12 January 2019

Library Limelights 182


Belinda Bauer. Snap. UK & US: Bantam Press, Grove Atlantic, 2018.
Bauer does it again. A slow intro builds to waves of tension as police in England's West Country seek a serial burglar. I didn't much like any of the characters at first, so what a surprise how they developed. We have Jack's story, the desperate young man bereft of parents, furtively finding means to provide food for his sisters. Three years after the unsolved murder of their mother, the little trio has slipped appallingly between the cracks ... "nobody cares" in every nightmare Jack suffers. Family disintegration has rarely been so poignantly depicted. We have Catherine's story, she's pregnant and frightened by a mystery caller. Then we have the competing policemen, Marvel and Reynolds, complete opposites in principle and manner.

When Jack eventually meets up with these two, an element of Keystone Kops enters. Marvel, out of place in sheep country, sets a trap for the burglar known as Goldilocks (a criminal type beneath his expertise as a former Metro detective) that Reynolds bungles. It takes a long time for Reynolds to redeem himself. The old murder case surfaces as several players are troubled by a specific, custom-made knife. Catherine's loyalty to her devoted partner Adam is severely tested. Tricky and inventive coincidences abound, blending chills and humour. The best crime novels capture the reader with conflicting emotions, and it's all here, a cut way above your average psychological thriller. Go find Bauer!

One-liners:
Once she'd told Catherine that she'd left her own husband because he moved his lips while reading. (30)
And before his brain even processed why or how, Jack's gut told him to run. (119)
Tears boiled over in Catherine's eyes as her panicky mind darted from one dreadful conclusion to another. (162)
Nothing made his heart pound like a precipice sidestepped, a bullet dodged, or the end of an affair. (230)

Two-liners:
Marvel wasn't in favour of women on the force. He'd only ever seen one good one in action, and was pretty sure she was a lesbian. (85)
She'd never seen Adam so angry. Never seen anyone so angry. (162)
It wasn't really London; it was Bromley. But it was close enough to London to make Marvel start dropping his aitches. (275)

The capture house:
They were in the empty front room of a small house on a north Tiverton estate ‒ not unlike the one Marvel himself was renting.They all leaned over the map. There were dozens of red dots marked on the map in felt tip. 
"Each of these dots is a Goldilocks crime scene," said Marvel. "Most are around this area. So this is where we're setting the trap." 
"What trap?" said Parrot. 
Marvel swept an arm around the room like an estate agent. "Welcome to the capture house." 
"What's that?" said Rice. 
Marvel grinned a rare grin. "This is the house where we're going to catch Goldilocks." 
"How?" said Parrot. 
Marvel paused for dramatic effect. "By giving him everything he wants!" 
His team looked at him blankly. (84)

A bit of a prig:
He did ponder showing his mother the photo of Rice with her arm around his legs. She took his celibacy very personally, and it would get her off his back for a good long while if she thought he was actually living with somebody. With shift-work it would be simple for her not to meet his supposed girlfriend for months, and by the time she got insistent, he could easily have broken up with Rice. Reynolds was not a naturally deceitful person, but he was heartily sick of his mother getting all misty over babies on TV ads, and going on and on about his chunky cousin, Judith, who plopped them out like a sea turtle laying eggs. 
It wasn't that Reynolds didn't like women ‒ or want a woman ‒ just that he always thought that he could do better than any of the women he actually knew. (115-6)

Command performance:
Jack walked ten feet down the back garden to assess the guttering and the drains. There were always more at the back of a house, where the soil pipes ran. 
His burglar's eye quickly found the weak point ‒ a small window over the garden shed. He glanced about the patio and picked up a trowel that had been dug into a planter full of dead daisies. Then he put a patio chair next to the shed, scrambled quickly to the apex of the roof, and easily scaled a downpipe to reach the window. Once there, he worked the trowel into the wooden window frame until it cracked and popped open, then slid silently through the window and disappeared from view. 
The whole operation had taken less than two minutes. 
"Impressive," said Marvel. 
"Appalling," said Reynolds. (294-5)




Philip Kerr. The One From the Other. UK & USA: Penguin, 2006.
Kerr produced the outstanding Bernie Gunther thrillers from 1989 until his untimely death this year (2018). Set in 1949, this one sees private detective Bernie — former Berlin cop, reluctant SS pawn, staunch loather of Nazis — sucked unwittingly into a cunning plan for smuggling war criminals ("Red Jackets") out of Germany. Now based in Munich under American occupation (the Germans call them "Amis"), with a reputation for reliability and honesty, Bernie is put through the wringer while searching for one Red Jacket and being conned by others. Stranded in Vienna is when, in Bernie's words, he finally gets the "Byzantine conspiracy" in which he was cast as a major player. He even learns the criminals involving him had recently caused the death of his wife; scientific experimentation has not stopped.

Kerr immerses us in a world of breathless suspense where everyone's a master of duplicity. Bernie, chastened and wounded but still defiantly cynical, can trust no one and is alone in his own retaliatory quest. Kerr is an acknowledged literary master in depicting Germany's Second World War actions and consequences, as well as the military/political policies that swirled throughout. Historical figures appear herein. There are astonishing but totally credible descriptions of true behind-the-scenes meetings in Tel Aviv and Cairo. In 1949, Germany is unsettled with groups wanting revenge or power — Jewish hit squads, communist infiltrators, occupational forces, secret escape plotters. Each Bernie Gunther book can be read as stand-alone; the flashbacks vary from the 1930s to the 1949 denouement. Watch for Metropolis which Kerr finished just before he died. RIP.

