09 November 2018

Library Limelights 175


Craig Russell. The Deep Dark Sleep. UK: Quercus, 2011.
Waited ages to obtain some of Russell's Lennox (Glasgow) series; for some reason they are about impossible to find in Canada, whereas his Jan Fabel (Hamburg) series novels are available here. And Lennox being a New Brunswick boy originally! So here we are, midstream in his career as a P.I. or, rather, enquiry agent. It's 1955 in Glasgow where he's growing a small business and moving away from his earlier associations with rough elements such as the Three Kings (of crime). Recovery of a skeleton from the bottom of the Clyde seems to be the remains of Gentleman Joe Strachan, the city's most daring robber in 1938. Lennox is approached by a variety of interests to prove whether Strachan is dead or not.

It's Glasgow noir at its finest, complete with the wisecracks. Lennox meets with a Hollywood star being locally blackmailed; a frightened photographer and his gay lover; each of the Three Kings; assorted underworld figures; a shifty lawyer; a frosty blonde; and not least, examines his feelings for his landlady Fiona. Then there's sidekick Archie, long-suffering cop contact Ferguson, and Ferguson's hostile boss McNab. From Lennox's deft observations and often hilarious comments, Glaswegians are a race unto themselves. Yes, Lennox finds the conclusion of Strachan's legend, not without experiencing some painful bloody knocks. Russell has it all and nails it.

One-liners:
"It would be my pleasure," I said and shook his hand, somehow managing not to add you sententious little prick. (173)
Unfortunately my hearing seemed to have deteriorated, and no matter how loud instinct screamed, I didn't seem to hear it. (181)
He was the only man I had ever encountered whose face looked like a deadly weapon. (186)
It was the kind of place the Black Death would have been happy to call home. (234)
In India, they used to have a saying, he who rides a tiger may never dismount. (250)

Two-liners:
Now, as Dr Johnson had once quipped, a tree in Scotland was as rare as a horse in Venice. Mind you, comedy had come a long way since the eighteenth century. (197)

The way it is:
Coming home after being with a woman was not something that troubled me, to be honest. It was the difference between men and women, I supposed: women wanted you to remain after intimacy. For the average Scotsman, this was rather like being asked to hang around a football stadium for three hours after the game had ended. What they really wanted to do was get out as quickly as possible so they could get drunk with friends while giving them a summary of the match highlights. (97)

Climate 1950s:
I got up and headed into my office early, but as soon as I stepped out of the front door of my lodgings I was grabbed by the throat. Except it wasn't some thug that went for me but the lurking Glasgow climate. September was turning into October and something cold from Siberia, or worse still from Aberdeen, had moved into the city and collided with the warm air. And fog didn't linger long in Glasgow before it became a thick, choking, yellowy-green-grey smog. 
Glasgow had been the industrial heart of the British Empire for a century. Factories belched thick smoke into the sky, and the greasy fuming of a hundred thousand tenement chimneys combined into a single, diffuse caliginous mass above the city. And when it combined with fog, it turned day to night and took your breath away. Literally. (101-2)

New assistant:
"Here's the last known address for him." I handed Archie the address given to me by Jock Ferguson. "That's a starting point. Could you see if you can track him down?" 
"Is this me started, then?" Archie raised his eyebrows. "When do I get my trenchcoat and six-shooter?" 
"I think you're confusing Humphrey Bogart with John Wayne. Yes, this is a job. Keep a tally of your time and expenses. Just see if you can trace him. But try not to spook him. I just want to talk to him, okay?" 
"I will move like a panther in the night," said Archie. (144)

Reluctant flirting:
"Please," she said coquettishly. "Call me Ethel." 
Do I have to? I thought. Do I really have to? (381)




John Harvey. Lonely Hearts. NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1989.
Nice to see you again, Charlie Resnick. Although this is the first book in the series, I'm sure my past delving was somewhere midway. A Midlands city in Britain with a tired, well-experienced detective inspector heading the hunt for the killer of two women, in the days when "a giant Holmes computer" was the latest in technology. For a longtime cop, Resnick is unusually sensitive to the victims of crime and circumstance. This is a painstaking procedural, complete with the relentless sniping amongst his macho, often misogynist, team members.

The middle-aged Resnick's attraction to social worker Rachel becomes mutual, a blossoming love story despite the hard realities of their daily grind. Harvey's writing gently but graphically underlines the plight of the lonely, the abused, the frail, the poor, who cross the path of police or social services. Beyond the distinct personalities and colourful colloquialisms, humanity is expressed in the most sympathetic way. Highly recommended for beginning a great series.

