 
"Good to have you in my corner, Dad," I said. 
He made a face, went back to poking at his tablet. "I don't know why the hell I can't get an honest-to-God goddamn paper to my door. Surely there are still people who want to read an actual paper." 
"They're all old," Mom told him. 
"Well, old people are entitled to the news," he said. (11-12)
Beery reflections:
"That's very kind of you, Mr. Fisher. It really is. But what I need, I don't think you or anyone else can provide." 
"What would that be?" 
"I need someone who can help me get my act together," he said, setting the bottle down and miming something with his hands, as though he were assembling something. "You see, my act is in pieces. Isn't that a funny saying? Get your act together? What's that supposed to mean? That we're all actors? That all of this is some performance? What was it Billy Shakespeare said? That all the world's a stage and men and women merely players. Something like that. I think what we're in is a tragedy without any kind of ending. What do you think, Mr. Fisher?" 
"I think you've had a lot to drink, Victor." (199)


Robert Galbraith. Career of Evil. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015.
It was a not-so-patient wait for this one ... Galbraith/Rowling's third novel to feature the rumpled, limping private eye Cormoran Strike. Galbraith paints him less attractive than usual although his assistant Robin is hooked on being a detective, and perhaps on him, wanting full status in the agency. She is still half-heartedly attached to the odious Matthew but hopes ran high when she dumps him midway through their latest murder investigation. The dismemberment of a body directly targets Strike who loses business and credibility with the police because of it. Identifying four potential suspects, he has to track them down as the police pursue red herrings.

It takes 500 pages to discover who had the opportunity and the cunning to devise a bizarre plot, while more victims fall to the same killer. A ghoulish internet subculture and encounters with abused women are part of Robin’s on-the-job training. Galbraith knows how to build the tension, not just in the investigations but also in the ambivalent feelings between Robin and Strike. You gotta love a guy who gets beaten to a pulp and meets his commitment to show up at a social function thusly. SEMI-SPOILER: cliffhanger ending.

Robin stands her ground:
"Well, I'm not going to be frightened off," said Robin. 
"Robin, this is no time for heroics. Whoever he is, he's telling us he knows a lot about me, that he knows your name and, as of this morning, exactly what you look like. He saw you up close. I don't like that." 
"You obviously don't think my countersurveillance abilities are up to much." 
"Seeing as you're talking to the man who sent you on the best bloody course I could find," said Strike, "and who read that fulsome letter of recommendation you shoved under my nose " 
"Then you don't think my self-defense is any good." 
"I've never seen any of it and I've got only your word that you ever learned any." 
"Have you ever known me lie about what I can and can't do?" demanded Robin, affronted, and Strike was forced to acknowledge that he had not. "Well then! I won't take stupid risks. You've trained me to notice anyone dodgy. Anyway, you can't afford to send me home. We're struggling to cover our cases as it is."  (25)
Strike has a sister:
Keen to get her off the phone, Strike told her untruthfully that he was leaving everything up to the police.Fond as he was of his younger sister, he had come to accept that their relationship rested almost entirely on shared and largely traumatic memories. He never confided in Lucy unless forced to do so by external events, for the simple reason that confidences usually elicited alarm or anxiety. Lucy lived in a state of perennial disappointment that he was still, at the age of thirty-seven, holding out against all those things that she believed necessary to make him happy: a job with regular hours, more money, a wife and children. (245)
Momentary fright:
"Are you going to stand there all morning?" she asked, trying to sound cross. 
"No," said Strike, still grinning. "I just wanted to show you something." 
He ferreted in his backpack and pulled out a glossy property brochure. 
"Elin's," he said. "She went to see it yesterday. She's thinking of buying a flat there." 
All desire to laugh fled. How exactly did Strike think that it would cheer Robin up to know that his girlfriend was thinking of buying a ludicrously expensive flat? Or was he about to announce (Robin's fragile mood began to collapse in on itself) that he and Elin were moving in together? Like a film flickering rapidly before her eyes she saw the upstairs flat empty, Strike living in luxury, herself in a tiny box room on the edge of London, whispering into her mobile so that her vegan landlady did not hear her. (270-271)

William J. Coughlin (and Walter Sorrells). Proof of Intent. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St Martin's Press, 2002.
Popular writer of legal thrillers, Coughlin died in 1993; having been a judge in real life, his books have an easy familiarity with courtroom procedure. This is his final posthumous book sad to say goodbye to irreverent lawyer Charley Sloan! Charley is a recovering alcoholic hoping to rescue his daughter Lisa from the same fate. Together they take on the defence of pulp crime writer Miles Dane, accused of bludgeoning his wife Diana to death. Charley's usual good humour is sorely tested by Dane's stubborn refusal to help himself or reveal family secrets. Dane adored his wife but his reactions seem strangely remote. The jury will not be impressed by his reputation as a tough guy, or his early novel that outlined actual murder of his wife.