One-liners:
When a man keeps his jacket buttoned on a hot day, it usually means one thing. (20)
They say that insanity is merely the ability to see into the future. (53)
The world might end one day but there will still be lawyers to process the documents. (55)
He looked like a Jewish tailor, which, I knew, was a description he'd have hated because the man was Adolph Eichmann. (325)
Father Stoiber, bearded and quite obviously bibulous, had a belly like a millstone. Father Seehofer was as burly as a kiln-dried barrel. (329)

Two- and multi-liners:
"Only Jews live here. If it was up to the Arabs, this whole country would be little better than a pissing place." (21)
Lawyers make me uncomfortable. Like the idea of catching syphilis. (241)
"Just like the old song says. Tomorrow belongs to me. Tomorrow belongs to me." (328)

Orders:
" ... Tell him to come and meet us there." 
"I don't know," I said. "I really don't want to get involved in any of this." 
"You're a German," he said. "You're involved whether you like it or not." 
"Yes, but you're the Nazi, not me." 
Eichmann looked shocked. "How can you be working for the SD and not be a Nazi?" he asked. 
"It's a funny old world," I said. "But don't tell anyone." (18)

Middle East secrets:
"We're in Cairo now. Cairo is not Jaffa. The British tread more carefully here. Haj Amin won't hesitate to kill all three of you if he thinks you might make a deal with us, so even if you don't like what he says, pretend you do. These people are crazy. Religious fanatics." 
"So are you, aren't you?" 
"No, we're just fanatics. There's a difference. We don't expect God to be pleased if we blow someone's head off. They do. That's what makes them crazy." (29)

Dining:
The maitre d' flicked his gaze on me for a second and asked if I would be dining that night. I said I hoped so and that was the end of it. Most of the jaundice in his eye was reserved for a large woman sitting on one of the other chairs. I say large but I really mean fat. That's what happens when you've been married for a while. You stop saying what you mean. That's the only reason people ever stay married. All successful marriages are based on some necessary hypocrisies. It's only the unsuccessful ones where people always tell the truth to each other. 
The woman sitting opposite me was fat. She was hungry, too. I could tell that because she kept eating things she brought out of her handbag when she thought the maitre d' wasn't looking: a biscuit, an apple, a piece of chocolate, another biscuit, a small sandwich. Food came forth from her handbag the way some women bring out a compact, a lipstick, and an eyeliner. Her skin was very pale and white and loose on the pink flesh underneath and looked like it had just been plucked clean of feathers. Big amber earrings hung off her skull like two toffees. In an emergency she'd probably have eaten them as well. (144-5)

Brewing strength:
Only a country like Germany could have produced a beer strong enough to make a monk risk the wrath of the Roman Catholic Church by nailing ninety-five theses to a church door in Wittenberg. That was what Father Bandolini told me, anyway. Which was just one reason why he preferred wine. 
"If you ask me, the whole Reformation can be blamed on strong beer," he opined. "Wine is a perfect Catholic drink. Beer just makes them argumentative. And look at the countries that drink a lot of beer. They're mainly Protestant. And the countries where they drink a lot of wine are Catholic." 
"What about the Russians?" I asked. "They drink vodka." 
"That's a drink to help you find oblivion," said Father Bandolini. "Nothing to do with God at all." (328-9)




Minka Kent. The Thinnest Air. USA: Thomas & Mercer, 2018.
Kent seems to be a romance novelist who transitioned to suspense. The suspense works, eventually, but the road there is littered with the love-life emotions of Greer and Meredith, two sisters. The story unfolds as narrated by each in turn. Meredith is married to older dream man Andrew in Utah; Greer is conflicted by her long-term personal and business relationships with Harris in New York. Suddenly Meredith disappears from a supermarket parking lot without her phone and purse. Greer hastens to Utah, beside herself with anxiety. Police detective Ronan McCormack has no evidence or leads to follow other than that the husband is normally suspect number one. The timeline goes back and forth between pre- and post-disappearance.

My reaction to all the relationship doubts and musings is eyeroll. Meredith, especially, often comes across as a bored and boring self-centred twit. Greer varies from worried misery to angry nag. Tensions among the key characters are well done; the author knows her construction, employing it well, and does keep us guessing. But I'd rather not wade through the repetitive banalities of waffling feelings to get there. It's conventional prose, entry level mystery, and amateur psychology but some will enjoy like it.

In their own heads ―

Greer:
He's never hugged me this way before, not even for show when Meredith was around. (20)
I've never seen any real emotion coming from this man other than his flagrant, sticky-sweet infatuation with my sister. (62)
I've never been more grateful for my immunity to pompous, Rolex-wearing douchebags with bleached smiles and fast cars. (76)
My mother always loved the juxtaposition of a harsh, masculine name on a gorgeous woman. (138)
He glares. "Stop being such a fucking bitch." (158)
They need headlines that sell. Stories that stir up emotions and garner web traffic and ad clicks. (209)

Meredith:
Andrew stops pacing, his hard stare fixed on me. "This can't happen again, Meredith." (28)
But I don't love him. I mean, I could, but I won't allow myself to. (129)
The number of times I thought of him while lying next to my husband is disgraceful. (140)
"You've never been a good judge of character, Meredith. Your relationships have always been superficial at best." (164)
And despite our differences, I trust Harris. I trust his brutal honesty because he has no skin in the game. (172)
If I know my sister, she'll stop at nothing to find me. (231)


05 January 2019

Library Limelights 181


Emily Bleeker. The Waiting Room. USA: Lake Union Publishing/Amazon, 2018.
Are they all barking mad? Veronica is only one of the clients who regularly visits psychologist Lisa Masters. Veronica is trying to recover from the trauma of losing her husband Nick and post-partum depression; she's unable to perform the natural tasks associated with mothering a baby. Like holding and feeding her child Sophie. And if you can believe this without a twinge of doubt, you will contentedly read on to the end. Not exactly contently, as the tale grows more bizarre. Veronica's mother Barb is living with her, caring for Sophie and hoping for her daughter's breakthrough. Then Sophie disappears. We know something is out of whack, but is it the new friends Veronica made in the counsellor's waiting room? Sorry, not working for me: the whole premise (as it turns out) is not anchored in any reality I know. Related from Veronica's point of view, it gets too outlandish; her conflicting self-flagellating thoughts and outbursts of rage are too repetitive. The Waiting Room tries just too hard, lacking the chills of a good suspense read.

