17 June 2018

Library Limelights 163


Graham Hurley. Sins of the Father. UK: Orion Books, 2014.
Filling my gap in the life and career of Detective Jimmy Suttle, Devon police. On the personal side, this is the novel that reveals the death of his small daughter Grace and the beginning of his relationship with Oona. The brutal killing of a wealthy man introduces the severely dysfunctional Moncrieff family — Rupert, the controlling patriarch who died; the passive son Neil; the quiet daughter Hilary; son Ollie in distant Kenya; grandson Kennan in distant Spain. The massage therapist who attended Rupert is under suspicion. So Jimmy and his colleagues have at least two productive lines of enquiry to pursue, but lack evidence for their theories. Reports of mysterious visitors from Africa complicate the puzzle of motivation.

Then there's Jimmy's estranged wife Lizzie the journalist who must backtrack the chronology and details of what happened to Grace, in order to quell her unresolved demons. Mental health issues become prominent in both Jimmy's and Lizzie's investigations, issues that Hurley clearly wants to explore. Hurley is so engaging, so easy to read despite some of the unsavoury events encountered; empathy makes the difference. Since I've prematurely read the next book in the series (The Order of Things) I patiently wait for a new Jimmy Suttle (no signs yet).



One-liners:
"Clinically insane didn't belong in our family." (67)
"This city is full of fat white girls just begging for brown babies." (100)
"This is a therapeutic centre, Mrs Suttle, not a prison." (240)
"Chalk and cheese, the pair of them but a real kinship, a real blood thing." (243)

Two-liners:
"Doesn't everyone get tormented by their relatives? Isn't that how life's really supposed to work?" (94)
"With the music you're never alone. It's always there, waiting for you." (338)
Frontispiece:
All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.
‒ Blaise Pascal

Grieving:
In the school of second chances she might at last get the opportunity to turn blind rage and helplessness into something else. 
Like what? She lay on the bed, staring up at the single crack in the ceiling, the duvet tucked up around her chin, knowing she had no idea. More and more, hiding away like this, she was letting life treat her like the child she'd lost. She closed her eyes, summoning for the millionth time her last glimpse of Grace at the kite festival, the shot that Jimmy had caught on his mobile, the one the police had used at the press conference and later distributed to the media. Sun-browned legs. Pink sandals. The flower- patterned dress Lizzie's mum had bought her only the previous week. And that sweet, sweet grin. (24)

A patient refugee:
Musamba spoke excellent English. According to the duty Inspector, who'd talked to the Diversity guys, he was one of the area's longest-surviving asylum seekers. To date he'd managed to fend off the authorities for no less than nine years while he awaited permission to remain. On a number of occasions he'd been pressed for his country of origin but had always refused to impart either his nationality or even his date of birth. His excuse, which he was only too willing to share, was simple: if no one knew where he'd come from then there was no way he could ever be sent back. This chronic attack of statelessness had so far earned him a two-year prison sentence for refusing to cooperate, but eighteen months inside had simply hardened his resolve. (119-20)

Follow the money?
"What about the solicitor? You're telling me Moncrieff's changed his will?" 
"That isn't clear. He certainly wants to. Has it actually happened? We're trying to check." 
Houghton frowned than glanced across at Suttle. "But we've no proof this woman's telling the truth," she said. "She could be leading him on. It could be a hoax." 
Suttle nodded. 
"And if she is pregnant, the baby could be her partner's." 
"Sure." 
"But either way, she's trying to make herself rich." 
"Yes, boss. Which leads us to the key question." 
"Which is?" Houghton looked from face to face. 
"Easy." This from Golding. "What the fuck was the camera doing there in the first place?" (171-2)




Ruth Ware. The Lying Game. Toronto: Simon & Schuster Canada, 2017.
The web we weave when first we start to deceive ... Ware has nailed it. Four school friends bonded by playing a lying game, their modus operandi for survival against fellow schoolmates and teachers. They are fifteen years old when they go a drastic step further, feeling compelled to take part in a criminal deed. Seventeen years later their secret is threatened with exposure when a body is unearthed on a lonely beach. They've rarely seen each other in the intervening years but had pledged mutual help when needed. The narrator is Isa, the civil service lawyer attached to her new baby Freya. Kate is the artist in the group, urgently summoning the friends to her father's old mill house ‒ beside that lonely beach ‒ where she has lived all along. Fatima the medical doctor has made the most dramatic changes in lifestyle; Thea is still the same brash, aimless soul.

Memories and guilt surface from the new threat. Then suspicion, anxiety, paranoia. Lies build, one after another. They dearly miss Kate's father Ambrose who had taught their school art classes and hosted them so many weekends. Flashbacks go to those idyllic days. Now, where is Luc, their childhood friend, adopted by Ambrose? Who is trying to blackmail them? Are some of the hostile nearby villagers involved? Because lying became ingrained habit, it's never certain whether the steadfast friendships will weather the approaching storm of police investigation. Isa, in particular, has to examine how lying to her partner Owen has permeated their relationship. Ware knows exactly how to raise the temperature of fear.