Words:
campanology - the art/skill of bell-ringing
embrocation - ointment, salve, liniment, etc to relieve body aches and sprains

One-liners:
Nostalgia was arthritis of the brain. (59)
Gold was tastefully placed at strategic parts of his body. (91)
Rachel doubted if Kerouac had stuck his thumb in the air with an American Express card in the back pocket of his jeans. (178)
"With surgery," Resnick told him, "you could probably have your brain moved back above your waist." (183)

Two-liner:
The children, from deprived backgrounds, were caught up in a maelstrom not of their own making. They have been abused and chosen because of their poverty. (175)

Who notices?
"Oh, and Charlie?" 
"Sir?" 
"Do you ever do anything - in the way of exercise?" 
Resnick looked at the superintendent a shade blankly. Weekend before last he'd lugged that Hoover all over the house, up and down stairs, rooms whose only function was to gather dust and the dried remains of dead birds. Was that the sort of thing Skelton meant? 
"No, sir," he said. "Not really." 
"Maybe you should." He looked appraisingly at Resnick's figure. "You're starting to look a little plump." (57-8)

The regular dreary visit:
Vera Barnett's head was angled towards her daughter in a look of petty triumph. 
"There's no winning with you, is there?" Mary was unable to keep silent. 
"What's that supposed to mean?" 
"If we don't come to see you, that's wrong, and if we do, that's wrong too." 
"I don't sit here to be ignored." 
"Nobody's ignoring you." 
"That's not what it looks like." 
"You can't expect to be made a fuss of all the time." 
"Fuss! A civil word would be something. A kiss from my own grandchildren." 
"Mother, they kissed you when they got here. You know very well." 
"A peck.""Oh, now you're being ridiculous!" 
"Ridiculous, am I? Well, at least I know how to behave." 
Mary couldn't believe it. She was starting this all over again. (80-1)

Not his type:
She closed the door by leaning back against it, holding the pose for just long enough for Resnick to do what he was supposed to be doing and register how good she looked. 
"Take a seat." 
What he wasn't supposed to be doing was wondering why he had never found her attractive. He didn't think it was because they were adversaries, not that at all. He wasn't fazed by strong professional women. No, more a question of image – the one Suzanne Olds was forever presenting. Not because there was anything wrong about it, but because he could never, convincingly, find her inside it. (109)


Miriam Toews. Women Talking. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2018.
Fave author! Not quite like any of her previous novels; the background is the Mennonite life she so often draws upon, but the construction is different. It takes time to sort and familiarize oneself with the victimized women (and their voices) of this South American Mennonite colony, Molotschna. Females of all ages had been surreptitiously raped and brutalized by men who first rendered them unconscious — men of their own community. Those men have been named, accused, and jailed, but are about to be released on bail; they will soon return to the colony they violently disrupted. With the trusted teacher August recording their discussion, the women debate what they can or should do about it; illiteracy scarcely hampers them.

The women are past their initial shock and horror although who is to say what repercussions the youngest victims will have. Bishop Peters says they must forgive or else deny themselves a place in heaven; his personal deviousness is revealed through (parenthetical) comments by narrator August. As the women collectively work their way through the options and consequences of staying to face those men or leaving their home, even the central tenets of Mennonite faith are questioned. Pacifism and obedience are only some of the issues; defiant Salome, antagonistic Mariche, gentle Ona, are a few of the diverse main characters, with surprising interjections such as worldly slang and smoking. Finally they develop a "manifesto" of entitlement: to ensure their children's safety; "to be steadfast in our faith"; to be allowed to think for themselves. It's a brilliant polemic not without humour, these very human women of a strong community within, but apart from, the world. Another triumph from Toews.

One-liners:
Most of us, she said, absolve ourselves of responsibility for change by sentimentalizing our pasts. (11)
She was a reliable target because she slept alone in a room rather than with a husband, which she doesn't have. (28)
Nettie's unusual behaviour—giving herself a boy's name and speaking only to children—is an understandable response to the prolonged and especially horrific attack she endured. (93)
(I am struck by a thought: Perhaps it is the first time the women of Molotschna have interpreted the word of God for themselves.) (159)

Two-liners:
(I'll mention here that Mariche, in broken English, also told Ona to "fuck it off." So much of what exists in the outside world is kept out of Molotschna, but curses, like pain, always find a way in.) (106)
Nietje whispers: It's "fuck off," I think. The others nod in agreement. (106)

Thoughtful woman:
Ona speaks: If it has been decided by the elders and the bishop of Molotschna that we women don't require counselling following these attacks because we weren't conscious when they happened, then what are we obliged, or even able, to forgive? Something that didn't happen? Something that we are unable to understand? And what does that mean more broadly? If we don't know "the world," we won't be corrupted by it? If we don't know that we are imprisoned then we are free? (39)

Warrior woman:
Salome continues to shout: She will destroy any living thing that harms her child, she will tear it limb from limb, she will desecrate its body and she will bury it alive. She will challenge God on the spot to strike her dead if she has sinned by protecting her child from evil, and furthermore by destroying the evil that it may not harm another. She will lie, she will hunt, she will kill and she will dance on graves and burn forever in hell before she allows another man to satisfy his violent urges with the body of her three-year-old child. (94-5)

Commodities:

Salome interrupts. We're not members! she repeats. We are the women of Molotschna. The entire colony of Molotschna is built on the foundation of patriarchy (translator's note: Salome didn't use the word "patriarchy"—I inserted it in the place of Salome's curse, of mysterious origin, loosely translated at "talking through the flowers"), where the women live out their days as mute, submissive and obedient servants. Animals. Fourteen-year-old boys are expected to give us orders, to determine our fates, to vote on our excommunications, to speak at the burials of our own babies while we remain silent, to interpret the Bible for us, to lead us in worship, to punish us! We are not members, Mariche, we are commodities. (120-1)