Probably a manuscript polished and/or finished by Sorrells, the tale is true to Coughlin's signature style: a writer in complete control of his characters interacting, with relentless good pacing. Lisa's character may not have been fully developed One kvetch with the proofreader: it's disconcerting to see repetitions of "just deserts" when the meaning applies to desserts. The trial occupies about half the book, leading to two surprise endings. Bravo!

One-liner: "Man, I'm a thief not a liar!" (264)

Considered opinion:
I always thought his books were a little pretentious. The hero was generally some kind of compromised semicriminal with a name like Donnie or Dwayne who went around thrashing people and then talking like he'd read too much Kierkegaard. But Miles kept the pages turning, I'll give him that, throwing Donnie or Dwayne into one scary predicament after another. While the first books were alright, the last few I'd read seemed to verge on self-parody. 
But then, what do I know about writing? I'm just a small-town lawyer, scraping by. (5)
Opposing lawyers:
I stood and stretched. "I take it your derisive tone means you have no interest in offering a plea?"Stash continued to laugh. "Get out of here before I think of something else to charge him with." 
"You're a terrible, heartless man, Stash," I said. "And a discredit to your profession." This had become my standard farewell to the prosecuting attorney lately.
Stash, however, preferred to improvise a new insult every time. "The only thief worse than your clients is you, Charley." (95)
The slammer:
There is probably nothing grimmer or sadder than a jail on Christmas Eve. Every peeling gray-painted steel door, every rusting steel bar, every slipshod weld and deteriorating caulk joint, every crumbling slab of concrete amplifies the message of hopelessness and shame, the life-stops-here quality so central to what jail is all about. It is not just that a jail is a hard place to escape from, but that even barriers erected with such apparent disinterest and negligence are nevertheless so easily capable of hemming in a life. Jail says this: The wild freedom of the individual is nothing in the face of even the most careless and inefficient bureaucracy. In this place, you are a nullity: Get used to it. (154)

01 February 2016

Library Limelights 100

Some sort of note should be made here that this is my 100th post in the Library Limelights series. It began as notes-to-self (don't buy/borrow books you've read before) regarding loans from the small but convenient library here at FEC, hence the word "limelights" popped up. The series immediately expanded to the gloriously endless resources of the Toronto Public Library (TPL) system. Amen.

Nelson Demille. The Lion. New York: Grand Central Publishing/Hachette, 2010.
Another old favourite: it's been a while. John Corey is an irreverent, non-politically-correct former police detective working for a Homeland Security task force ... a task force of uneasy alliance between the FBI and the NYPD. His personal nemesis from an earlier novel (The Lion's Game) is back, threatening him and the whole of Manhattan; it's not long after 9/11. Asad Khalil is one badass psychotic terrorist from Libya. Corey's habitual wisecracks are very funny but can verge on overload for the reader. Especially when he and his colleagues diss all Arabs in general with stereotypical, derogatory comments.

FBI agent Kate Mayfield is Corey's partner domestically and on the job (how does she put up with him?). Both have been targeted by Khalil, the Lion, who may have mass murder in mind as well. There's a harrowing skydiving scene ... and encounters with the killer ... well, let's avoid spoilers. Enforced protection does not sit well with our confident hero. I'd forgotten how entertaining he can be; the light touch is certainly needed to offset a couple of gruesome death scenes. I need to catch up with a few more Corey adventures.

One-liners:
My theory was that the FBI should first master some basic police skills, such as how to use the subway system or how to follow a suspect without getting hit by a taxi. (66)
Boris had a little sarcastic streak, which shows intelligence and good mental health, as I have to explain often to my wife. (357)

Wedded bliss:
When I met Kate three and a half years ago, she showed no tendency toward sarcasm, and she had once indicated to me that this was one of several bad habits that she'd picked up from me. Right, go ahead and blame the husband. Also, when I met her, she didn't swear or drink much, but all that has changed for the better under my tutelage. Actually, she'd made me promise to cut down on the drinking and swearing, which I have. Unfortunately, this has left me dim-witted and nearly speechless. (65)

Outsourcing (shades of Halliburton):
Outside of 26 Federal Plaza are guard booths, manned by the private firm of Wackenhut Security. This arrangement represents some very advanced thinking from Washington that goes by the name of outsourcing. I mean, why use highly trained Federal law officers who are sworn to duty, when for twice the money you can get a fat guy in a silly uniform who may have trouble getting his gun out of his holster? Call me cynical, but I think I see some people making money on these government contracts. Maybe I should outsource myself. (235)

Battle ready:
And while I was sharpening the big knife, I understood a little of how ancient warriors must have felt on the even of battle―or modern soldiers, who sharpened their bayonets before an attack. The sharpening of the steel was less about the cutting edge of the blade than it was about the cutting edge of the soul and psyche; it was an ancient communion with every man who ever faced battle and death, and who stood with his comrades, but stood alone, with his own thoughts and his own fears, waiting for the signal to meet the enemy, and to meet himself. (398-9)

Ridley Pearson. Beyond Recognition. New York: Hyperion, 1997.
A goodie from the 50¢ jumble sale, picking up vaguely where I'd left off in the career of detective Lou Boldt. Pearson is a veteran crime writer of several series and standalone novels. Working with police psychologist Daphne Matthews, his forensic investigation sets out to catch the arsonist scaring Seattle. Horrific fires using a mysterious high-powered accelerant are consuming homes of single mothers; their bodies are all but vaporized after each inferno. The victims seem to have nothing in common. Be warned: there are more technical details than you ever wanted to know about pyromania.