One-liners:
Instead, he pressed my fingers between his, a kind of clasp, as if we were promising each other something. (75)
He is standing near the water's edge, his silhouette a dark hulk against the moon -silvered waters—and he is holding a baby. (171)
I swallow it down, the confession that is rising in me. (223)

Two-liners:
I shut my eyes, clench my fists. Please don't do this, don't make me start lying to you again. (236)

A different lifestyle:
"Times have changed, Thea. This isn't just a fashion accessory." 
"Oh darling, come on. Wearing a hijab doesn't mean you have to be a nun! We get Muslims in the casino all the time. One of them told me for a fact that if you drink a gin and tonic it doesn't count as alcohol—it's classified as medicine because of the quinine." 
"A, that advice is what's technically termed in theological circles as 'bullshit,'" Fatima says. She's still smiling, but there's a little hint of steel under her light voice. "And B, you have to wonder about the dissociative powers of anyone wearing a hijab in a casino, considering the Koranic teachings on gambling." 
There is silence in the room. I exchange a glance with Kate and draw a breath to speak, but I can't think of what to say, other than to tell Thea to shut the fuck up. (59)

Escaping school to Kate's house:
We climbed over fences and stiles, jumped ditches, paying careful heed to Kate's muttered instructions over her shoulder: "For God's sake, keep to the ridge here, the ground to the left is bog. ... Use the stile here, if you open that gate, it's impossible to shut again and the sheep will escape. ... You can use this tussock of grass to jump the ditch, see, where I'm standing now? It's the firmest part of the bank."She had run wild on the marsh since she was a little girl, and although she couldn't tell you the name of a single flower, or identify half the birds we disturbed on our walk, she knew every tuft of grass, every treacherous bit of bog, every stream and ditch and hillock, and even in the dark she led us unerringly through the labyrinth of sheep paths, boggy sloughs, and stagnant drainage ditches, until at last we climbed a fence and there it was—the Reach, the waters glinting in the moonlight, and far up the sandy bank in the distance, the Mill, a light burning in the window. (94-5)

Self-esteem abuse:
I've had jealous boyfriends in the past, and they're poison—poison to the relationship and poison to your self-esteem. You end up looking over your shoulder, second-guessing your motives. Was I flirting with that man? I didn't mean to. Did I look at his friend like I wanted some? Was my top too low, my skirt too short, my smile too bright?You stop trusting yourself, self-doubt filling the place where love and confidence used to be. 
I want to phone him up and tell him that's it—if he can't trust me, it's over. I won't live like this, suspected of something I haven't done, forced to deny infidelities that exist only in his mind. (288)

Insomnia:
I can't ever sleep again, completely. Not into that complete, solid unconsciousness I used to have before she came along, the state Owen seems to slip back into so easily. 
Because now I have her. Freya. And she is mine and my responsibility. Anything could happen—she could choke in her sleep, the house could burn down, a fox could slink into the open bathroom window and maul her. And so I sleep with one ear cocked, ready to leap up, heart pounding, at the least sign that something is wrong.And now, everything is wrong. And so I can't sleep. (231)



Joe Ide. Righteous. USA: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown and Company, 2017.
Strong feeling that I am not the right audience for this book. While I loved the predecessor called IQ, the characters in this tale were not as compelling. Isaiah Quintabe, known as "IQ" in the Long Beach 'hood, is still fiercely seeking answers to his beloved brother Marcus's traffic death. Then Marcus's former girlfriend Sarita hires him to protect her gambling-addicted sister Janine. Thereby, gang wars begin and trust me, you need a scorecard with a list of combatants. Leo is the Vegas loan shark, Balthazar his enforcer; Seb is the African genius of money laundering, Gahigi his enforcer; Tommy Lau is the veteran trafficker of human beings, Tung his enforcer; Manzo or maybe Frankie is the boss of the Locos gang, Vicente his enforcer. Oh wait, then there's the Chink (sic) Mob, Guijia and the Red Poles gang, the 14K Triad, and the homegirls gang. Yes, like that. Relentless vehemence and fights.

Ide has powered up the violence but subdued Isaiah's mojo. His prior easygoing relationship with erstwhile partner Dobson is fraught. The anticipated alleviating humour and zest are pretty well absent. Is a gang boss a credible moralist? Most annoying is the switching back and forth in time with no obvious sign, totally confusing the sequence and structure. Where was his editor? Suspense only kicks in at the eleventh hour and even then, a bloody climax with more guns and blood. Maybe one- or two-sentence lines are all that's needed to give the flavour. Gonna take me some convincing to try out a third novel, should it appear.

Samples:
Balthazar was seven feet tall with a jutting chin and comatose eyes set under a Frankenstein forehead; his body cobbled together with parts from an orangutan and an office building. (12)
Rap music was pounding like it was trying to break a window and get out of the car. (18)
Music was playing, an African woman wailing like she'd lost her whole family. (62)
Gerald didn't hear him, talking with his mouth open, like a tree shredder full of garbage in there. (196)
Gunfire flashed beneath the car, the rounds hitting the girl in the shins. (203)

Dodson's head was about to rocket off his body and smash through the ceiling, the veins in his neck like night crawlers wriggling away from his pounding heartbeat. (275)
The cousins were wearing loud Hawaiian shirts and might have been the guys who played the ukulele at the hotel luau if it weren't for their lethal, remorseless eyes and the hands like hockey gloves stuffed with rocks. (283)
Mercy was a rare thing these days when the tiniest slight was seen as disrespect, and if you hit me with a fist I shoot you with an RPG. (297)

"I need to flow with the flow, kick up some waves, be what I be." (298)
It was hard to find your courage when you'd never seen it before. (324)
She tried to get the gun out, but Gerald kicked her a couple of times. She doubled up, groaning. (197-8)
Flaco was ten years old when a gangster's bullet hit him in the head. He was left with a paralyzed leg, halting speech, and a brain that struggled and stuttered. (272)
My woman, my baby," Dobson said. "You ain't got shit to say about it." (283)




04 June 2018

Library Limelights 162


Mick Herron. Real Tigers. USA: Soho Crime, 2016.
Now completed the Slough House series to date! Oh what delicious style and characters! The novel opens with the usual placid survey of the prickly denizens, then Jackson Lamb's slow horses are drawn into a byzantine plot. Catherine Standish is kidnapped and River Cartwright to the rescue, without informing his boss. The search for a hidden file deep in the bowels of Regent's Park unleashes more mayhem with an ex-army tiger team masking the true intent. Motive and purpose are ambiguous, as always. Some of it backfires, of course, resulting in many surprises and a few dead bodies. The hapless but persistent slow horses flail about as best they can, unaware their jobs are on the line.