04 November 2018

Lost & Found: a Letter

As Remembrance Day approaches, a letter one hundred years ago to a pilot who spent months in Germany's Holzminden POW camp:


30 October 2018

Library Limelights 174

~~ hmmm, no idea why the images are wonky ~~
~~ And I see previous images have disappeared.
BLOGGER, what are you doing?? ~~


J.T. Ellison. Tear Me Apart. Toronto: MIRA Books, 2018.
No, it's not a psycho-horror binge. This is a brilliantly plotted mystery that Colorado FBI agent Juliet Ryder and a couple of Tennessee police detectives want to solve. Mindy Wright is an Olympic-calibre teenaged skier popular with sports fans; sadly, she breaks a leg, by chance revealing she has acute leukemia. Neither of her doting parents, Lauren (sister of Juliet) and Jasper, are a match for stem cell procedure; in fact the DNA shows they are not Mindy's biological parents, to everyone's shock. Time is critical for finding a donor or her birth parents. Aunt Juliet uses all her skills and contacts in the hunt. Hovering throughout we get backdated glimpses of interactions between two young psychiatric patients. Mindy is mature beyond her seventeen years, often a delightful respite from the growing adult apprehensions.

Hidden secrets multiply when Mindy finds some old letters and Juliet finds her biological father. Zack Armstrong is an ex-military intelligence officer whose wife was murdered by persons unknown when their baby was stolen. Zack himself was promptly dismissed as a suspect. And he's the blood match they need although Lauren and Jasper react with complicated feelings. Sick as she is, Mindy welcomes the idea of a "bio-dad" with a dog called Kat. But Juliet is still uneasy, seeking the truth about an illegal adoption trail. Her family could either unite in support of Mindy or be torn apart by forces set in motion long ago. The usually short and snappy scenes/chapters shift from one character's location to another, from one revelation to another, expertly tightening the tension. I'm all for exploring earlier books by this author.

One-liners:
Nothing comes between Mindy and the mountain. (39)
"You've dreamed up all this because you aren't the center of attention, for once." (82)
Dying in increments is a seriously lame way to go. (310)

Two-liners:
The advantage of a long marriage, the marital glance. Words unspoken but messages sent. (87-8)
Please, he prays to an invisible god. Please let me have more time with her. (293)

Mother reacts:
Lauren leaves the office angry. Angry at God, at Dr. Oliver—who doesn't deserve it, the man is a saint—angry at herself, for her incredible lack of discipline. Scratching open her arm like a common dog. She has to get herself together. (117)

Bio-dad reacts:
Tears run freely down his cheeks. He looks at all the photos twice in utter silence, then sniffs hard, wipes his face with his sleeve. The idea that this is his daughter, his Violet, is both wrong and somehow exactly right. She doesn't look how he's always imagined; now he can't imagine her any other way. He knows her; his body reaches out to hers. His soul recognizes his baby girl. (233)

Father's furious mood change:
"The man is morally corrupt, and I will not have him near my child." 
She is getting angry now. She wants to jump from the car, stamp her feet, scream and pull his hair, but she maintains her measured tone and grips the steering wheel harder. 
"He's saving your child's life, you idiot. Have you stopped to think about that? His blood is saving her, the same blood you claim is so tainted. I don't know what world you're living in, Jasper, but it's not reality. The stress has gotten to your brain." 
Juliet is so intent on Jasper she doesn't notice the cameraman who's snuck up and is filming the entire incident. (363)

Media seizing on scandal:
Online and on air, the sort of gleeful befuddlement that follows any great criminal unveiling is underway. Twitter and Facebook explode. Tips come pouring in. Sightings abound. Talking heads are pulled in. No one has any idea what they're talking about, but talk they do. (419)


April Smith. White Shotgun. 2011. USA: Pocket Black Lizard/Vintage Books, 2012.
Here's a strange landscape for travel fans: Siena, Italy, in the midst of their Palio festival, an enthusiastic annual return to mediaeval ways. FBI agent Ana Grey is the guest of her newly discovered half-sister Cecilia, wife of the wealthy coffee importer Nicoli Nicosa and a medical doctor in her own right. It's not all family reunion, of course; Ana is charged with investigating Nicosa's suspected mafia connection. As the city gears up for the festival pandemonium, Cecilia disappears. Her distraught husband thinks it is "merely" another kidnapping for ransom. Ana, joined by her security agent boyfriend Sterling, suspects more sinister motives.

The author has a deep grasp of Italian culture ‒ both good and bad ‒ making this thriller rich in context. Cecilia's son Giovanni is involved in the omnipresent bank of cocaine. The squalid scenes of drug addiction and hopeless lives in Calabria are chilling, too real not to be believed; comparison with the Nicosa lifestyle gives us a balance. Written in a snappy present tense from Ana's point of view, Smith's prose is both elegant and sparse, injected with some gentle humour. Ana and Sterling are genuine characters, begging for more novels. Altogether quite an amazing journey.

