Belinda Bauer. Snap. UK & US: Bantam Press, Grove Atlantic, 2018.
Bauer does it again. A slow intro builds to waves of tension as police in England's West Country seek a serial burglar. I didn't much like any of the characters at first, so what a surprise how they developed. We have Jack's story, the desperate young man bereft of parents, furtively finding means to provide food for his sisters. Three years after the unsolved murder of their mother, the little trio has slipped appallingly between the cracks ... "nobody cares" in every nightmare Jack suffers. Family disintegration has rarely been so poignantly depicted. We have Catherine's story, she's pregnant and frightened by a mystery caller. Then we have the competing policemen, Marvel and Reynolds, complete opposites in principle and manner.
When Jack eventually meets up with these two, an element of Keystone Kops enters. Marvel, out of place in sheep country, sets a trap for the burglar known as Goldilocks (a criminal type beneath his expertise as a former Metro detective) that Reynolds bungles. It takes a long time for Reynolds to redeem himself. The old murder case surfaces as several players are troubled by a specific, custom-made knife. Catherine's loyalty to her devoted partner Adam is severely tested. Tricky and inventive coincidences abound, blending chills and humour. The best crime novels capture the reader with conflicting emotions, and it's all here, a cut way above your average psychological thriller. Go find Bauer!
▪ Once she'd told Catherine that she'd left her own husband because he moved his lips while reading. (30)
▪ And before his brain even processed why or how, Jack's gut told him to run. (119)
▪ Tears boiled over in Catherine's eyes as her panicky mind darted from one dreadful conclusion to another. (162)
▪ Nothing made his heart pound like a precipice sidestepped, a bullet dodged, or the end of an affair. (230)
▪ Marvel wasn't in favour of women on the force. He'd only ever seen one good one in action, and was pretty sure she was a lesbian. (85)
▪ She'd never seen Adam so angry. Never seen anyone so angry. (162)
▪ It wasn't really London; it was Bromley. But it was close enough to London to make Marvel start dropping his aitches. (275)
The capture house:
They were in the empty front room of a small house on a north Tiverton estate ‒ not unlike the one Marvel himself was renting.They all leaned over the map. There were dozens of red dots marked on the map in felt tip.
"Each of these dots is a Goldilocks crime scene," said Marvel. "Most are around this area. So this is where we're setting the trap."
"What trap?" said Parrot.
Marvel swept an arm around the room like an estate agent. "Welcome to the capture house."
"What's that?" said Rice.
Marvel grinned a rare grin. "This is the house where we're going to catch Goldilocks."
"How?" said Parrot.
Marvel paused for dramatic effect. "By giving him everything he wants!"
His team looked at him blankly. (84)
A bit of a prig:
He did ponder showing his mother the photo of Rice with her arm around his legs. She took his celibacy very personally, and it would get her off his back for a good long while if she thought he was actually living with somebody. With shift-work it would be simple for her not to meet his supposed girlfriend for months, and by the time she got insistent, he could easily have broken up with Rice. Reynolds was not a naturally deceitful person, but he was heartily sick of his mother getting all misty over babies on TV ads, and going on and on about his chunky cousin, Judith, who plopped them out like a sea turtle laying eggs.
It wasn't that Reynolds didn't like women ‒ or want a woman ‒ just that he always thought that he could do better than any of the women he actually knew. (115-6)
Jack walked ten feet down the back garden to assess the guttering and the drains. There were always more at the back of a house, where the soil pipes ran.
His burglar's eye quickly found the weak point ‒ a small window over the garden shed. He glanced about the patio and picked up a trowel that had been dug into a planter full of dead daisies. Then he put a patio chair next to the shed, scrambled quickly to the apex of the roof, and easily scaled a downpipe to reach the window. Once there, he worked the trowel into the wooden window frame until it cracked and popped open, then slid silently through the window and disappeared from view.
The whole operation had taken less than two minutes.
"Impressive," said Marvel.
"Appalling," said Reynolds. (294-5)
Philip Kerr. The One From the Other. UK & USA: Penguin, 2006.
Kerr produced the outstanding Bernie Gunther thrillers from 1989 until his untimely death this year (2018). Set in 1949, this one sees private detective Bernie — former Berlin cop, reluctant SS pawn, staunch loather of Nazis — sucked unwittingly into a cunning plan for smuggling war criminals ("Red Jackets") out of Germany. Now based in Munich under American occupation (the Germans call them "Amis"), with a reputation for reliability and honesty, Bernie is put through the wringer while searching for one Red Jacket and being conned by others. Stranded in Vienna is when, in Bernie's words, he finally gets the "Byzantine conspiracy" in which he was cast as a major player. He even learns the criminals involving him had recently caused the death of his wife; scientific experimentation has not stopped.
Kerr immerses us in a world of breathless suspense where everyone's a master of duplicity. Bernie, chastened and wounded but still defiantly cynical, can trust no one and is alone in his own retaliatory quest. Kerr is an acknowledged literary master in depicting Germany's Second World War actions and consequences, as well as the military/political policies that swirled throughout. Historical figures appear herein. There are astonishing but totally credible descriptions of true behind-the-scenes meetings in Tel Aviv and Cairo. In 1949, Germany is unsettled with groups wanting revenge or power — Jewish hit squads, communist infiltrators, occupational forces, secret escape plotters. Each Bernie Gunther book can be read as stand-alone; the flashbacks vary from the 1930s to the 1949 denouement. Watch for Metropolis which Kerr finished just before he died. RIP.