One-liners:
There was so much pain in the world; she couldn't figure out why more people weren't weeping constantly. (11)
She didn't want to invite this strange, needy woman into her life any more than she'd already forced herself in. (47)
Barb kept her slow advance, creeping closer and closer to Veronica, her voice filled with the panicked sound of pleading. (98)
Her greatest regrets were found in the spaces between her choices, in the void of inaction that had slowly devoured her life. (137)
There was only the desire to bring Sophie home and to get away from the woman running after them. (183)

Two-liner:
"You deserve this hell you've built for yourself. Let's go." (236)

Diary excerpt:
"Sometimes I think it would've been better if she'd never been born. God, I wanted her so badly. I took those damned shots and I cried at each negative test, but once I got her—I failed her. If Nick were here, it'd be different. I know it would. Ma says time and therapy will help, but I don't think I even want it to. I deserve this. When her cries break through the sound machine and the ear plugs and the Tylenol PM, I know why she cannot be calmed. She wants her mama and daddy, but Daddy is gone and Mama wishes she were by his side. That poor baby. My poor baby, with no mama there to hold her." (116-7)

A new friend:
Gillian started and placed a hand on her chest before leaning over and popping the lock manually. "I'm so sorry, sweetie. Come in!" 
The endearment sounded so motherly, like Gillian had taken some parental interest in Veronica. She didn't want a mom right now. She used her mother, hurt her mother; she lost her mother, maybe even pushed her away so hard that she never came back. No, she didn't need a replacement mom. She didn't deserve one, and she'd probably ruin that relationship too. (122)




Michael Ignatieff. Charlie Johnson in the Flames. Toronto: Penguin, 2003.
Throwback to a crush of mine. Ignatieff writes of Charlie Johnson, an almost burned-out war correspondent in the Balkan conflicts, from the author's personal experience. Charlie has a searing ‒ literally ‒ face-to-face with an ugly war crime, that becomes indelible images that will not let him rest. It's PTSD of course. After being led astray on an assignment, Charlie and Jacek, his reliable cameraman, witnessed the despicable act against a helpless woman by a colonel in the entrenched forces. Charlie stopped being an observer and engaged. He's injured. The intimacy of death brings out Charlie's most impulsive feelings, in fact a turmoil of feelings new to him. Even though his bond with Jacek is rock solid, the only person he can articulate his feelings to is Etta, a manager at the news agency.

He can't return to uncomprehending wife Elizabeth and daughter Annie in England, he can't return to his real life, whatever that was. Jacek takes him to his home to recover from his wounds. Yet he reflects on whether he has a real life at all, seeing that Jacek has a haven away from military chaos. In the field, he and Jacek are an inseparable team, as if there was nothing else worth doing than covering the brutality of war. Each news story demands decisions to trust strangers or not. This time Charlie will make his own story. A quick read, so well-written, a compelling study that deeply lingers.

One-liners:
Fear of being thought ridiculous was a major reason why men did ridiculous things. (13)
Thinking about Annie filled him with a sense of weightlessness, as if he was coming untethered. (34)
"God," she said, "you have a gift for misery," suddenly angry that he should be squandering simple happiness. (35)
It was just that he needed asylum, and the peculiar feature of his home was that it had never offered asylum. (39)
That was what being a parent was all about, keeping control of the emotional weather. (85)

Two-liners:
He had taken the cowl off, as if to say: I am the one who makes the fire come. I am the one you will fear. (8)
If he stopped dreaming about her, Charlie said, he would betray her. If he continued to dream about her, his life would become impossible. (62)
Charlie looked at Etta, at her face in the car window frame, and he said, "Etta, I'm tired of being fucked over. Do you understand?" (140)

Etta came to him:
It was all very comforting and yet unsettling, since Charlie had taken a chance on her and they hadn't ever been like this, and they should have been exploring each other's every pore instead of lying side by side, presuming an intimacy that wasn't there at all. 
He'd just phoned her. Like that. It was one more thing he'd done that didn't make sense, but which seemed logical at the time. What made him go through with it was that she didn't sound surprised. She hadn't said Why me? Why there? Are you sure? She'd just said, I heard. Are you all right? And he had said, Why? Do I sound funny? You do, she said and he had admitted that he was not quite right. (15)

What to do?
"We do this thing together. You are good. I am good. Someone else will do it worse." 
"Why do it at all?" 
Neither said anything. They knew why they did it, but it seemed ridiculous to rehearse the reasons or to evaluate them now that everything had gone wrong and someone had died because of it. You either kept on or you stopped, and neither knew what they would do now. The honest truth was that it didn't depend on what they said or thought, but on how they would feel, much later, when the assignments were offered, when they watched a situation develop somewhere and felt that desire again, to be in the middle of it and working together. (54-5)