Cunning players hide beneath layers of deception. Peter Judd, Home Secretary; Dame Ingrid Tearney, head of MI5 (the Service); Diana Taverner, Second Desk under her; not to mention appearances by the abrasive head Dog, chief of internal security. Only Lamb can figure out who is pulling the strings, to hold the ultimate blackmail card himself. Herron perfectly demonstrates the cynical arrogance of the politically powerful. As the narrative shifts from scene to scene, the author proves he is a god of suspense. More, please sir!

One-liners:
Why on earth would anyone be targeting her? (29)
"If you're about to make a pass, I'll peel your face with a spoon." (219)

Two-liners:
"Jackson Lamb's lived so long under the bridge he's half-troll himself now. But you should have met him a lifetime ago." (90)
"Jackson was never one for going round the houses. Not when he could drive a battering ram through them." (90)
"Getting shot's like falling off a log. It doesn't take practice." (257)

Pub meeting with super-nerd Ho:
" ... You want to make a mark, you want to impress people, do something. Doesn't matter what, just so long as it's not sitting at a screen crunching ... data."
If that last noun had involved bodily fluids rather than information, Marcus couldn't have put a more disgusted spin on it.
Now he stood. "I'm going. Broken bones, remember? If you take nothing else away, take that. Broken bones."
"Aren't we having another round?"
Shirley did the thing with her fingers again. "Hashtag missingthepoint."
"Stop doing that," Marcus said. He looked down at his unfinished beer, shrugged, and headed for the door.
Shirley reached across, carefully removed Ho's specs, folded them, and dropped them into Marcus's Guinness. "There," she said.
Ho opened his mouth to say something, but wisely changed his mind. (32-3)

Orders from the top:
"Slough House," Judd said. "Close it down. Today."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that. Do we own the building?"
"Yes."
"Better still. We can flog it off now the market's recovered. That'll pay for the odd decoder ring, what?"
"And the agents?"
"Have them put down."
" ... Seriously?"
"No. But it's interesting you felt the need to ask. No, just sack them. They're all retards or they wouldn't be there anyway. Hand them their cards, tell them goodbye."
"Jackson Lamb—"
"I know all about Jackson Lamb. He's supposed to know where some bodies are buried, yes? Well, newsflash, nobody spends a decade in this business without stumbling across the occasional corpse. And if he feels like kicking up a fuss, he'll find out what the Official Secrets Act's for." (131-2)

Catherine's solitude:
If she'd turned, like any good spook should have done, and headed back into Slough House the moment Sean Donovan appeared, this wouldn't be happening. One word from her to Charles Partner, and the wheels of the Service would have ground into action. That was the advantage of being close to the man at the top. When there was trust between you, a simple word got things done.
Except Charles Partner was dead, having emptied his head in a bathtub. Her boss now was Jackson Lamb, and stirring him into action required more than trust.
She had mentally discarded the water, the flapjack, the apple, the sandwich, because this was not their fight. In the struggle for control of the room, there was only herself and the bottle of wine. And for some reason this was no longer on the tray, but had managed to spirit itself across the space between them, like a spooky puppet in a horror film, and now nestled in her hand. (240)




Lee Child. The Midnight Line. USA: Random House Large Print, 2017.
Child's terse prose is like a literary desert; always a contrast to most crime writers. Popular protagonist Jack Reacher ‒ the man with no phone, no computer, and no address ‒ is intrigued to find a West Point class ring in a South Dakota pawn shop. Relating it to his own background, he wants to know the story, return the ring to its mysterious owner. Although he seems to move almost sleepily from one clue to another, true to his nature ‒ Reacher is cool ‒ he manages to beat up eight guys before the first forty pages. Along his journey he meets a drug czar, an ex-FBI detective, a DEA agent, a small town cop, a rich woman from Chicago, and assorted derelict characters. With some new partners, he uncovers a clandestine network for oxycodone and fentanyl.

Offsetting Reacher's emotional distance is the owner of the ring; Child gives us way more than we want to know about drastic military injuries (and an indictment of VA hospitals). His attempt at a little sidekick humour is awkward but welcome. More refreshing is the feel of rugged, wide-open Wyoming. When the action accelerates, it's a clever buildup to the climax. The author sucks us in once more.
The always rational, non-judgmental Reacher wins again and moves on.