One-liners:
The heat comes at you in scorching puffs, like the fiery breath of seraphim, that eternal chorus of angels who do nothing but praise God. (29)
Like Sterling, I am a soldier for hire, part of whose job is to soldier on alone. (41)
All my life I have held myself apart from family bonds because I never believed family could mean anything but cold disappointment. (46)
If you graphed it, our little shopping trip would look like a killer hills workout on a treadmill. (76-7)
The goon barks obscenities and warns her not to speak. (173)

Two-liners:
The exhilaration of being plucked out of London for a whirlwind trip to Rome now seems hideously misplaced. It's just another assignment. (41)
You could stand here all day, absorbed in silence, watching the sun creep through the spikes of lavender. Open a door in Los Angeles, and all you get is noise. (59)
The boys, many under the age of eight, deliver drugs and act as lookouts. A literal underground crime network. (172)
"My father thinks everything is a race. Be first or die." (205)



Thomas King. The Inconvenient Indian. Penguin Random House Canada, 2013.
I was definitely overdue for reading this, a must-read for caring Canadians if not all North Americans. It was a cruise read, therefore my notes are minimal. But the effect is lasting. Since genealogists necessarily become historians at a certain level, I've been aware of the role of Indians (which they were called in the centuries of my study) in our landscape and in current news. Still, the extent of their displacement, denigration, distress, and dismissal is almost overwhelming to comprehend. King has done a magnificent job at pulling together a litany of battles and defeats, but goes way beyond. Chapters on Dead Indians, Live Indians, Legal Indians all record the arbitrary, patriarchal treatment handed out by government after government, both Canadian and American.

The bureaucratic legacy in Canada continues with waffling, the ignoring of reports, commissions, recommendations, and court decisions. Policy perhaps no longer aimed at segregation or assimilation, but still to our great shame. Yet King exhibits undefeated, ironic (survival?) humour at the lasting stereotypes and complicated messiness. Written before the "hard truths" of Talaga's Seven FallenFeathers, nevertheless this book is a masterpiece of "curious history."

One-liners:
Forget Columbus. [emphasis added] (3)
[re Hollywood depiction] What we watched on the screen over and over was the implicit and inevitable acquiescence of Native people to Christianity and Commerce. (14)
The demise of Indians was seen as a tenet of natural law, which favoured the strong and eliminated the weak. (60)
North America defends democracy as the cornerstone of social, religious, and political enlightenment because it is obliged to think well of itself and its institutions. (79)
While the Old Testament is filled with angry gods and bad business, and the New Testament is awash in gospels and epistles, there just aren't many good quotations that deal with confronting hate. (185-6)
The Freedmen saga reminds me of the old adage that democracy had to be more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. (164)
The issue has always been land. (217)

Two-Liners:
[re The Apology] The North American legal wiggle. Guilty but not liable. (123)
[re Oka confrontation] But rather than do something creative or at least intelligent, local, provincial, and federal politicians stood around and pointed fingers at each other. And did nothing. (235)

The movies:
Indians were made for film. Indians were exotic and erotic. All those feathers, all that facepaint, the breastplates, the bone chokers, the skimpy loincloths, not to mention the bows and arrows and spears, the war cries, the galloping horses, the stern stares, and the threatening grunts. We hunted buffalo, fought the cavalry, circled wagon trains, fought the cavalry, captured White women, fought the cavalry, scalped homesteaders, fought the cavalry. And don't forget the drums and wild dances where we got all sweaty and lathered up before we rode off to fight the cavalry.



19 October 2018

Library Limelights 173


B.A. Paris. Bring Me Back. USA: St. Martin's Press, 2018.
Good reason for this bestseller .. it's a riveting suspense thriller that could be subtitled How to Drive a Man Mad. After a heated argument, Finn McQuaid's girlfriend Layla disappears from a highway rest stop in France. Twelve years later we don't know what really happened that night, but Finn is happily about to marry her sister Ellen. They are living in a small Cotswold village, often visited by his old friend Harry. Finn's occasionally violent temper seems well put to rest. The creepiness begins when small Russian matryoshka dolls appear in Finn's life and he is electronically contacted by the presumed-dead Layla. Finn keeps it all secret, not wanting to upset Ellen; gradually he becomes conscious that he wants it to be Layla, his great love.

Throw in Tony, a police inspector who became a friend after the long-ago event, and Ruby, local pub owner and past casual affair of Finn's, and it's a small cast. Oh, and let's include the reclusive couple across the street. Finn is being forced to choose between his two loves if indeed "Layla" is not a macabre prank someone is elaborately playing; his suspicions run wild. Layla refuses to meet with him in person until he proves he still loves her by getting rid of Ellen. The author makes seamless transitions between Now and Then, unfolding their history. If ever there was a non-stop page-turner, this is it.