Meanwhile, twelve-year-old Ben may be an unwitting witness to the criminal's identity. Matthews' maternal instincts become almost obsessed with caring for him, vying for his affections with his friend Emily, who gives psychic readings. Talk about psychology: we are told repeatedly that Boldt is anxious ― about the difficulties of the case, about his overactive imagination, about his wife, about his relationship with Matthews. His gloominess was beginning to make me anxious; his emotional reactions in general seem un-cop-like. The story builds to a racing climax involving Ben and a complicated, labour-intensive plan to trap the arsonist.

One-liner:
Marriage was many things; easy was not one of them. (83)

Impartial observations:
"Yours is a morbid life, isn't it, Sergeant?"
Boldt winced. He didn't appreciate his work―his life―being reduced to such a statement, hated it all the more for the truth of it. Death was a way of life for him, it was true; but for Boldt it was seen as a means to an end, the only acceptable end being justice and the imprisonment of the party responsible. An investigator who relied upon the victim to tell the story―a man who even lectured on the subject―Boldt understood the intricacy of the relationship between victim and killer. That he exploited this relationship was nothing he tried to hide or make light of. That it often bordered on the grotesque was inescapable. (69-70)

Ben hangs a ride:
It was a stunt he had wanted to do a hundred times but had never had the belly to try. ... 
He pedaled hard, rising up off his seat, glancing once over his left shoulder, a slight smirk as he twisted his head fully around so his right eye could see back there. A good-sized truck, bigger than a pickup but smaller than a dump truck. Picking up speed after the last light. Gaining on Ben. 
His legs pushed hard; he needed to match that speed. 
Gaining ... gaining ... 
Another look, a huge swivel of the head: Only a few yards back, the engine louder than a locomotive, the gears singing, Ben inched the bike to his left, swerving, the truck looming closer. 
Closer still. Legs flailing then to match the speed. It had to be exact. He knew. He had heard stories. If you timed it wrong, the truck pulled you right off the seat or, worse, folded the bike underneath the twin rubber tires, bearing down like a steamroller. (572)

Robert Wilson. You Will Never Find Me. UK: Orion Books, 2014.
Wilson's most recent series features Charles Boxer, kidnap and missing persons consultant. Boxer has history with police service and a private security firm. In fact, this is the second book in the series. Yours truly slightly regrets not finding the first one first ― but all in good (recovery) time, as this one comes close to heart-stopping. Boxer's daughter Amy (her mother Mercy is a London cop with a specialist kidnap unit) decides to run away and lose her parents forever. Yes, the teenager manages just that. Maybe her parents' forensic experience rubbed off although they've long been separated. Boxer follows a trail to Madrid, only to run up against a serious Colombian drug lord.

Mercy's team is involved with the kidnapped son of a valuable Russian defector, but she can't stay out of her daughter's case too. Necessarily working together at critical points, she and Boxer gain insights into Amy but especially each other as one devastating personal blow follows another. The action is a roller coaster going from missing person to kidnap to hostage, with murders in between. It takes all the wits of combined British teams to deal with two ruthless sets of foreign criminals. Wilson rules!

One-liners: "I'm the pork chipolata at the Jewish wedding." (197)
Morality often goes out of the window when the economy is in trouble. (246)

Family:
Esme's hand trembled slightly as she reached for the shot glass. She sipped, took a crackling drag from her cigarette, held it in, let it trickle from her nose. 
"It's just history," said Esme, "and you told me that was the very reason you didn't want to be a homicide detective any more. It was all past tense. It wasn't going to bring anybody back. And it won't bring Amy back. You might be able to winkle out some cockeyed reasoning as to why―" 
"I'm angry," said Boxer. 
"With me?" asked Esme, astonished. You think I put this idea into her head? Don't be bloody ridiculous. This has been building for years." 
"I'm not angry at you," said Boxer. "I'm angry at myself." 
"Welcome to the club," said Esme. "We're all platinum card members here." (46-7)