Embassy comes to jail:
It was rather impressive, Etta thought, how this small woman managed to embody a government and to initiate a formal demand for access to a detainee, according to such-and-such a convention guaranteeing consular access to all detainees in a signatory's power. She cracked the words out in the sergeant's language, but with an official cadence that, even if it was the mumbo-jumbo of sovereignty, carried a certain authority. They could make out that she was telling the sergeant the government was unhappy, the ambassador was unhappy, the country would be unhappy, the whole world would soon be unhappy. It was a good show, all round, especially coming from a tired, anxious woman impersonating the authority of Charlie's home and native land. (136)




April Smith. North of Montana. Large Print. USA: Beeler Large Print, 1995.
Here's the novel that introduced FBI Agent Ana Grey and I love this character! I'm partial to tough, fearless ladies. Luckily there are two others I haven't read in the series. Ana's successful bust of a bank robber means anticipation of promotion, but one more test awaits: she's expected to close a new case. Hollywood legend Jayne Mason is accusing her doctor of addicting her to drugs ‒ a serious charge against a seemingly upright medical professional. During Ana's chasing of witnesses around the Los Angeles area, venturing into Santa Monica north of Montana Street begins to crack open some of her own repressed childhood memories. Plus, someone insists Ana is related to a young El Salvadoran woman, recently murdered. But Ana's childhood revolved around "Poppy" Grey, her strong ex-cop grandfather; their rapport has been rock solid.

It's a whirlwind to follow Ana in these threads as she digs deep to prove herself but coping with resurging memories. At the same time she fights against her feelings for her partner Donnato, an unhappily married man. Her case is full of invulnerable liars and deceit and seems to be a dead end, then it suddenly goes so wrong. At one point I yelled out loud, Oh no! and that was a first for me―could not stop reading this alternately funny and poignant tale into the midnight hours. Smith comes up with original stories and great characters. Must mention, this large print edition was unsatisfactory with missing punctuation and occasional spelling garbles, definitely a flawed production.

One-liners:
I may be a hotshot federal agent who carries a gun and a pair of handcuffs (they're light, you can throw them in the bottom of your purse trash) but my self-worth is still measured by my grandfather's rules. (73)
One of the skills you learn at the academy is how to memorize an address off a card, upside down. (190)
She looks like she means business, in a Palm Springs sort of way. (210)
Is he deliberately undercutting me today, not thanking me for my effort, not acknowledging my accomplishments, or have these subtle put-downs and manipulations been going on for years? (258)
Then, suddenly, I am overwhelmed by an inconsolable heartbreak, as if that underground source of my own grief had split rock and geysered a thousand feet into the air. (290-1)

Two-liners:
"They blew off her hands," he instructs. "As punishment for taking what didn't belong to her." (34)
I don't understand these overpowering, nameless sensations. I can't seem to get control of my voice. (50)
The sofa is hard as a rock. It must be stuffed with horsehair or some other perverse material. (281)

Ex-urbia:
Slowing down off the freeway, suddenly quiet enough to hear your very tires chewing over feathers of sand blown across the off-ramp, as the setting sun shoots every tiny needle of every single cactus with scarlet backlight, it hits. Desert Clarity. The absence of motion, pressure, traffic, and people. A mysterious monochromatic landscape speckled with life. Your body settles down. The air feels spiritual―that is, filled with spirits that a tacky little town can't restrain. Rolling down the gamy main street of Desert Hot Springs you want to shout just to hear how your voice would sound as a loose uninhibited coyote wail instead of the tight pissed-off squeak with which you usually address your fellow man. (71)

Her Boston contact:
Lester is an old warhorse who's been around since Hoover, which is why they assigned him to this case. He's through chasing gangsters. A background check on a Harvard doctor is just his speed. On an assignment like that you can stay loaded all afternoon. I realize when he's on to a second vodka martini before we have seen menus that the reason he likes this place is not the authentic pressed tin ceiling but that it is far enough from Government Center so no agents are likely to come here and he can self-destruct in peace. (133)

Reality check:
But still Donnato does not start the car. 
"I'm concerned that you're over the edge emotionally. It comes from being hypervigilant and eating soup at midnight and not having a life. If it's too much, be a grown-up and get help. That's what Harvey McGinnis is there for," he says, referring to the shrink the Bureau keeps on retainer for agents who have gone around the bend. 
"Harvey McGinnis wears a skirt," I retort. He does, he puts on a kilt for Christmas and for funerals when he gets to play the bagpipes. 
"I care about you and you are being a wise ass." His cheeks are flushed, he is furious. "If you wig out again, I will have to notify Duane Carter that you should be evaluated as to your ability to carry a weapon." (233)

29 December 2018

Library Limelights 180


Stuart Kaminsky. Denial. USA: Forge/Tom Dohert Associates, LLC, 2005.
Here's Lew Fonesca again, in one of the late Kaminsky's prolific series. Even though he reestablished himself in Sarasota after the death of his wife in a hit-and-run, Lew is all about Catherine. Depressed and largely aimless, his only distraction is acting as a process server. But he is trusted for his willingness to find people; his buddy Ames is there to assist. Dorothy wants him to find out who was murdered in her assisted-living complex ‒ and the killer, of course ‒ a story widely believed to be a figment of Dorothy's imagination. Nancy wants him to find the hit-and-run driver (shades of Catherine) who killed her teenage son Kyle. Lew's cop friend Ed is skeptical but doesn't forbid him to investigate.

Nothing much happens apart from Lew's habitual bad dreams and consumption of Dairy Queen Blizzards, until someone tries to kill him. A strange someone who phones him often to warn him off, half-apologetically. Seeking witnesses in both cases, Lew and Ames meet their share of characters, including the elderly woman who has a hungry alligator friend hiding behind the assisted-living home. Social worker friend Sally talks Lew into Big Brother-ing underprivileged Darrell whose initial reluctance turns into zeal at the prospect of internet action and guns. For a man who never smiles, Lew brings satisfaction with a deadpan delivery.