One-liners:
"This guy is like Bigfoot coming out of the forest." (39)
"There is no feeling better than tiptoeing all the way up to the gates of death." (409)
"You told Billy to shoot me," Reacher said. (512)

Two-liners:
"I'm sure all Wyoming kids have ponies. There are more ponies than kids." (215)
She had to be thirty-something. But she looked brand new. (218)
My wife would say you feel guilty about something. She reads books. (473)

Partner in crime:
Reacher said, "How do you feel about going in?"
"It's all closed up."
"We could break a window."
"Legally we have to ask ourselves if the county owns it now. Which it might, officially. Because of the unpaid taxes. Breaking into county property is a big step. You can't fight city hall."
"Maybe you smelled a suspicious smell, or thought you heard something. Like a despairing cry. The kind of thing that would justify a warrant-less search. Did you?"
"No," Bramall said.
"You're retired," Reacher said. "You don't have to stick to FBI bullshit anymore."
"What would the army approach be? Set the place on fire?" (181)

Cynicism re big pharma:
By that time in history heroin itself had negative PR. Nothing more than underworld squalor and a bunch of dead rock singers. Kind of sordid. So they made a synthetic version. A chemical copy. Like an identical twin, Noble said, looking at Mackenzie. Exactly the same, but now it had a long clean name. All bright and shiny. It could have been a toothpaste. They put it in neat white pills. What were they for? Getting high, baby. Whatever you want. Except they couldn't put that on the pack. So they said they were for pain. Everyone has pain, right?
Not really. Not at first. Pain was not yet a thing. Institutes had to be funded, and scholarships endowed. Doctors had to be persuaded. Patients had to be empowered. Which all worked in the end. Pain became a thing. Self-reported and untestable, but suddenly a symptom as valid and meaningful as any other. As a result, America was flooded with hundreds of tons of heroin, in purse-size blister packs, backed with foil. (242-3)

Fight, not flight:
Eleven thirty was just the same. Pitch dark and silent. Still OK. Still consistent, still logical, still expected. But getting close. All the well-known sayings. The crunch was coming. The money shot. The rubber was about to meet the road. For the first time in his life he paid close attention to what his body was doing. He felt stress building inside him, and he felt an automatic response, some kind of a primitive biological leftover, that converted it to focus and strength and aggression. He felt his scalp tingle, and an electric flow pass through his hands to his fingers. He felt his eyesight grow vivid. He felt himself get physically larger, and harder, and faster, and stronger. (484)


Jo Nesbø. Macbeth. Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2018.

What sly mockery is this? Nesbo does a daring reconstruction of Shakespeare's play, to flummox his Harry Hole fans. Nesbo's Macbeth has few attributes in common with his popular Oslo detective. This Macbeth, rapidly working his way to the top of the police hierarchy, is dependent on a drug habit and in thrall to his beautiful Lady, owner of a posh casino. One wonders what the attraction is to this calculating, off-balance woman who, among others, manipulates him for control of the unnamed more-or-less modern town. That town seems to be little more than a cesspool of unemployment and poverty in desperate need of rehabilitation promised by various candidates for power. Through a tunnel and across a bridge is the fair, clean land of "Fife" so some, like me, will be guessing what wily allusions Nesbo might be making. Suffice to say, a more corrupt disorder can scarcely be imagined. All the expected characters are here — Duncan, Malcolm, Duff (Macduff), Banquo, Lennox, and a host of others.

Dredging up faint Grade Eight Shakespeare studies, I'd lost the details (but memorized passages are still intact!) Thus I won't even try to compare/contrast the people and events with the original play. We know it can't end well, right? Lust for personal power among the main players — the mayor, the chief (police) commissioner, the druglord Hecate (boss of the witches' brew) and layers of their underlings — is constantly masked by claims of for the good of the people and what's best for the town. Basically, everyone conspires to kill everyone else, not without considerable self-justification before or after the fact. Each one among them betrays someone else. That means a staggering body count, of course. Paranoia, deception, treachery, madness, corruption, infidelity, insomnia: not exactly a romping read! Dialogue is awkward at times, a mixture of contemporary and the archaic, perhaps intended to reflect Shakespearean tones? The size and scope of Nesbo's project is awesome but did he dare a little too ambitiously? Harry, you are missed.

One-liners:
Why did her words persist, why did his thoughts whirl around in his head like bats? (93)
"Give me an armed biker gang coming toward me rather than this serpent we've slashed at but haven't killed." (171)
So alone in the darkness of her mind, the darkness she had told him about but where she couldn't take him. (261)

Two-liners:
"I can see you're weighed down by guilt and a bad conscience. You're not an evil, cunning person." (168)
No, she wasn't a problem, she was the alpha and omega, his birth, life and death. His reason for being. (186)
He was a new man. Once again he was perfectly medicated. (270)

Dependency:
"Do you really believe this?"
"No," said Macbeth. He was standing close to the mirror now, his nose touching the glass, which had misted up. I don't believe it. I know it. I can see. I can see the two of them. Banquo and Fleance. I have to forestall them, but how?" Suddenly he turned to her. "How? You, my only one, you have to help me. You have to help us."
 
Lady crossed her arms. However warped Macbeth's reasoning sounded, there was some sense in it. He might be right. And if he wasn't, Banquo was still a fellow conspirator and a potential witness and blabber. The fewer there were of them, the better. And what real use did they have for Banquo and Fleance? None. She sighed. As Jack would say, If you've got less than twelve in blackjack you ask for another card. Because you can't lose. (156)

One plan of many:
" ... Now you know what I know, that can't be changed, and now your head's on the block with mine. I apologize for not giving you a choice, but what else could I do? Our moment of truth has come, Lennox."
"Indeed. If what you say is correct and Macbeth is the monster you believe, a wounding shot is not enough—that would make him doubly dangerous. He must be felled with a single, decisive shot."
"Yes, but how?"
"With cunning and caution, Duff. I'll have to give this some thought, and I'm no genius, so it will take time. Let's meet again. Not here where the walls have ears." (203)