Collegial collaboration:
Had Zorrita been able to look inside Boxer at that moment he would have been mystified by the colossal Gothic darkness within. He would have expected a wincing rawness, a laceration of all that was good, but not a bottomless black chasm. Surely that would come later, with the realisation of loss, the terrible emptiness, the endless longing for that unattainable fullness. The unfillable gaps of empty shoes, limp dresses, a hollow in a mattress. 
He moved around the desk, lifted Boxer away from the table and got him onto a chair, which the translator, snapping out of his paralysis, held steady. They studied him as if he was a drugged tiger, fascinated but wary. His face was strangely still and dry of any tears while his body seemed to be under tremendous strain, as if trying to withstand some terrible G force. 
"Are you feeling all right?" asked the translator, unused to these emotional crises in his work. 
"No, I'm afraid I don't," said Boxer, his body smoothing out as if suddenly weightless. 
The translator and Zorrita exchanged looks. 
"You don't what?" the policeman asked. 
"I don't have any sample from which you might be able to extract my daughter's DNA." (118-9)

A toast:
They drank the burgundy, which made everything else taste like rubbish afterwards, and Isabel proposed a toast: "To families, and to quote Dickens, one of our greatest Londoners, 'Accidents can occur in the best-regulated families.'" (369-370)

23 January 2016

FEC Auditions

There's nothing like an audition notice to get the sluggish blood zinging in the aging actors' community. Word buzzes around FEC at meteor speed. Auditions to be held right here. Every inmate resident has been a film extra at the very least. Never mind television or stage parts ... casting for residual-paying commercials brings out the worst best in experienced and wannabe actors. FEC turns into a seething mass of paranoid competitors.


No-one admits they want this gig, would kill for it if they had the strength. "Elderly Woman" and "Elderly Man" are the free-floating requirements for the part. Only Ms Etoile, typically, can't contain her ambitions, blurting "Mine, MINE! This was made for me!"

The unsuspecting director turns up to find a tense swarm of sycophants in the waiting room. Anyone who ever met him or heard his name is greeting him like the Messiah. He wouldn't guess how early they crept here to be first in line, only to find Sally had stayed all night right next to the stage door. Fragrant Elayne is made up like a teenage tart. Mr OC is humming pretentiously in his best Rigoletto poses. Bella swigs nervously from her vodka water bottle. Ophelia whips out a tray of brownies to press on the director under the withering glare of the gathering.

Jeremy clutches a shopping bag with a change of costume; he can't decide his best approach to the role, whatever it may be. There's Esme, we didn't even know she lived here; maybe she's doing a Joan Crawford imitation. George glares malevolently at the ceiling, incanting obscure curses. Even Gonzo waits, ignoring everyone ... maybe a little mental yoga going on there.

Auditions are private, of course. Although every word of Ms Etoile's throaty emoting can be heard beyond the closed doors. She introduced herself by bellowing it was not fair that more famous names always won the coveted parts and she is perfect for this ("Sweetheart, I can play any character you want!!"). At that, a few sneering glances are exchanged around the waiting room. Every time the doors open and the director calls "Next!" there's a surge of colliding bodies. "Let's be civilized, darlings," he says to the throng as he closes the door after someone.

Jiminy Crickets, the unofficial FEC photographer, is recording the would-be performers in their various states of nerves, trading daggers ...


Another feckless day in the life ...


© 2016 Brenda Dougall Merriman

15 January 2016

Library Limelights 99

Alistair Moffat. The Highland Clans. UK: Thames & Hudson, 2010.
Off the beaten fiction track, you say? (I do read other things too.) Gifted by a kind friend while on holiday, the book is definitely worth mentioning here since I learned new things ... that clachan is the Gaelic name for a cluster or township of black houses. That towns were strategically planted in the highlands as early as 1597 in an attempt to civilize the barbarians. That tanistry was the name for the "ancient Celtic law" whereby a clan chief could designate his successor from a wide choice of kin, as opposed to primogeniture. That the notorious fiery cross of the Ku Klux Klan originated with the old Highland call to arms. And much more.

It's a long time since I read John Prebble's classic trilogy of Highland history. Moffat is an easier read, but doesn't miss a beat holding your attention as the pages slide by. One of the most lasting impressions is the inherent tie of a Highlander to his birthplace ― land of the ancestors, land of the clan. Another is the possibly under-appreciated beauty and power of Gaelic, thankfully being revived. Moffat succinctly covers the evolution of the language; the strong oral and music tradition; religious loyalties; their battles with each other and the sassenachs; the proscription and decline of the age-old system; and the nineteenth-century revival of largely romantic notions. It must be a good thing that their fierce ability in warfare was best employed in the British Army!

A Mackenzie Bard on the Clearances: (translated)
I see the bands departing
On the white-sailed ships.
I see the Gael rising from his door.
I see the people going,
And there is no love for them in the north. (114)


Tami Hoag. The 9th Girl. New York: Signet/Penguin, 2014.
Catchy cover, catchy review blurbs. That must be why I forced my way through this mediocre mystery. Why was I expecting topnotch calibre? The occasional incident of shock value merely emphasizes how pedestrian the writing and language are in general. Serial killings have stonewalled detectives Kovac and Liska to whom I could not relate. The cover does not tell you the story is full of SULLEN, THOUGHTLESS TEENAGERS (I am so not there). And clichéd conversations. It could have been written for the "Young Adult" genre but said teenagers are likely smarter than that. It's wading through slow motion, tempting to skip to the last page even though you can see the climax coming a mile away. Nothing new or clever said about a working mother's conflicts. No psychological insights into a despicable killer. The review blurbs must have been written about some other book I've not found yet. How jaded am I?