One-liners:
I didn't want to invest in someone else who might be taken from me by age or accident or intent. (6)
He was wearing a dark rumpled sports jacket with a tie the color of Moby Dick. (41)
"If death wants me, I'm easy to find." (109)

Two-liners:
I guarded my grief. I had paid a high price for it. (6)
"Willpower," I said. "Man owns a bar and can't drink." (30)
"I've thought of starting a church, the First Presbyterian Church of the Tupperware. Sell religious and plastic containers that you put things in and pop the top." (95)

The other cop:
"Ed told me about you," he said, taking a step toward me. "I am politely asking you to not interfere with my ongoing investigation." 
"But―" 
"Now I'm firmly asking you," he said, coming even closer. 
"If―" 
"Now I'm telling you," he said, almost in my face. 
I smelled onions and jalapeno. 
"Tell Ms Root I'm working on it. Tell Dr McClory I'm working on it. And tell yourself not to obstruct justice. Fonesca, I'm a tired man and I think I've got some kind of gastric problem. I've got an appointment with my doctor in the morning. This job can give a person a very bad stomach. Don't make it worse. Now, if you want a kosher dog, I'll pop for it, but you carry it away and don't look back." (45-6)

Go get 'em:
Now I was juggling three hit-and-run scenarios, Catherine's, Kyle McClory's, mine. 
My hands stopped trembling. They hadn't been trembling with fear. They had been trembling because the person who had tried to kill me had opened the curtain, letting in memory. 
Since my wife had died, among the things I had lost were fear and a willingness to experience joy. (67-8)

Assisted-living comedian:
The man looked at the three of us, blinked and said, "Is there a carnival in town?" 
"John," the little nurse admonished, taking back the plastic cup. 
"Well, I mean it," John said. "Look at them. I worked a carnival summers when I was a kid. We had a couple of Negro midgets." 
"I ain't no midget," said Darrell. 
"You ain't?" John said, looking astonished. "You fooled me. This other fella, though," he went on, pointing a bony arthritic finger at Ames, "definitely runs a shooting gallery." 
"John," the nurse warned wearily. 
"He's carrying a gun right under that yellow raincoat," John said. 
"John likes his little jokes," said the nurse, who looked beyond tired. 
"I like a good bowel movement too from time to time," he said. "I don't ask much." (198-9)



N
Nadia Murad. The Last Girl. USA: Tim Duggan Books/Crown Publishing Group, 2017.
Witness to the atrocities of Daesh (ISIS), Nadia is of course the recipient of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for her now-activist work against terrorism and "sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict." The subtitle of the book says it all: My story of captivity, and my fight against the Islamic state. Tough reading. Tough, because the violence is so endemic. Nadia was one of thousands of Yazidi girls and women in Iraq captured by Daesh, forced into religious conversion and sexual slavery—sabaya (sabiyya is singular). Life in her poor rural village of Kocho held no preparation for such a horror, although persecution of the peaceful Yazidi was not new. Their ancient religious practice sets them apart; they are not Arabs, nor Kurds, nor Muslims, but lived amicably among them all. When Daesh came, all the grown village men were shot en masse.

The politics and internal struggles of the region are not easy to follow; Islamic religious factions (Shiites v. Sunnis) fighting for supremacy underly the entire Iraq situation and Yazidi were not the only victims. It's impossible to understand how Daesh successfully perverted Islam to attract so many fanatics and hold great swathes of the population in fear. Nadia wanted her fellow countrymen to shout at them: "I am a Muslim, and what you are demanding of us is not true Islam!" Daesh organization and planning was far more substantial than I realized. Too often death seemed preferable to the abuse they inflicted. There are many more nuances within this shameful, heartbreaking experience. Activist Amal Clooney provides the Foreword; the decline of the militant brutes known as ISIS does not mean humanity's worst sins against each other will ever end.

One-liners:
For twenty-one years, my mother was at the center of each day. (25)
The only decision the rich, connected Kurds and Arabs made that mattered to us was the decision to leave us alone. (39)
"Please, God, turn me into a star so that I can be up in the sky above this bus," I whispered. (124)
My hopelessness was like a cloak―heavier, darker, and more obscuring than any abaya. (189)
Kathrine and Lamia were turned in six times by people they approached for help, first in Mosul and then in Hamdaniya, and every time they were punished. (230)

Two- and multi-liners:
"The home of my father is torn apart," my mother whispered from where she sat. It's a saying we use only in the most desperate times; it means that we have lost everything. (108)
Yazidi girls were considered infidels, and according to the militants' interpretation of the Koran, raping a slave is not a sin. We would entice new recruits to join the ranks of the militants and be passed around as a reward for loyalty and good behavior. (123)
Everyone on the bus was destined for that fate. We were no longer human beings—we were sabaya. (123)
No man ever touched his wife like this. Hajji Salman was as big as a house, as big as the house we were in. And I was like a child, crying out for my mother. (166)
Families in Iraq and Syria led normal lives while we were tortured and raped. They watched us walk through the streets with our captors and gathered on the streets to witness executions. (230)
If the cities and towns are the vital organs of Iraq, the roads are the veins and arteries, and as soon as ISIS controlled them, they controlled who lived or died. (241)

2014 genocide attempt begins:
ISIS conquered Sinjar easily, encountering resistance only from the hundreds of Yazidi men who fought to defend their villages with their own weapons but quickly ran out of ammunition. We soon learned that many of our Sunni Arab neighbours welcomed the militants and even joined them, blocking roads to stop Yazidi from reaching safety, allowing the terrorists to capture all non-Sunnis who failed to escape from the villages closest to Kocho, then looting the vacant Yazidi villages alongside the terrorists. We were even more shocked, though, by the Kurds who had sworn to protect us. Late at night, without any warning and after months of assuring us that they would fight for us until the end, the peshmerga had fled Sinjar, piling into their trucks and driving back to safety before the Islamic State militants could reach them. (57)