Bonus, the Druglord's minion:
What was it about Hecate that always made him feel like a dithering teenager? It was more than the display of real power; there was something else, something that terrified Bonus but he couldn't quite put his finger on. It wasn't what he could see in Hecate's eyes, it was more what he couldn't see. It was the blood-curdling certainty of a nothingness. Wasteland and numbingly cold nights. (276-7)

Macbeth ruminates on death:
A short echo of the last, semi-articulated word and you're forgotten. Forgotten, forgotten, not even the biggest statue can change that. The person you were, the person you really were, disappears faster than concentric rings in water. And what was the point of this short, interrupted guest appearance? Of playing along as best you can, seizing the pleasures and happiness life has to offer while it lasts? Or leaving a mark, changing the direction of things, making the world a slightly better place before you yourself have to leave it? Or perhaps the point is to reproduce, to put more suitable small creatures on the earth in the hope that humans will at some point become the demigods they imagine they are? Or is there simply no meaning? Perhaps we're just detached sentences in an eternal chaotic babble in which everyone talks and no one listens, and our worst premonition finally turns out to be correct: you are alone. All alone. (353-4)




30 May 2018

Lost and Found: Pointe Shoes


The last pair of shoes. 

Shoe rescue, before most of the dirt and sweat and breakdown takes place. Hours spent darning the satin toes for extended life. Sewing the ribbon ties with the strongest thread. The pounding and abuse they took! 

All for that illusion of gliding and airborne, weightless movement.

25 May 2018

Library Limelights 161

Stuart M. Kaminsky. Bright Futures. USA: Tom Dougherty Associates, LLC, 2008.
Cruise reading ... a fortuitous find in the ship's library from prolific author Kaminsky (1934-2009) whom I'd only sampled once before. Welcome to the madhouse Sarasota world of Lew Fonesca, officially a process server, inadvertently a private investigator. Hired by Greg ‒ a hyper, gifted schoolboy ‒ to prove his friend did not commit murder, Lew gets involved with shootings, blackmailers, minor theatrical performers, a religious convert, a TV sales millionaire, fake identity, and the world's most laidback cop. Among others! His own life is haunted by the wife he lost; putting down roots in another place is a struggle for him, even among new friends. It's not only slyly humorous, it's a brilliant tangle of motivation and personalities. Sad to know Fonesca is no more, but there are five earlier books in the series.

One-liners:
"You've got a baseball cap on your head and you look like someone just shot your faithful dog." (17)
The hair was definitely thinner with each passing crime. (39)
Old men all sound alike, either like sick hummingbirds or gravel pits. (45)
He was a nervous look-away liar, his act semi-rehearsed, his voice low. (86)

Two-liners:
"Life goes on," Viviase said. "Even when we don't care." (48)
No one shot at me as I stepped out of the Waffle Shop. So far it was a good day. (70)
Cars and I are not friends. One of them killed my wife. (115)
Lewis Fonesca was prepared for anything except intruders, unbidden emotions, disarming surprises, life's horrors, and the pain and death of others. (224)
"She'll come back here. She always does when her funds get down to the level of the gross national product of Poland." (249)



Ed Lin. Ghost Month. USA: Soho Press, 2014.
A freebie from Bouchercon a few months ago, this is like a cultural, historical, and political tour of Taipei in Taiwan. I mean in depth! Chen Jing-nan's studies at UCLA were interrupted to find himself unwillingly back in Taipei, bound to his family heritage of operating a food stall in the Shinlin Night Market where he forces his normally reserved nature to become the outgoing salesman "Johnny." The murder of his fiancée Julia Huang in the city is a huge shock, especially since he thought she was still in New York. Equally scandalous and puzzling was a betel-nut stand being the murder scene. Narrated in first person, Jing-nan is obligated to investigate the senseless killing that police are ignoring.

Plus, it's ghost month in Taiwan when traditional beliefs and superstitions about spirits affect daily life. Julia is definitely a ghost here but Jing-nan is a non-believer. As he doggedly pursues some old schoolmates for clues, new friend Nancy wholeheartedly supports him. New love brings new hope to Jing-nan's depressive state in spite of his dangerous course against a deadly offshoot of the Black Sea gang. A great deal of information is interspersed about growing up in, and living in, disadvantaged circumstances in Taipei. The characters are richly defined, colourful and fascinating to our eyes. The heavy emphasis and detailed passages of Jing-nan's music preferences was far too much for my taste, though. A glossary of foreign phrases and personal or place-names extends the lessons.

One-liners:
The evening sees the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall lit in red, orange and yellow by the primordial gas cloud that passes for dusk in Taipei. (15)
Taiwanese boys punch and kick each other in the balls just for laughs. (38)
The last thing I had hit was a Japanese punching-bag game at the night market, which said I had the strength of two pensioners. (294)

Two-liners:
She looked sad. The world doesn't need another sad person. (117)
In fifteen minutes, the sun was out again and the air smelled of hot garbage. Or maybe it was stinky tofu. (195)
"Those are the faces they were born with. I feel bad for them." (260)

Grief:
The girls who work at betel-nut stalls are usually in tough circumstances. It pays well and doesn't require a college degree. You just have to be willing to wear next to nothing and to let the occasional big dipper conduct your breast exam. 
How many disgusting men with ugly, red-stained teeth drove up to the stand and tried to grab you when you handed them their betel-nut chew, Julia? Did you fight back? Is that why he shot you? (3)