One-liner: The girl is collateral damage from both sides. (253)

Psych 101?:
"She in no way indicated she had been attacked," Iverson said.
Liska nodded and rose, picking up the envelope with the X-rays back off the table. "Victims don't want to be victims, Doctor―especially victims of abuse. They often see it as ... embarrassing ... shameful ... They blame themselves. They don't want to admit that someone in their life values them so little or hates them so much. Or think they won't be believed because maybe their abuser seems above reproach. Which is why we have mandatory reporting laws. I'd be expecting a phone call about that if I were you." (297)

Another non-revelation:
"What's the matter with women like that?" Sonya asked. "It's not the nineteen fifties anymore. Women need to believe each other and stand up for each other in the face of sexist oppression. Men suck! Present company excluded, of course," she added, smiling sweetly at Elwood.
"I understand your sentiment," Elwood said. "Most violence committed against women is perpetrated by men. I once read a quote that the thing a man fears most from a woman is that she'll laugh at him, and the thing a woman most fears from a man is that he'll kill her." (368)

Seán Haldane. The Devil's Making. New York: Minotaur Books/Thomas Dunne, 2013.
A magnificent slice of Canadian history, slightly reminiscent of The Luminaries. A less than captivating start almost turned me off ― Englishman on a slow boat to British Columbia in 1869 ― but as Chad Hobbes, student of Natural Law, explores his new west coast world, the characters and setting come alive. The book was a winner of the Arthur Ellis Award which tells you it's also a cracking good crime novel. Hobbes is co-opted into Victoria's tiny police force as a detective when American con man McCrory is found murdered in a ghastly way. As narrator, Hobbes has fresh observations of the colonial town in its variety of class distinctions, hypocrisy, and racial attitudes. At first he keeps his personal thoughts in a separate journal but before long integrates them into the narrative.
luminaries: blogspot.com/2014/10/library-limelights-70.html

The cautious hunt for the killer immediately connects Hobbes with the band of visiting Tsimshian natives, connecting in a way he could never have predicted. Each suspect he uncovers, during interviews, has contrasting "civilized" and "natural" elements ― real savages and hypocrites come in all shapes and sizes. Aside from the fictional main characters, minor ones are authentic historical figures. Let me not forget the tender love story within the rich, sprawling portrait of historical BC. Haldane's grasp of Chinook pidgin language, details of native customs, the wilderness geography, and Victorian morals is nothing less than amazing (as impressive as his career credentials). Like The Orenda, this should be regarded as a Canadian classic.

(Archaic) Word(s):
pathic - a catamite
catamite - a young man in a sexual relationship with a man
berdash - also berdache; what natives call a two-spirited person

One-liners:
A gentleman may fall very rapidly in a Colony. (25)
The colonies needed soldiers and Marines, not Oxford men. (84)

First impressions:
In the square, executions are held, although none is in the offing. In the jail are a hard core of seven prisoners (a year or two for robbery or assault) and an extra one or two a night, though more at weekends, drunk and disorderly. The hard core are mostly American, including a Negro. The one-nighters are white, black, occasionally Indian. Almost never Chinamen. The 'Celestials' police themselves. The occasional corpse is found, throat slashed, butcher's knife in hand to indicate suicide, at dawn in Cormorant Street or Fan Tan Alley. Fan Tan is a Chinese gambling game. The gambling dens are also opium dens. We leave them alone. (27)

A naval surgeon recalls McCrory:
"He explained that he was a qualified 'alienist' ‒ you know, it's a French term for a doctor whose patients are "aliénés", that is alienated by mental disorders. And he proposed that I send him any officers whom seemed afflicted by nervous or mental disease. Very forward of him. I told him politely that there was no question of any officer in Her Majesty's navy being treated by any doctor other than a naval surgeon. Surprisingly insensitive man. He actually pressed me to make an exception. Went on about the Hippocratic oath. What a nerve! At last I got rid of him, but not before he had subjected me to a veritable quizzing, which I answered in words of one syllable, about where the Ariadne had been surveying, what was her compliment of men and guns, and so on. So much so that when I saw him off down the ladder I said to myself: 'That damned Yankee is a spy.'" (219)

Les belles du jour:
At Orchard Farm we were met by the three Somerville sisters, all fluffy and filmy in their summer dresses over crinolines, who had been waiting for us in the sun. They maintained a certain poise, like flamingos in a park, on the rough grassy patch in front of the house. But they were excited, in a breathless, girlish way, about the project of going for a walk up Mount Douglas. At least the youngest two were excited, above all Cordelia who called out gaily: "Mama has a headache so she's staying ... ." And in her voice was the thrill of the other perfect thing: that there were three girls and three young men. (234)