One-liners:
Your naivety both appalled and charmed me. (19)
"I'll try not to be too long," I promise, eyeing the Russian dolls balefully, wondering how it's possible for them to emasculate me just by being there. (96)
Twelve years of dust has obliterated all color from the room and the pervading air of neglect and abandonment shocks me to the core. (102)
I remember Harry saying, all those years ago, that Layla had bewitched me. (175)

Two-liners:
I feel torn between my desire for Layla and my desire to protect Ellen. Now, more than ever, I need to tell Tony. (195)
"Get out. If you ever come near us again, I'll call the police." (244)

Mistrust:
"That's enough, Ruby," I hiss, leaning in close to her. 
She looks at me in alarm. "What do you mean?" 
I reach out and grab her wrist. "Enough of the games. You've had your fun, now that's enough." 
"What are you talking about?" 
"Trying to split up me and Ellen." 
"Look, Finn, I'm genuinely happy for you and Ellen. I wasn't being funny or anything." She tries to draw away but I hold her wrist even tighter, aware of my other hand clenching around the Russian doll. A woman pauses in her conversation and looks over at us. I take a breath, steadying myself. (67)

Temptation:
It would be so easy, a voice whispers. All you have to do is move one hand to the back of her head and press it into your chest so that her nose and mouth are covered, and slowly tighten your other arm around her. At one point, when she realizes she can't breathe, she'll struggle. But not for long; your height and weight will ensure that it's over quickly. Then, when the police ask, you'll lie to them as you lied to them before and tell them that she suddenly collapsed, that she must have had a heart attack. (186)

Ultimatum on the table:
She comes back to tell me that nobody knows where he is or when he'll be back, just that he walked uncharacteristically out of the office two days ago. I ask her if he checks in from time to time and she says he has once, so far. She promises to tell him that I need to speak to him next time he phones. I hang up, uneasiness spreading through me. First Ruby, then Ellen, now Harry. All three of them have gone somewhere, yet no one knows where. Is there some kind of conspiracy going on? Has all this been about Harry and Ellen, as I'd once thought? But where does Ruby fit in? Or maybe she doesn't, maybe Ruby is simply away on holiday somewhere. The only two things I know for sure is that I'm on my own and that time is marching on. (239)




Beverley McLachlin. Full Disclosure. Canada: Simon & Schuster, 2018.
Former Chief Justice of Canada's Supreme Court slipped smoothly into a new career with a first-rate legal mystery. Defence lawyer (and narrator) Jilly Truitt agrees to represent Vincent Trussardi, accused of the brutal murder of his wife Laura. Jilly's office partner Jeff and her longtime lover Mike are among the skeptics advising stay away from it. Assembling a convincing defence looks almost hopeless, the circumstantial evidence is so strong. And Trussardi, claiming innocence, offers little to assist any reasonable doubt for his trial. But Jilly is ambitious and stubborn; an insecure childhood of foster homes drives her to prove herself and her small, upwardly mobile legal firm.
For a debut novel, McLachlin reveals a fine hand in character study and courtroom technicalities. In the plot, not quite so much. Experienced readers will spot clues to coming surprises. Then again, some surprises seem a bit overblown for belief. Would the prosecutor, Cy Kenge in this case, not have pursued a certain DNA result? Reference to a true-life Canadian murder case struck me as a bit over the top. I never came to grips with Trussardi's character; he is described by others but his own words are veiled; his acerbic sister is much more three-dimensional. Nonetheless, hungry readers will want more of Jilly.

One-liners:
We're both damaged goods, but we've both come through, if not intact, at least without diagnosed afflictions. (43)
"For all his hollow core, he's capable of considerable rage, my brother." (97)
I try to imagine my social worker―the soul of middle-class morality―in bed with a man. (85)
Every visit, Edith finds a way to tell me it's time to have the tattoo removed. (85)

Two-liners:
Prisons run on the dignity game―we take it; you keep it if you can. Most people can't. (4)
You don't need to know me, I think. I'm your lawyer, not your confidante. (124)
"Some things just aren't fair, including the English language. French is better―some really important things get to be feminine." (156)

The Crown prosecutor:
Cy makes light of his limp, says it's made him strong, but the burden of his body shapes his life and colors his moods. Most think of him as acerbic, some view him as shifty, a few call him downright mean. Slippery Cy, they whisper in the corridors of justice, and walk the other way. 
Not me. It wasn't easy, learning to be a criminal lawyer. I bumbled, lost more often than I should have. I was on my way down, another dropout from the cloistered criminal bar. No one cared. Except Cy. After pummeling me in court, he would offer coffee and a postmortem. Between banal bits of legal gossip, he slipped in morsels of advice: Think through your case, know your defense, look the jurors in the eye, don't talk down to the judge. And, by the way, never let the bullshit get you down.

Cynical cross-examination:
"Lots of blondes come by the motel?" 
"Yeah, every day." 
"A lot of them look alike?" 
"I guess you could say so. You know, with peroxide hair and face-lifts and Botox, you don't know what you've got anymore when it comes to a woman." 
Jeff gives the witness a conspiratorial smile―I know what you mean―and then closes in for the kill. "All you know, then, is that one of the thousands of blond women wandering North Vancouver that day may have―and we're not even sure about that―spent two hours with Trevor Shore?" 
"Uh," Gates stammers. "I guess that about sums it up." 
"Thank you, Mr. Gates." Jeff sits down with an elegant furl of his gown. Across the aisle, Cy stares stonily ahead. (260)




Belinda Bauer. The Beautiful Dead. 2016. USA: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2017.
Eve Springer is a feisty, hardworking, on-camera TV journalist under continual pressure to perform, and that depends on being on the spot as fast as possible after a crime occurs. What no one knows is the domestic stress and sacrifice she returns to after a long day's work ― caring for her father Duncan who is well along the path of dementia. Then a serial killer targets her to be his assistant; as an assistant who can properly publicize his exhibits of dead bodies. Eve is repelled but has to question her moral judgment as the murders increase and rival networks threaten her livelihood. Even so, many likeable characters warmly fill these pages.