Family pressure:
"Don't put Jing-nan in this position," Mr. Huang pleaded. 
"What position? Her father won't do anything, and Jing-nan is the closest thing to a husband Julia had!" 
Mr. Huang shook off the sting and said matter-of-factly, "Jing-nan hasn't even seen her in years." 
"Wake up! He never bought a ticket, but he got to ride the bus when they were still teenagers!" 
I was spurred to speak up. "Please, I want to help," I heard myself say. "I know two people who went to NYU with her. I can talk to them and see if they might know something." I wasn't really friends with either of them, then or now. (67-8)

Introspection:
I tried a new drink at Starbucks, and as I slurped it down, it hit me that I was falling in love with Nancy. How could I be? She used to sleep with a guy who was more than twice as old as she was, after all. Was she the kind of woman to get serious with? 
I looked into the sad suds at the bottom of my drink and felt sheepish. She was right to point out what a hypocrite I was for taking her to love hotels and yet pretending to stand on some higher moral ground.And what about Julia? The woman I had been planning to be with forever had worked three-quarters naked as a binlang zishi.What a chauvinist I had been. What a lout. Who the hell was I to pronounce that being a mistress was immoral? Who was I to judge that a betel-nut beauty didn't deserve respect? After all, I pimped food every night with a shit-eating grin. (254)


J.K. Rowling. The Casual Vacancy. USA: Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company, 2012.
"Blockbuster" really suits this amazing work. Rowling has created a microcosmic cluster-world of humanity at its worst ... occasionally at its best. Altruistic volunteer Barry Fairbrother dies, leaving the town of Pagford with a vacancy on the municipal council to be contested. We are privy to the lives of half a dozen households, leading up to the election. We live in their homes, witness their innermost thoughts and deeds. It's no less than awesome, Rowling's gift for describing human nature. The bombastic, self-centred pride of Howard and Shirley Mollison; the petty greed of Simon Price and his abused son Andrew; the anxiety-ridden Colin Wall and his disaffected son Stuart (nicknamed Fats); the bitterness of the alienated Jawanda parent; the school bullying; the heartbreaking poverty and addiction surrounding young Krystal Weedon; the despairing efforts of social worker Kay Bawden; and all the many satellite relationships — so much dysfunction and hypocrisy, yet glimmers of hope.

Teenagers' real lives are largely unknown by their self-absorbed parents; some youngsters retaliate with internet postings that galvanize the community. Candidates for the vacant council seat work themselves up over local issues as the election draws near. Rowling's Pagford is a palpable, breathing, brawling village, each character (of dozens) perfectly delineated. So entwined we become in the spectrum of emotions, it's difficult to put the book down. It's a great rendering of a wide slice of modern life.

One-liners:
Andrew ate his Weetabix and burned with hatred. (13)
He would be a fairy godfather to the town, like his ancestors before him, showering grace and glamour over their cobbled streets. (55)
He was constitutionally prone to believing that others too lived with secrets that drove them half-demented. (354)
All she had left of her old life and her old certainties was attacking familiar targets. (474)

Two-liners:
Steadily he had grown to fill the space between the two women, as heavy at twelve as the father who had left them. Howard had come to associate a hearty appetite with manliness. (348)
"Bloody hell," said Gaia, upending the can and throwing it into a bin. "People round here are effing mental." (354)

Pagford lofty aspirations:
Volunteer work had opened a whole new, glorious world to Shirley. This was the dream that Julia Fawley had inadvertently handed her beside the grand piano: that of herself, standing with her hands clasped demurely in front of her, her laminated pass around her neck, while the Queen moved slowly down a line of beaming helpers. She saw herself dropping a perfect curtsy; the Queen's attention caught, she stopped to chat; she congratulated Shirley on generously giving her free time ... a flash and a photograph, and the newspapers next day ... "The Queen chats to hospital volunteer Mrs. Shirley Mollison ..." Sometimes, when Shirley really concentrated on this imaginary scene, an almost holy feeling came over her. (114)

Consoling the widow:
Gavin could not take his eyes off her. Anger and alcohol had restored color to her face. She was sitting upright, instead of cowed and hunched over, as she had been recently. 
"That's what killed him," she said clearly, and her voice echoed a little in the kitchen. "He gave everything to everybody. Except to me." 
Ever since Barry's funeral, Gavin had dwelled, with a sense of deep inadequacy, on the comparatively small gap that he was sure he would leave behind in his community, should he die. Looking at Mary, he wondered whether it would not be better to leave a huge hole in one person's heart. Had Barry not realized how lucky he was?The front door opened with a loud clatter, and he heard the sound of four children coming in, voices and footsteps and the thumping of shoes and bags. 
"Hi Gav," said eighteen-year-old Fergus, kissing his mother on top of her head. "Are you drinking, Mum?" 
"It's my fault," Gavin said. "Blame me." (272)

A showdown:
"Oh, this is interesting," said Simon, pacing up and down in front of Paul. "This is interesting." 
With a slap he sent Paul's exercise book flying out of his hands."Try and think, dipshit," he growled. "Try and fucking think. Did you tell anyone we've got a stolen computer?" 
"Not stolen," said Paul. "I never told anyone—I don't think I told anyone we had a new one, even." 
"I see," said Simon. "So the news got out by magic then, did it?"He was pointing at the computer monitor. 
"Someone's fucking talked!" he yelled, "because it's on the fucking Internet! And I'll be fucking lucky not—to—lose—my—job!" 
On each of the five last words he thumped Paul on the head with his fist. Paul cowered and ducked; black liquid trickled from his left nostril; he suffered nosebleeds several times a week. 
"And what about you?" Simon roared at his wife, who was still frozen beside the computer, her eyes wide behind her glasses, her hand clamped like a yashmak over her mouth. "Have you been fucking gossiping?" (282)