Wild ambivalence:
Then I stood shivering by the edge of the stream, shaking the drops of water from my body, and came to my senses, only to lose them again in the opposite direction: I swore at myself for having seduced a married woman, for inviting her to meet me in the dark in the forest, for using the authority of my uniform and the power I had over her – and her imprisoned husband! – to intimidate her into giving herself. Then I clutched the stone mirror hanging around my neck and raised it to my lips murmuring her name. (150)

06 January 2016

Library Limelights 98

John Marsh. House of Echoes. 1956. reprint UK: Dales Large Print Books, 1997.
It's my fate lately to be reading fillers, waiting for newer material on long waiting lists at TPL. (I chose this one thinking the page count would nicely fit the last gap before leaving the country. Instead I read it in two days or so ― doesn't say much for my calculations — therefore it was back to all those magazines I've been ignoring.) House of Echoes is an oldie: Protagonist Harry Ashley is a ne'er-do-well whose bad luck lands him in Heronsmere, the quintessentially strange Brit country house. There he embarks on his second mistake as a cad with women. Eventually the police are onto him and he pays for a prior mistake with some jail time.

Starting off anew, he becomes a successful businessman as Charles Sommers and finds love. Can a leopard really change its spots? He's hiding more than one secret that could undo him. I can't elaborate too much without being a spoiler, but astute readers can solve the hidden mystery miles before the end. This published version of House of Echoes is another book rife with typos. The most egregious was describing someone with a hair lip! Apparently the author was writing crime fiction from the 1930s to the 1960s.

The solicitor:
My father had dealt with the firm since boyhood, thought I had met Mr. Meecham only once, just after I left school.
"You've come about your father's will, eh?" He opened his mouth reluctantly, as if he liked the taste of the words and was loath to let them go. His cheeks worked rhythmically as he spoke as if he was chewing each syllable over before releasing it. "He thought a great deal about you, your father did, eh?"
"I suppose so," I said rather sullenly.
I hated him for his patronizing manner. He knew I'd been to gaol. It would please him to think I'd had to come nearly two hundred miles to see him, that until he chose to tell me I would be in ignorance of just what my father had left me. (96-7)

Heronsmere:
Then the house lay before us, remote, forgotten, against its dark background of leafless trees. The cold December light showed up the gaunt, lonely building, its windows almost obscured by ivy, the high grass frowning up to the door and the ground floor windows. A chimney had collapsed in a gale and the debris lay heaped on the terrace. I could see that several slates had been displaced in the fall and I could well imagine the havoc damp would have wrought indoors.
The house looked bedraggled and dirty. It was a slut of a house. (184)


Carole Corbeil. Voice-Over. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing Co. Limited, 1992.
Wondering how I missed this way-back-when; highly recommended. This was Canadian writer Corbeil's first novel, co-winning the Toronto Book Award in 1993. Sadly, she died in 2000 after penning a second novel, In the Wings. From the 1950s to the 1990s, Voice-Over is a portrait of a family dealing with life and love in both Québecois and Anglo milieus. Sisters Claudine and Janine move from Montreal to Toronto for different reasons. Les deux solitudes are more evident in their parents' generation. Mother Odette remarries a controlling Anglo, sacrificing personal freedom for financial security, and paranoid about being accepted in his society.

Altogether three anguished women are trying to shed unwarranted childhood guilt and find their own identities. Perspective shifts among them. "Si vous saviez comment je vous aime" (if you knew how much I love you) is oft-repeated among their various relationships. The cultural divide is but a minor element in the total family immersion. Corbeil was also a practising artist and created the striking cover illustration.

Maternal hangup:
But she must never look vain, like her mother, who could not walk by a shop window, a toaster, a kettle, a mirror, the chrome of a car without twisting herself to sneak a look, who sat at kitchen tables facing the windows so she could see herself talking, who took her compact out in restaurants before dinner, in between courses, after dinner, furtively looking for food between her teeth, who looked at herself in three-way mirrors, lost, in a trance when she took the girls shopping.
No, Claudine can't admit that she wants, with all her body and soul, to look into that mirrored column and assess just how awful she looks, as Anne so kindly put it. (19)

Kidspeak:
They've come to the moment when they have to cut off. And both of them are juggling with who's going to hang up first.
"I'll bring Chinese food. We'll come tomorrow. Okay?"
"Okay. Jim hates Chinese food."
"Okay, bye."
"Mange tes carottes," Janine says.
"Toi aussi."
They laugh. It's their code from when they were little girls. The idea was that they'd send this "mange tes carottes" message to each other if they were ever kidnapped. It would mean I'm all right but call the police. (107)

Step-dad:
What would Walter make of all this? He always called throngs of people "the great unwashed." He always said, looking down from the height of his wealth at men and women walking the streets of Montreal, "Look at that. That has the vote." (117)