Human worth:
Attacking Sinjar and taking girls to use as sex slaves wasn't a spontaneous decision made on the battlefield by a greedy soldier. ISIS planned it all: how they would come into our homes, what made a girl more or less valuable, which militants deserved a sabiyya as incentive and which should pay. They even discussed sabaya in their glossy propaganda magazine, Dabiq, in an attempt to draw new recruits. From their centers in Syria and sleeper cells in Iraq, they mapped out the slave trade for months, determining what they thought was and was not legal under Islamic law, and they wrote it down so that all Islamic State members would follow the same brutal rules. Anyone can read it―the details of the plan for sabaya are collected in a pamphlet issued by ISIS's Research and Fatwa Department. And it is sickening, partly because of what it says and partly because of how ISIS says it, so matter-of-fact, like the law of any state, confident that what they are doing is sanctioned by the Koran. (139-40)

David Baldacci. The Guilty. USA: Hachette Book Group/Grand Central Publishing, 2016.

A master storyteller offers another adventure in the life of CIA sharpshooting assassin, Will Robie. The venue is Cantrell, Mississippi, Will's hometown where his father Dan is in jail, accused of murdering Sherm Clancy. Will had left home some twenty years earlier without saying goodbye, after years of abuse, and the two have not spoken since. But return he does; not only to help the father he dislikes, but also in the hope of resolving new and old issues of his own. No one knows about his secret CIA life. He runs into people he went to school with―Taggert the cop, Davis the prosecutor, Billy the former football player―but not Laura, his first love. Plus Dan has a new wife and small child, challenging Will's repressed feelings.

The cops and the feds are pretty much all good guys in this case, as Will hunts for a killer. Or perhaps killers, plural. Big business ‒ casino business, oil business ‒ creates jobs and allows the elite to get away with any kind of vice. Someone wants Will to stop, so out come the guns and more killing; good thing his trusty colleague Jessica Reel shows up. We expect fast action and surprise complications from Baldacci but sometimes the credibility gap stretches a bit far. Small things like the timing of some events or contradictions in behaviour or convenient alibis are annoying. Dan's lawyer Toni Moses is the best character in an unattractive portrayal of an inbred, racist South. Baldacci's ugly Mississippi is not Burke's bittersweet Louisiana.

One-liners:
"We women all got that stupid gene from time to time 'round the boys." (75)
"You lose all your manners when you moved from Cantrell?" (79)
She said, "I leave the country for five minutes, and you get yourself in so much trouble I have to come here and save your ass?" (192)
"Might be some folks that were in the woods last night on the north side of town doing some gator baggin'." (207)

Two-liners:
His father didn't want to see him. Robie didn't see any reason to be here. Yet he wasn't going to leave.(62)
"Now you really sound like you're from Mississippi, not Harvard."
"Hell, baby, when I go into that there courtroom you won't hear nothin' but Mississippi come out my damn mouth."(149)
"In a way, Will, we've all been abandoned, haven't we? Some of us just don't know it, is all." (242)

Taggert empathy:
What am I going to do? thought Robie. "I'm going to hang around a few days, see what happens." 
"Well, the boys you beat up won't let that lie. They might come back with more boys." 
"So do I call the police when they do?" 
"You call me." She handed him a card. "Got my personal cell on it. You call 911, I'm not sure you'll get a speedy response." 
"Is that how it works here?" 
"That's how it works in a lot of places, Robie. Now look, I'm not tellin' you to go out and shoot nobody, but do you know how to use a gun?" 
He looked out toward the Gulf. On the horizon all he could see were storm clouds, thought the sky was clear. 
"I know how to use a gun," said Robie. (76)

Millennial p.o.v.:
"What, you expect me to be all upset and stressed out? Yeah, I'm pissed that Janet is dead although she just thought of me as her dorky kid sister. But they needed money, and if Clancy was willin' to pay them, so what?" 
"So you don't see anything wrong with that?" 
"Consensual sex? No, not really. We're living in the twenty-first century, in case you hadn't noticed." 
"Sex for money is illegal." 
"Lots of things are illegal, that doesn't make them wrong." 
Robie rubbed his eyes. He had little experience with teenagers, but he still couldn't believe he was having this conversation with a thirteen-year-old. Had the world really changed that much while he wasn't looking? (177)

Confrontation:
Robie turned back to his father. 
"I had to get out of Cantrell." 
"Why?" 
"You know damn well why. Because you were here." 
"Is that right?" snapped his father. "Just up and left without a word." 
"You left home. So did I. Why was it okay for you and not me?" 
Dan erupted, "Because my old man was a—" 
"A what?" interrupted Robie. "An asshole that made his son's life a living hell? Who made things so bad that his own wife couldn't live with him and finally up and left, leaving the son alone with him?" 
"You just blurred two lives, Will, mine and yours," said his father. 
"Apparently they were identical," shot back Robie. 
"You can't understand. You don't know anythin' about—" 
"Then why don't you explain it to me, Dad? Because I'm here now. And I'm listening." (313)


22 December 2018

Library Limelights 179


Catriona McPherson. Scot Free. USA: Midnight Ink/Llewellyn Worldwide Inc., 2018.
Perfectly hilarious in a Scottish slapstick way. Marriage counsellor Lexy Campbell is almost on her way to the airport now that her divorce from dentist Branston (Bran) Lancer is final. Living in small-town California has been enlightening but she wants to re-establish herself at home in Scotland. Before she can say goodbye to her elderly, last two clients ‪— Visalia (Vi) and Clovis (Boom) Bombaro, whom Lexy is steering through a divorce — Clovis is found murdered. In a rather nasty way, considering he was the proud owner of a successful pyrotechnics company. In short order, Lexy finds herself annoying detective Mike who's in charge, cosigning a bail bond for suspect Vi, and scrambling for a place to sleep. The Last Ditch Motel becomes her temporary home, unfazed by the motel's crazed residents; she loves the town of Cuento despite the blistering hot weather.