Another showdown:
"Are you ... involved with Krystal Weedon?" Colin asked. 
They faced each other, Colin taller by a few inches, but Fats holding all the power. 
"Involved?" Fats repeated. "What d'you mean, 'involved'?" 
"You know what I mean!" said Colin, his face growing red. 
"D'you mean, am I shagging her?" asked Fats. 
Tessa's little cry of "Stu!" was drowned by Colin shouting "How bloody dare you!" 
Fats merely looked at Colin, smirking. Everything about him was a taunt and a challenge. 
"Are you—" Colin was struggling to find the words, growing redder all the time, "— are you sleeping with Krystal Weedon?" 
"It wouldn't be a problem if I was, would it?" Fats asked, and he glanced at his mother as he said it. "You're all for Helping Krystal, aren't you?" 
"Helping—" 
"Aren't you trying to keep that addiction clinic open so you can help Krystal's family?" (358)

16 May 2018

Library Limelights 160


David Baldacci. The Forgotten. USA: Grand Central Publishing/Hachette, 2012.
John Puller Jr's vacation is more than he expected: Paradise, Florida, looks like an ideal beach town but below the surface it's a smuggling and killing field. The death of Puller's beloved aunt, skeptical local cops, vicious gangs, vulnerable kids, a crooked lawyer, a strange giant called Mecho, suspicious beach activity, and human trafficking pretty well sums it up. Not to mention Puller's father in mid-dementia, a brother in army prison, and two women vying for his attention. As a special agent in the U.S. Army, Puller is experienced with all kinds of villains, but a quiet investigation into Aunt Betsy's death escalates beyond all predictability.

Without being invited, a colleague comes from DC to join him: Julia Carson is an army one-star general; her motives may not be entirely professional. Paradise policewoman Cheryl Landry is another ally. Thousands of abandoned oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico provide concealment for contraband. Mecho's secret mission eventually coincides with Puller's and they have many odds to overcome against a highly profitable illegal network. It's a macho tale but with Baldacci, always so well-written, the characters brim with life. Bodies and shootouts. Plenty of suspense and action to keep any mystery reader satisfied.

One-liners:
If this kept up there might not be anyone left alive on Orion Street. (204)
The only noise was the sounds from the women readying the weapons. (348)

Two-liner:
"Propositioned, harassed, threatened, even assaulted. Welcome to this 'man's' army, right?" (300)

Funeral home:
As he continued to stare down at his aunt, he felt the creep of moistness around his eyes. But he did not allow it to build. There might be time to grieve later. Right now he had to figure out what had happened to Betsy. Until he had conclusive proof that said otherwise, the letter she had sent had convinced Puller that her death was not an accident.
His aunt had been murdered.
 
He left the dead behind and walked back to the living.But he would not forget her. And he would not fail her in death, as perhaps he had in life. (67)

Puller phones his brother:
"Nice to hear you've retained your sense of humour." 
"Most important thing I've got, actually. Maybe the only thing I've got." 
"I can see that." 
"Now, when you get sidetracked it usually means someone is lying all bloody in a ditch." 
"They're not in a ditch," Puller said. "They're in a holding cell." 
"Talk to me." 
Puller conveyed most of what had happened in Paradise over the last dozen hours or so. When he recounted it, he was amazed that he had packed so much into so little time. (146)

Mecho:
He was simply one man working for others. He was paid a wage that could barely keep him alive. And he was one injury away from being homeless. 
As he looked around at the workers next to him, he was actually describing their state of affairs, not his. Money meant nothing to him. He was here for his own purposes and no other. When he was done he would leave. 
Unless he was dead. Then he would stay in Paradise for eternity. (162)

Arrangements:
"Betsy told me she wanted to be cremated. It should be in her will." 
"Mason didn't mention that." 
"Did he give you a copy of the will?" 
"Yes." 
"You should read it. Betsy was very particular about her funeral arrangements. I"m sure she spelled them out to the letter." 
"Thanks. I guess I should have already done that." 
"You're young. You don't think about wills and funeral arrangements." 
"I'm also a soldier. We tend to think of them more than most people." (170)




Gail Bowen. Kaleido-Scope. 2012. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2013.
I read the Saskatchewan author once a long time ago so why not get an update. Narrator Joanne Kilbourn, now Mrs Shreve, is married to lawyer Zack, a paraplegic. They live a rich, privileged life although Joanne's social conscience is active; with daughter Mieka she plans to build a community play centre. Their equally well-to-do friend (and client of Zack) Leland Hunter is tearing down a slum section of "North Central" in Regina to erect a new neighbourhood of mixed uses, called the Village. Leland is seen as a greedy capitalist by the gangs who live in the deprived area and vociferously protest the plan even as it's in progress. When Joanne and Zack's house is bombed, suspicion falls on Mieka's new love, Riel Delorme.

Throw Leland's son Declan, his new bride Margot, his spiteful ex-wife Louise, Zack's daughter Taylor, a murder trial, two weddings, and one funeral into the story, and you have more than enough activity as they all try to keep level heads. The extended family's interactions are fascinating; it's almost like moving right in with them. But more violence hits them from an unclear dangerous source. Joanne's long-term signature line ‒ Security for any one of us lies in greater abundance for all of us ‒ does not strike me as illuminating. Yet it's a very comfortable read with these characters and their twining stories. Although, you may experience a little lifestyle envy.