When Duncan becomes a hostage, Eve has no choice. Her totally callous boss is ecstatic at their exclusive; Joe, her cameraman and best friend, is skeptical. Police inspector Huw Rees and his team are finally able to ID the maniac who considers himself an artist. Mounting twists and turns at a rapid pace lead up to a virtual cliffhanger. For Eve's safety, Rees provides "close protection," i.e. a bodyguard, a great addition to the story. Bauer knows how to keep the reader glued to the action, gentle humour notwithstanding, no disappointment here.

One-liners:
Apparently, men grew wiser with every grey hair, while women just grew invisible. (31)
Sometimes she ate beans and fish fingers right out of the frying pan and felt like a cross between a cowpoke and a caveman. (171)
He reckoned art was just a trick played on people with more money than sense. (267)
For the first time in her life, Eve realized that nobody was going to ride into town on a white horse and end this nightmare. (273)
But if she were saved, her father would die. (314)

Two-liners:
It had become their family motto.
Just keep going. (23)
"Don't sneak up on me!" Eve yelled. "What's wrong with you?" (194)

Receiving the press:
The middle-aged man who opened the door was short, round, and wearing a red onesie that made him look like Yosemite Sam. 
"Mr Barr?" 
"Yes." 
"We're terribly sorry to intrude—" 
Without warning, the man threw a bucket of water over them. 
"Fucking vultures!" he said, then slammed the door. 
"Shit!" hissed Joe. He turned away and frantically checked his camera, while Eve stood, open-mouthed, looking at the front of her soaked coat, feeling the icy water run between the buttons, under her breasts and down her stomach. 
"Camera's screwed," said Joe. He looked at Eve. "You OK?" 
She nodded slowly. Then she muttered, "Bastard!" and reached for the bell again. 
Joe's hand stopped hers. "Leave it, Eve." 
"Fuck that!" She shook him off angrily and punched the bell with her forefinger. (63-4)

Deathly delusion:
Picasso and Da Vinci and Rembrandt had daubed a crude approximation of life. 
They were mere painters: he was an artist 
Only he had ever dared to mould life into death ‒ and back ‒ in a transformation that was so fundamental that the world could not yet appreciate his genius. 
No wonder he was misunderstood! The law sought to protect its own petty boundaries. It took a visionary ‒ a seer ‒ to discover new worlds, to open eyes to extreme possibilities. Where he led, others would follow. All a master needed was disciples to spread his word. 
And Eve Singer was his disciple. (189)

Dementia:
Eve helped Duncan upstairs and back into bed, and then sat slumped on the end of her own bed, with her hands twisted in her lap like a hopeless madwoman in an old painting. 
Her father was still in there. 
Somewhere. 
For a moment he'd been back with her, perfectly normal and gentle and present. Then he had disappeared again ‒ dragged back into himself by some demon that had incubated in his brain, and now had the run of the place. 
And the worst thing about was ‒ he had known! 
Eve had always imagined Duncan existed in blissful ignorance of his own condition. But for a few horrific, nightmarish moments, he'd known exactly who he was, and what was happening to him ... And yet had been no more able to hold on to reality than a feather on the wind could chart its own course through the skies. (203)

Temper, temper:
Eve hurled her mug across the living room. It exploded above the fireplace, leaving a Rorschach of dregs on the wallpaper. 
"He's been watching me!" she shouted furiously. "He's been in my house! There was a fucking Yankee candle in my hall!" 
In the wake of her outburst there was a sudden, crunching silence. Activity in the house stopped, and the three men exchanged nervous glances, as if they all secretly knew that a woman was made of sugar and spice and all things nitroglycerine. (212-3)


08 October 2018

Library Limelights 172


Jussi Adler-Olsen. The Washington Decree. 2006, 2009. USA: Random House Large Print, 2018.
Does it take a Dane to effectively expose government inconsistencies and vulnerabilities in America? Note: this book was written well before the current US president was elected. Fictional new President Jansen takes office despite recent personal tragedies – two of them – in his life; his goal is to make America safe again. Loyal campaign worker, Doggie (Dorothy) Rogers, earns a White House job along with Wesley Barefoot who becomes the Press Secretary. But chaos starts with resignations and assassinations; Doggie's father is arrested and convicted of killing the president's wife, to wait on death row. The Washington Decree refers to broad presidential executive powers that supercede Congress and the Judiciary. In an appendix Adler-Olsen lists them as they currently exist along with the dire implications of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) legislation.