Bizarre coincidences pop up as Lexy looks for evidence to exonerate Vi as a suspect, but that's all part of the merriment. Her new neighbours become allies: Noleen, the dour motel owner; Todd, the crazed decorator; Kathi, the germaphobic cleaner; Roger, the gay doctor. Vi's niece Serpentina (Sparky) could be an alternative suspect. Barbara, Clovis' not-so-secret lover, could be another. Mafia connections. Dentists on a golf course. The subtitle says it all: The lighter side of the dark underbelly of the California dream. This is irreverent FUN at a manic pace. I forgive McPherson for being an off of writer because I need more of this.

One-liners:
"You're not a child of the church, are you, Lexy?" (105)
It was a failure of a marriage in most respects, but we really had managed to get in a full lifetime's worth of bickering. (151)
He pulled me closer to him and gave Bran a look that could freeze a wart off. (205)
People are so easy to manipulate, it's a blessing I only use my powers for good. (243)

Two-liners:
"Good," he said with a curt nod. A nod that could have cracked a walnut under his chin. (39)
"But let me give you my card."
I had about five thousand of them left and anyway it wasn't as crass as it seemed because Americans give you their card all the time. (57)
"I still think only Alitalia flies to Rome. Of course, these days everyone with a pilot's licence and a big box of peanuts flies just about everywhere." (244)

Come to order:
Then a door in the blonde wood panelling swept open and the judge swirled in like a dementor—black robe, black eyes, black looks for everyone. The uniforms and the secretary sat up and the little straggle of whoever-they-were in the front row cowered even lower.
We all rose. Because the Honourable Judge Something I Didn't Catch was suddenly presiding. It was exactly like being in an episode of Columbo. Except that I usually understood Columbo, and every word uttered in Judge Dementor's court that morning was beyond me. People stood up. People sat down. They said things calmly, then a bit louder. The judge said numbers, banged his gavel, and it all started again. The only time I had ever been more mystified was watching American football. Here in the court there weren't even colour-coded pom-poms or people being stretchered off to help me decipher the doings. (36-7)

Sympathetic audience:
"What happened?" said Todd.
"Her husband was killed last night. Don't ask me to tell you how. You really don't want it in your heads, believe me."
"Get out!" said Todd. "Is your friend the firework lady? Oh Em Gee. It was all over the front page of the Voyager. She murdered her husband, and she's out on bail?"
"I cosigned the bond," I said.
"You ...?" said Todd. "Well, for God's sake pour us a glass of Chablis and tell us all!"
"I haven't got any Chablis."
"He's probably filled your refrigerator," Roger said. "As you see, Todd doesn't really do boundaries."
"As you see, Roger tends to overpsychologize everyday life," Todd shot back. (61-2)

Phoning home to Dundee:
"Mum, I'm sorry. I zoned out and forgot. I didn't mean to wake you."
"Didn't mean to wake me? What did you think I'd be doing at this time of day? Of course, you woke me."
"I forgot the time," I said.
"Lexy," I hear her say over her shoulder. "She's fine. Just felt like phoning and so she just phoned. Sleep be damned."
"It was a mistake," I said. "I'm sorry, it's been a long day."
"Oh? Another hard day charging fifty pounds an hour for a chat and taking your poor husband's credit card for walkies?"
If she knew how much I really charged an hour, she'd never sleep again.
"I don't have a husband, Mum."
"You've a stubborn streak a mile wide, Lexy. You were the same when you were a wee girl. Buying your own treats. Teaching yourself to read." (215)



Martin Cruz Smith. Gypsy in Amber. (1971) USA: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2016.
One of Smith's first novels, I had searched for it in vain ‒ out of print ‒ at the time I was devouring his later books (Gorky Park et al). Now finally, a reprint! But whoa, what is this? Roman Grey, Gypsy antique dealer, happens to know the shady guy who died in a spectacular car and van crash; Nanoosh was transporting antiques of questionable provenance, some of them probably intended for Roman's shop. The van coincidentally also had a consignment of antiques. More to the point, in the tangled mess of broken goods and furniture on the New York bridge are the severed body parts of a young woman. Roman's police friend Isadore wants Roman to use his influence in the Rom community to help solve the murder.

Possibly the only parts of this tale that relate to any reality I know are Roman's relationships with the cop and with his girlfriend Dany. The rest drifts around from the exuberant Romany culture to mystic garble to cult mentality. Roman heads off on his own tangent, knowing exactly what he's looking for, without a word to Isadore. Halfway through, he's solved the crime and silently waits for Isadore to catch up. But the forces of evil are after Roman, with some outlandish and macabre scenes to follow. The weak plot demands a credibility stretch here that doesn't work. The book could have been preserved in amber as a curiosity. I'm just grateful that Smith, whose Arkady Renko I love, went on to greater things.