▪ When a man keeps his jacket buttoned on a hot day, it usually means one thing. (20)
▪ They say that insanity is merely the ability to see into the future. (53)
▪ The world might end one day but there will still be lawyers to process the documents. (55)
▪ He looked like a Jewish tailor, which, I knew, was a description he'd have hated because the man was Adolph Eichmann. (325)
▪ Father Stoiber, bearded and quite obviously bibulous, had a belly like a millstone. Father Seehofer was as burly as a kiln-dried barrel. (329)
Two- and multi-liners:
▪ "Only Jews live here. If it was up to the Arabs, this whole country would be little better than a pissing place." (21)
▪ Lawyers make me uncomfortable. Like the idea of catching syphilis. (241)
▪ "Just like the old song says. Tomorrow belongs to me. Tomorrow belongs to me." (328)
" ... Tell him to come and meet us there."
"I don't know," I said. "I really don't want to get involved in any of this."
"You're a German," he said. "You're involved whether you like it or not."
"Yes, but you're the Nazi, not me."
Eichmann looked shocked. "How can you be working for the SD and not be a Nazi?" he asked.
"It's a funny old world," I said. "But don't tell anyone." (18)
Middle East secrets:
"We're in Cairo now. Cairo is not Jaffa. The British tread more carefully here. Haj Amin won't hesitate to kill all three of you if he thinks you might make a deal with us, so even if you don't like what he says, pretend you do. These people are crazy. Religious fanatics."
"So are you, aren't you?"
"No, we're just fanatics. There's a difference. We don't expect God to be pleased if we blow someone's head off. They do. That's what makes them crazy." (29)
The maitre d' flicked his gaze on me for a second and asked if I would be dining that night. I said I hoped so and that was the end of it. Most of the jaundice in his eye was reserved for a large woman sitting on one of the other chairs. I say large but I really mean fat. That's what happens when you've been married for a while. You stop saying what you mean. That's the only reason people ever stay married. All successful marriages are based on some necessary hypocrisies. It's only the unsuccessful ones where people always tell the truth to each other.
The woman sitting opposite me was fat. She was hungry, too. I could tell that because she kept eating things she brought out of her handbag when she thought the maitre d' wasn't looking: a biscuit, an apple, a piece of chocolate, another biscuit, a small sandwich. Food came forth from her handbag the way some women bring out a compact, a lipstick, and an eyeliner. Her skin was very pale and white and loose on the pink flesh underneath and looked like it had just been plucked clean of feathers. Big amber earrings hung off her skull like two toffees. In an emergency she'd probably have eaten them as well. (144-5)
Only a country like Germany could have produced a beer strong enough to make a monk risk the wrath of the Roman Catholic Church by nailing ninety-five theses to a church door in Wittenberg. That was what Father Bandolini told me, anyway. Which was just one reason why he preferred wine.
"If you ask me, the whole Reformation can be blamed on strong beer," he opined. "Wine is a perfect Catholic drink. Beer just makes them argumentative. And look at the countries that drink a lot of beer. They're mainly Protestant. And the countries where they drink a lot of wine are Catholic."
"What about the Russians?" I asked. "They drink vodka."
"That's a drink to help you find oblivion," said Father Bandolini. "Nothing to do with God at all." (328-9)
Minka Kent. The Thinnest Air. USA: Thomas & Mercer, 2018.
Kent seems to be a romance novelist who transitioned to suspense. The suspense works, eventually, but the road there is littered with the love-life emotions of Greer and Meredith, two sisters. The story unfolds as narrated by each in turn. Meredith is married to older dream man Andrew in Utah; Greer is conflicted by her long-term personal and business relationships with Harris in New York. Suddenly Meredith disappears from a supermarket parking lot without her phone and purse. Greer hastens to Utah, beside herself with anxiety. Police detective Ronan McCormack has no evidence or leads to follow other than that the husband is normally suspect number one. The timeline goes back and forth between pre- and post-disappearance.
My reaction to all the relationship doubts and musings is eyeroll. Meredith, especially, often comes across as a bored and boring self-centred twit. Greer varies from worried misery to angry nag. Tensions among the key characters are well done; the author knows her construction, employing it well, and does keep us guessing. But I'd rather not wade through the repetitive banalities of waffling feelings to get there. It's conventional prose, entry level mystery, and amateur psychology but some will enjoy like it.
In their own heads ―
▪ He's never hugged me this way before, not even for show when Meredith was around. (20)
▪ I've never seen any real emotion coming from this man other than his flagrant, sticky-sweet infatuation with my sister. (62)
▪ I've never been more grateful for my immunity to pompous, Rolex-wearing douchebags with bleached smiles and fast cars. (76)
▪ My mother always loved the juxtaposition of a harsh, masculine name on a gorgeous woman. (138)
▪ He glares. "Stop being such a fucking bitch." (158)
▪ They need headlines that sell. Stories that stir up emotions and garner web traffic and ad clicks. (209)
▪ Andrew stops pacing, his hard stare fixed on me. "This can't happen again, Meredith." (28)
▪ But I don't love him. I mean, I could, but I won't allow myself to. (129)
▪ The number of times I thought of him while lying next to my husband is disgraceful. (140)
▪ "You've never been a good judge of character, Meredith. Your relationships have always been superficial at best." (164)
▪ And despite our differences, I trust Harris. I trust his brutal honesty because he has no skin in the game. (172)
▪ If I know my sister, she'll stop at nothing to find me. (231)