One-liners:
It seemed suddenly as if the axis of our lives had shifted. (116)
It was as if the destruction around us had penetrated his body as it had penetrated mine. (141)
As a rule, Zack did not handle leisure well. (292)

Two-liners:
"I feel as if my skin's been ripped off. My default position is always fake it until I make it." (250)
"You're just like my sister," Margot said. "Always able to find the pony in the pile of shit." (259)
"What would you say to a nice tall gin and tonic?"
"I'd say, 'Where have you been all my life?'" (298)

Assessing someone new:
"Zack, you spent some time with Riel Delorme today. What do you think of him?" 
Zack was slow to answer. Finally, he said, "Well, he's no Wayne Gretsky." 
"Where'd that come from?" 
"Gretsky always knew instinctively where the game was going ‒ not just where his teammates were but where they were going to move next. Riel's right in the middle of the action, but he can't seem to see what's going on, and he can't figure out where the game is headed. I don't get it." 
"Maybe he just doesn't want to see what's really going on. Maybe, with all his good intentions, he's in over his head and doesn't want to face it. Maybe Riel is what Ian used to call 'terminally naive.'" 
Zack nodded approvingly. "Nice turn of phrase." (81-2)

Morning run:
Leland and I ran on cracked concrete past giant machines mired in the mud of construction sites and hoardings covered with the graffiti tags of gangs. No birds sang here. Feral cats yowled over territory and tethered dogs snarled behind welded steel mesh security fences that were indestructible and unscaleable. I slowed when we came to a pair of angry Rottweilers behind a security fence. 
"That bothers you," Leland said. 
"I hate seeing dogs chained," I said. "And I don't understand why dogs are being used to guard a construction site. Nobody's going to steal those machines." 
"No, but somebody could screw around with them," Leland said. "Every development project teaches you something. Sometimes the lesson costs money, sometimes it causes pain, sometimes both." 
"So what have you learned from the Village Project?" 
Leland shrugged. "Too much to go into now, but the dogs are necessary, Joanne. These cretins need snarling dogs to remind them that their actions have consequences." (118-9)

More warnings?
Each of the bronze animals cost $3,000, and we had owned twelve. A thief could have carried out the entire collection in a plastic grocery bag. Breaking into our home had been a huge risk for very little payoff. The intent clearly was to let us know that despite the fifteen-foot fence, the razor wire, and all the security swipes, we were vulnerable. 
Out of nowhere, I remembered the Plains Indians custom of counting coup. If a warrior could walk into the enemy's camp and steal his weapons or his horse, he gained prestige. A member of Red Rage had walked into our home and stolen our horse ‒ a clever urban twist on an old custom. If I hadn't been so terrified, I would have been impressed. (202)




Mick Herron. Nobody Walks. UK: Soho Press, 2015.
Cruise reading ... therefore not the best notes were taken at the time. But still, the most delicious author I've lately discovered. This novel features a taciturn Thomas Bettany, formerly an undercover secret agent. He's notified of the death of his estranged son Liam in a freak accident and returns to London despite a price on his head by vicious criminals he sent to prison. Bettany strives to find feeling and meaning in his lost family, at the same time using all his skills to find someone responsible for the accident.

The story appears darker, more sombre, than the Slough House series but lo and behold, what ugly head should be raised but that of his previous masters at MI5. Dame Ingrid Tearney, to be specific. So some familiar convolutions come into play. Who is playing whom: always the mystery. JK Coe also makes an appearance, to be seen in a later book in Jackson Lamb's stable of slow horses. Bettany knows what he's doing even if no one else does. Visceral image-inducing prose.

One-liners:
Smokers huddled round doorways, making stepping out of a modern pub like stepping into an old one. (53)
He'd learned how to excavate falsehood, scrape away the truths to find the treachery beneath. (105)
JK Coe fainted as his bowels let slip. (133)

Two-liners:
There are a lot of threads in the city. Pull enough of them and you can see the pavements twitch. (165)
He trusted Oskar with his life. But trust required daily renewal. (178)

Blame:
It's your fault she's dead. 
It's cancer's fault, Liam. 
And why do you think people get cancer? You made her unhappy. You were a bastard to her and to me. 
There was a whole deluded industry dedicated to the notion that cancer fattened on the emotions, and not for a moment had Bettany believed his son had fallen prey to it. It had been a weapon, that's all. A stick to beat him with. 
Had he been a bastard? He'd been called worse. (32)

Feeling alive:
Seven years out of circulation, but some things stayed in the blood. Walking back to Liam's, he'd felt alive. He didn't like to think it was the violence that had set him buzzing, but face facts. It hadn't been the beers. (87)


Dame Ingrid summons:
She halted abruptly, and gave him a look so sharp it ought to have had a handle on one end. 
"You've had an upsetting experience. But address me in that tone again, Mr. Coe, and there will be repercussions. Do I make myself clear?" 
"... Yes." 
"An apology would not go amiss." 
"... I'm sorry." 
She blinked regally. Which evidently qualified as acceptance, for having done so, she resumed their stately progress. 
"There seemed no need to warn you," she said. "You're Psych Eval. Junior, granted, but nevertheless. Psych Eval. One would have thought you'd have spared a moment to consider the possible ramifications of your meeting with Bettany." 
"All I was doing was delivering a message!" 
The exclamation mark earned him another sharp look. 
"And all he was doing was verifying its content." (185)