One-liners:
"Amazing what those experts can do: find an ant caught in amber that's been dead, extinct for a million years, and they can tell you all about it." (32)
The girl who gave away her virginity gave away her seat by the Romany fire. (58)
It was impossible trying to tell her that he was separating her from the Gypsy women for her own good. (119)
"It has bat's blood because the bat is the purest of all birds in that it suckles its young." (190)

Two- & multi-liners:
"He's going to try to escape. You don't think he came here deliberately to get his throat cut, do you?" (173)
"You're very sensitive." Roman groaned. "Haven't you ever seen a devil's head before?" (191)
During the day, Priculics was a beautiful young man. At night he was a huge black dog that killed and devoured anything he met. (210)

Celebrating a vindicated soul:
It started as a high, emotional keening, the boy's head thrown back in sorrow as he told of the shock of Nanoosh's death. The Romani tongue, a dark Indian opalescent stone lacquered with singing for the Persians, slaving for the Magyars, and dying in every corner of the earth, filled the room and their hearts. Guttural but light as a bird swooping through the night, traditional and unpredictable, something that delighted in melody and then ignored it for a stronger impulse, made the ring of men and women and the children sitting on the floor all hold their breath. This was their story, their history, coming from the young boy and the old man, and when the patshivaki djili came to its exploding, victorious close with the identification of the murderous gajo, two hundred people were clapping and crying. (126-7)

Will magic rescue Roman?
"He's coming back?"
"Right now. But you've got to promise that you won't do to him what you did to the others."
"Get them out of the way. So they wouldn't have to make a choice, choose." He wasn't making sense, and he struggled to get hold of his tongue. He couldn't afford to lose her.
"Promise?"
Promise? Everyone wanted him to make promises as if he had some power over the way things happened, him tied to Dany and Celie and a poor goat that was worse off than himself. He fought the conspiracy of his ribs and temple and lurched up to his knees. The goat's hooves dangled in all directions like a bagpipe. (200)



Patrick deWitt. French Exit. Toronto: House of Anansi Press Inc., 2018.
DeWitt's books are intrinsically offbeat. This: mother Frances and son Malcolm have a bond forged from the unloved childhood that each experienced. Long after her wealthy husband Frank's death, the elegant Frances becomes a bankrupt Senior. She doesn't bother informing affable, rather insensitive Malcolm of the precarious situation; he's quite agreeable to accompany her to Paris where she intends a last stand. The plan to leave New York upsets Malcolm's girlfriend Susan, although one wonders about her mental acuity in loving this unresponsive man-child. The tiny Parisian apartment they come to inhabit is a far cry from Frances' days of lavish spending. Oh, and their cat called Small Frank gets smuggled in with them as an illegal immigrant.

Their temporary home soon overflows with an assortment of needy or goofy people. New friend Mme Reynard resents the arrival of Frances' old friend and apartment owner Joan; Julius the tentative private eye is jubilantly self-fulfilled at locating the clairvoyant Madeleine. Then Susan arrives with her new fiancé in tow. Frances keeps mum about her ultimate plan, only confiding to Small Frank who then runs away. Childhood reminiscences mingle with mostly pleasant socializing. The drunken last supper is even more entertaining. Plenty of dialogue here among deWitt's patent absurdities. Probably unlike anything you're read before.

Words: (in a dictionary game they played)
secateur - pruning shears
costalgia - chest pain specific to the ribs
remotion - relocation, moving
puncheon - a short supporting (physical) post; once meaning a cask
syrt - in Central Asia, a geographical feature; Latin derivative meaning quicksand
raptorial - predatory

One-liners:
It occurred to her that, so long as she maintained forward motion, her life could not not continue, a comforting equation that conjured in her a sense of empowerment and ease. (78)
They'd become used to Mme Reynard's neediness and had decided the best way to curb it was to ignore her until she began behaving attractively again. (143-4)
Adulthood had no benefits that he could see and he was loath to join that cruel population. (207)

Two-liners:
"She was a demon. And if such a place as hell exists then that's where she collects her mail." (68-9)
"The French love their red tape, don't they?"
"They'd eat it on a plate if they could." (104)
"I don't like these people. They're not normal people." (194)

Strangely smitten:
It was always this way. No matter what she said to wound him, the simple facts hurt her more. Frances would never let go of Malcolm. Susan knew this. She asked Malcolm to leave her alone and he stood to go. "I'm going to kiss your forehead," he said warningly, then he did, and exited the restaurant, forgetting to pay for his Scotch and coffee.
Susan resumed her window gazing. The rain had stopped, replaced by radiant sunshine. Minutes had passed when she noticed Malcolm was standing across the street, watching her. His sunglasses were crooked; steam was rising from his damp shoulders. He was a pile of American garbage and she feared she would love him forever. (20)

The axe falls:
It was grotesque to see a person such as Frances exposed in this way, and Mr. Baker was peeved to be a party to it. He told her, "I spoke to you about this as a possibility for seven years, and as an eventuality for three. What did you think was going to happen? What was your plan?"
She exhaled. "My plan was to die before the money ran out. But I kept and keep not dying, and here I am." She shook her head at herself, then sat up. "All right, then. It's all been settled, and now I want you to tell me what to do."
"Do," he said.
"Yes. Tell me, please."
"What else is there to do but start over?" (25-6)

En route:
Frances purchased two first-class suites from a sad, gray man at a podium. "Passports," he said, and Frances handed these over. When the man noticed Small Frank cradled in Malcolm's arms, he requested documentation for the animal. Frances explained she had none and the man heaved a sigh of spiritual exhaustion. "I can't allow you to bring an undocumented animal on board the ship."
"That's fine," said Frances, and she told Malcolm, "Put him outside, please." Malcolm moved to deposit Small Frank on the sidewalk in front of the terminal.
The man at the podium watched this in silent disbelief. When Malcolm returned, the man at the podium said, "You're just going to leave him on the sidewalk?"
"That's right," Frances answered,
"You're going to leave him on the sidewalk and go to France?"
"Paris, France." (53)