Blended families:
What they'd had, Walter and her, was a courtship and a three-week honeymoon, and that was all. When they returned from their honeymoon, they'd walked into a hormonal war zone with four teenagers riding around them like a posse, circling their intimacy and crushing it dead. (149)

John Lescroart. Damage. New York: New American Library/Penguin, 2011.
Further adventures of Wes Farrell (newly installed as San Francisco DA), Abe Glitsky (Homicide Chief), and their colleagues in the Bay area. The story precedes The Keeper but as with all Lescroart it is a stand-alone novel. Damage is right! ― the dire effects of one powerful family's influence and manipulation, the Curtlee family, whose psychotic son leaves no evidence at his killings for the justice system to stop him. Just released from prison on a technicality, he's been preying on women too intimidated (or too dead) to report him. It's uncertain whether three new murders can be connected, let alone pinned on him.

Threats against the families of both Farrell and Glitsky are taken seriously, causing domestic disruption; are their jobs worth it? Figures involved in the killer's previous trial are dragged into the equation to make it twice as complicated. One of them loses his wife, his house, his son's support, and almost his mind. The author captures legal permutations and manoeuvres so well, keeping the forensically-minded reader completely absorbed. Among the ethics and morality in play here, great discussion of the consequences of unilateral action by Glitsky. I don't think Lescroart has had a below-par novel yet!

One-liner: The job was bunching at him from every direction like an ill-fitting suit. (69)

Curtlee and Farrell:
"So you're not going to confirm to me that you're planning on taking a case to the grand jury ..."
"I'm neither going to confirm or deny it. I'm not going to comment."
"Well, you'll understand if that makes me feel just a little bit as if you're going to go ahead and do it."
"It's no comment, sir. Either way. I can't undermine the foundation of how the grand jury works."
"My reporter had it on very good authority," Curtlee said.
"Well, whoever told her has a big mouth. You want to tell me who that was?"
"Even if I did know, and I don't, I couldn't reveal my reporter's source. You know thaT."
"Well then," Farrell said, "I guess we've both got our secrets."
A silence hung on the line. Then: "I want to make something very clear to you, Farrell. You and I had a deal about my son not going back to jail ..."
"Not saying we did, sir, but if we did, that was before he started killing people." (259-260)

Backup SOS:
Glitsky's blood pounded from his temples to the center of his forehead. "Look, the guy is serious as a heart attack and he's down there now. He's probably stalking this Gloria woman. You need to just send some units down and check it out. Be a presence. You see a guy who looks like he doesn't belong, get his ID. If it's Curtlee, hold him or if the indictment's come down, take him in."
"You suggest we go door to door?"
"Yeah. Absolutely. If you have to."
"Can I get the spelling of your name again?" (354)


23 December 2015

Library Limelights 97

Tess Gerritsen. The Keepsake. New York: Random House, 2008.
The discovery of a scary mummy hidden away in a museum basement seems to herald the tired, oft-related curse of the pharaohs, but quite swiftly segues into truly mysterious (and scary) events. Boston detectives Jane Rizzoli and Barry Frost have to work with museum staff to find and stop a twisted murderer. Archaeology is the major element binding a variety of personalities. Egyptologist Josephine Pulcillo seems as bewildered as anyone else until she disappears ... and the hunt intensifies. It's not a horror story per se, but the reader will learn something of how to prepare a body for mummification and how to shrink a head!

Identity theft is another issue — no instructions given, a good thing because copycats are not wanted! The need for museum funding is also explored, in this case involving rich eccentric donors and how much control they may or may not exercise. Bits of the personal lives of detective Frost and medical examiner Maura Isles add normalcy to the surrealism. A quirk of the author is to use bold type in place of (properly) italics; she also uses it at times to denote a character's private thoughts, but the usage is not consistent — an unsettling practice. But a heck of a good story.

One-liner: The heart makes its choices without weighing the consequences. (14)

Evil at work:
"So Frost isn't just bullshitting?" said Jane. "There really was a mummy's curse?"
Annoyance flashed in Robinson's eyes. "Of course there was no curse. Yes, a few people died, but after what Carter and his team did to poor Tutankhamen, maybe there should have been a curse."
"What did they do to him?" asked Jane.
"They brutalized him. They sliced him open, broke his bones, and essentially tore him apart in the search for jewels and amulets. They cut him up in pieces to get him out of the coffin, pulling off his arms and legs. They severed his head. It wasn't science. It was desecration." (46-7)

Phone tag:
Please answer. Please be there for me.
His voice mail picked up.
She hung up without leaving a message and stared down at the phone, feeling betrayed by its silence. Tonight I need you, she thought, but you're beyond my reach. You've always been beyond my reach, because God is the one who owns you. (404-5)


Elizabeth Adler. Now or Never. New York: Island Books/Dell Publishing, 1997.
What have I done? This "filler" paperback ... did I stumble into a bodice-ripper by mistake?! Not my genre. Yet it is a crime / detective novel as the back cover promises, but the romance element is equally strong. Both elements are well-done, held my interest all the way. I can only admire this author, admitting my prior doubts that a writer could satisfy two different audiences. Boston cop Harry Jordan is the detective committed to stopping a serial killer; he is also every woman's dreamy hero. In the course of investigating, he soon meets Mal Malone, hostess of a popular TV journalism show. Sparks fly.