A state of emergency and fear become the norm for White House staff and the country in general as Jansen rams his reforms through, believing in long-term good, yet oblivious to the immediate social disintegration. All prisoners in federal institutions are released to rehabilitate drug addicts (go figure). Road blocks disrupt transportation and food supplies. The press have been fully muzzled. Militia groups are attacking the military. The evil behind the president becomes evident to any reader; later on, an overly-long exposition is puzzlingly redundant. Adler-Olsen's agenda is clear but his plot structure is not. Timeline is vital to the story but is too often confusing. Most characters are two-dimensional. The wheels are falling off the tale by the time the British delegation is introduced. This is the author who writes the (much more "together") Department Q thrillers. The Washington Decree is an ambitious, earnest attempt at a serious cautionary dystopian threat but some elements defy the required credibility.

One-liners:
This was business and politics in a nutshell, and Doggie's father cracked these kinds of nuts with his bare hands. (33)
"Did you know that everything you say in this building is recorded on tape?" (153)
In the course of twenty-four hours Congress was effectively emasculated, and emergency executive powers and presidential decrees became the order of the day. (207-8)
The procedure followed to the letter a series of presidential decrees that FEMA had worked up years ago but that no one had ever believed would be put into practice on such a scale. (255)
The air was crackling with tension like the moment before the cyanide pellet falls into the bowl of acid. (258)
He'd earned himself a bachelor of arts in bullshit, an MA in indiscretion. (388)
"If he could lie about a little detail like that, what couldn't he lie about?" (544)

Wesley's job:
He had no particular expenses, was one of the most desirable bachelors in town, had a private chauffeur at his bidding, and so far the press adored the White House's new, young spokesman. He loved all of it. He led a truly privileged life—almost the life he'd dreamed of.
Almost.
Because, if he put his ear to the ground, something didn't sound right. There was a serpent hissing somewhere in paradise. A disquieting atmosphere was spreading, growing day by day from behind closed doors in the White House. (68-9)

Presidential vision:
"So this is about control?"
"If we seriously want to change things—yes!"
Lerner nodded as though he'd heard it all before. "The law-and-order proposal states that it can become necessary to override democratic principles. Are you willing to do this, Mr. President?"
"If necessary."
"Censor the media?"
"Yes."
"Forbid people to bear arms?"
"No. That goes against the Second Amendment," came Jansen's measured reply.
"But forbid them to buy ammunition, am I right?"
"Yes. The Second Amendment doesn't forbid that."
"And you'd go against the courts and grant amnesty to thousands of convicted criminals?"
"Yes, that, too. We must give the out-of-prison resocialization program very high priority." (155)

Between a rock and ...
She looked at the floor. "What are you going to use my ID for? You'll never get into the White House with it, if that's what you think."
"Names and pictures can be changed if necessary. And it may become necessary, so shut up. Or maybe we'll send you in."
Then the cell phone rang and the man took it out of his pocket.
Doggie froze. "Don't answer it," she whispered. "Right now they know approximately where we are, but not exactly. You'll be helping them trap us. Turn it off! Now!" (641-2)


Belinda Bauer. Finders Keepers. 2012. USA: Grove Press, 2017.
Reynolds and Rice are the cops who have to deal with missing children in a small English town. Shipcott is scared; motive and suspects are incomprehensible; parents band together for support. Policeman Jonas Holly is still recovering from a breakdown over his wife's murder but is sent back to work. Sensitive teenager Steven dislikes Holly from prior encounters but the two end up living the ultimate nightmare together. The narration covers several perspectives, all well developed from youngsters to sorrowing adults and the inner workings of detective personalities.

Then ... halfway through, the criminal is revealed and we are almost in an alternate world. Revenge motivated the first kidnapping, leading to madness and utter cruelty. No traces of the missing Jess, Charlie, Maisie, Kylie, then Steven. Will they be located, dead or alive? Will the police find the clues they need? Will Holly redeem himself in suspicious eyes? Suspense builds unbearably. Bauer has a perfect touch on everything — plot, characters, and expression. As psychological thrillers go, it's a true winner. Loving the pub name, "Rest And Be Thankful"!

One-liners:
Inside, the house was furnished with a surfeit of money and a dearth of taste. (20)
Marvel had lived by his instincts, his hunches, his gut ‒ and Reynolds had despised him with a passion worthy of opera. (97-8)
Ken hoped it wasn't someone who would report him for leaving the children alone while he took a piss. (160)
They hated him, but he was all they had ‒ and they feared his absence even more than they feared his presence. (313)

Two-liners:
The voice was Mr Holly's, but not. It was flat and harsh and inky black, and Steven felt a change in the warm night air as if somewhere God had left a door open and the cold had rushed in. (196)
Jonas stood up, then winced as something tugged him back down. He put his hand to his throat and felt the collar. (284)

Depression:
He'd become so used to silence since Lucy had died that he'd forgotten how stressful noise could be. How stressful talking and people could be. The thought that he'd once talked to people every day seemed impossible to him now. And the idea that he would have to get used to it again was sobering.
He wasn't sure he could.
Jonas expelled a long, shuddering breath that he felt he might have drawn in hours ago when Charlie Peach first went missing. Everything after that point was hazy to him ‒ a fairground blur of panic and shouting and movement and guilt. (119)