While chasing the murderer, Harry also uncovers Mal's pathetic Cinderella story. It's a weeper, although Adler never descends into bathos or gratuitous sex. Plenty of tension sustained, maybe a little overboard on glimpses into the killer and his killings. There is a tinge of fantasy as the couple often seem too perfect for each other, but their personalities and banter are refreshing. Oh, and there's a dog called Squeeze. All in all, quite satisfactory!

Seize the opportunity:
Rossetti looked admiringly back at her. She was young and pretty, with fiery red hair and wide green eyes. He'd been trying to get a date with her for months.
"When're you gonna relent, Suzie, and go out with me?" he called.
"When you grow up, Detective Rossetti," she replied without lifting her eyes from the notes she was reading.
Harry laughed. "Great technique, Rossetti. Works every time, huh?"
"Win some, lose some, Prof. You just gotta bet the numbers, that's all." (110)

Alien life form?
"I'm going now, Mom," she said wistfully to the thin, pathetic figure hunched in a corner of the sofa. Her mother glanced vaguely at her, then back at the program. She said again, "I'm leaving for college, Mom."
"I know," her mother answered in the same mild tone she used for any news, good or bad. "Have a good time, Mary Mallory." And she lit a cigarette from a butt in the ashtray.
Mary Mallory let her hand rest for a moment on her mother's hair. Tender feelings flowed from her—she wanted so badly to hug her, kiss her, to know that her mother cared. "Bye, Mom," she said.
Her mother got up and poured herself another cup of coffee. "Good-bye," she said distantly. (266)

Andrew Taylor. The Barred Window. UK: Penguin, 2007.
Two male cousins growing up together in 1960s England live in a household that's a throwback to a repressed Victorian time warp. (Well, books are seldom written about normal, functional families, are they?) The narrator Thomas Penmarsh is a sensitive, naive pawn in his domineering mother's world, totally codependent on his more rebellious cousin Esmond Chard. The author weaves the mysterious past with the present where Thomas must face meeting his adult daughter for the first time and make life-altering decisions.

Taylor perfects the psychological suspense although the first chapters and the prep school days were a bit tedious for me. Yet all in good time to set some character development of the extended family, as we sense that each and every one of them has a subtle creepiness; it's easy to lose our slight grasp of whatever truths they are hiding. Beyond a bit of teenage drug experimentation – slipping into one's wrong mind – some family members are practising manipulation and control. But which ones? The "death room" in the Penmarsh house contributes to the mysterious atmosphere. An author well worth looking for again.

Word: prosody = rhythm and sounds used in poetry; intonation patterns in language

One-liner: Like a constitutional monarch I assented graciously to a stream of decisions made in my name by other people. (286)

Deathly expressions:
The adults around us wrapped Aunt Imogen's death in euphemisms. As far as my mother was concerned, she had passed on and over. Aunt Ada said that it was a merciful release. According to the vicar ‒ who gave us his professional opinions in church, on the following Sunday ‒ Aunt Imogen was watching over us from Heaven on the right hand of the Lord. I overheard the Jodson family discussing it. Mrs Jodson said that Mrs Chard was "pushing up the daisies, poor soul." On another occasion, young Bill Jodson said she had kicked the bucket, and his father remarked that she had gone for a burton. (90)

LSD tripping:
I reminded myself that we were not in a position to do anything; after all, we were not in our right minds.
This last phrase set me off on a tangent. If we weren't in our right minds, where were we? I reasoned that we must each have at least one wrong mind, and each of us was in it at present. Unless, of course, I was of the wrong "right" mind: I might be in my left mind, my sinister mind. I realized then it was all a question of labels; that labelling a thing determined its apparent nature; that beneath each layer of labels was another, that the layers were shaped like a ball or a globe; that I spent my life peeling off the layers in search of the hard core of real meaning; and that if it were possible to remove the last layer, I should find nothing, because there was no centre, hard or otherwise, and the meaning, such as it was, lay in the layers I had already peeled off and discarded.
I felt faint. I had made a discovery which would change the course of history. (268)

House guests:
Everyone came down to breakfast with good intentions. We smiled at each other and enquired how we had slept. When in doubt one tends to talk about the weather: in our case we discussed how the rains had stopped and the wind decreased overnight, and how this situation was unlikely to last; Alice said it was fresh and mild outside now, although the sky was grey; Bronwen told us what the weather forecast had told her; and Esmond said that he was going to put up the storm shutters tonight because there was no point in taking chances. Then we ran out of weather and had an awkward silence instead. (327)