Media pouncing:
Three children gone in the space of a fortnight.
The Sun called him the Pied Piper, this man who was spiriting the children of Exmoor away, right under the noses of their guardians, and the other tabloids fell on the name with glee. Even the broadsheets picked up on it, although they sniffily referred to it as "the case some are calling the Pied Piper," which meant they could use the name while somehow maintaining a dignified distance from it.
Either way, Reynolds found in unhelpful. The name conjured up a damning image of the police stupidly failing to spot an endless crocodile of children being danced away across the moor by a man in a jester's outfit playing a tin whistle. (121)

Old-school misogyny:
Reynolds had always felt he had a great kinship with women. Men were threatened by his brains and often responded with hostility. DCI Marvel had been a case in point. But women were generally far happier to let him do the thinking for them, while he encouraged them to shine in supporting roles.
"There's no I in team," he was fond of telling them. It went down terribly well.
Most of the time. (253)

Parental attitude change:
Part of him ‒ the ever-decreasing part that was in denial ‒ was still hoping that Jess's disappearance was a petulant teenaged prank. Even the thought of Jess running off with a much older boyfriend was preferable to the idea that she'd been abducted.
Since she'd started to get breasts a year earlier, John Took had lain awake on many a night worrying about the kind of boys who might lust after his daughter. Boys who were too old, boys with tattoos and nose-rings, boys without jobs, boys who were only after one thing.

Now, awake through the night again, he was astonished to find that he actually hoped she was off in some grubby B&B being ravished by an old lech or a pierced punk ‒ if only it meant she was not being raped and murdered. Or was already lying dead in a field somewhere, waiting to be found by some random dog-walker. (310)


├ůsa Larsson. Until Thy Wrath Be Past. 2008. USA: SilverOak/Sterling Publishing, 2011.
Going to Kiruna in Sweden again is like visiting comfortable old friends. Prosecutor Rebecka Martinsson has settled well into her job and is loving her deceased grandmother's community. She becomes deeply involved when two young people are lost in a dive search for a missing Second World War airplane. But no one knows where they went or why, except the reader. Only one body turns up, in the wrong place. Anna-Maria Mella is again the lead detective, torn by the alienation of her partner, Stalnacke. Pervading the atmosphere is the hostility of the Krekula family, prominent in the trucker business for decades. Here is an instance where (always in italics) a ghostly voice ‒ a device that I generally dislike ‒ is especially effective, adding an impressive lyrical quality.

Gradually we come to know various personalities ‒ suspects and police alike. One of them is a very angry man who has terrorized his gifted older son and spoiled the younger one who now runs the family business. Rebecka is ambivalent about her long-distance romance, hardly aware yet that a local man provides her with a more copacetic companionship. Some of these northern Nordics have the second sight, and it plays well into the plot. For sure I am following the further adventures of Kiruna district's law and order forces.

One-liners:
Do I always need to cry in order to be consoled? she said to herself. (69)
He looked a right mess at my funeral. (147)

Two-liners:
"But she was my best friend. An eighty-year-old and a teenager." (42)
"I don't usually allow strangers in my house," she said. "You never know." (60)
Spare me from ending up in a dayroom with worn-out, incontinent old folk. Spare me from needing to have my ass wiped, from sitting parked in front of a television surrounded by staff with shrill voices and bad backs. (166)
He will search through the Bible in his cottage and see if he can find that line. "My heart within me is desolate." (193)

The cottage of Rebecka's grandmother is home:
I need all this, she thought. I am so many difficult people. The little three-year-old, starved of love; the ice-cold lawyer; the lone wolf; and the person who longs to do crazy things again, who longs to escape into the craziness. It is good to feel small beneath the sparkling northern lights, small beside the mighty river. Nature is so close to us up here. My troubles and difficulties just shrivel up. I like being insignificant.
I like living up here with lining paper on the shelves and spiders in the corners, and a broom to sweep the floor with, she thought. I do not want to be a guest and a stranger. Never again. (17)

Regrets:
His eyes filled with tears.
"I never should have said anything to her. I just wanted to make myself interesting. I wanted her to think it was fun to talk to me. It's no fun, damn it all, being on my own all the time. It's all my fault."
Once outside again, Martinsson took a deep breath.
As Strindberg said, she thought, you have to feel sorry for people. I don't want to die alone. (146)

Bully:
Kerrtu Krekula continues making pancakes with a grim expression on her face while Isak Krekula lays down the law in the kitchen.
"I want you to be quite clear that I sent that schoolmaster of yours packing," he bellows at Hjalmar Krekula. "I'll be damned if a son of mine is going to become a fucking walking calculator, and I made sure he understood that. Math, eh? Who the fuck do you think you are? Too snooty to work in the trucking business, is that it? Not good enough for your lordship? I'll have you know that it's the hauling business that has put food on your table for your entire life."
He gasps for breath, as if his fury is well on the way to choking him, as if it were a pillow over his mouth. (175-6)

Close to nature:
Why should one have to worry about things that happened in the past? When his father held his head under the icy water. That was fifty years ago. He never thinks about it; why would he start now?
His eyes close. The snow sighs in the forest, made weary by the coming of spring. The sun is roasting hot. Hjalmar dozes off in the warmth of the shelter.
He is woken up by a presence. Opens his eyes and at first sees only a shadow blocking out the sun. Shaggy and black.
Like a shot he is wide awake. A bear. (192)