09 June 2016

Library Limelights 110

Tahar Ben Jelloun. This Blinding Absence of Light. New York: The New Press, 2002.
Maybe I'm a masochist. A recent author mentioned this book regarding Morocco and it turned out to be the excruciatingly pitiful story of eighteen years incarcerated in a secret underground desert jail for political prisoners. Ben Jelloun fictionalized his interviews with a real-life survivor into an award-winning first-person account. You bet, I skimmed over much of it. Deprived of light, hunched in cells too cramped to stand up in, ravaged by deadly insects and disease, fed the vilest food and water, the prisoners existed in their own filth. Some strove to reach an out-of-body, transcendent state. A bare handful had survived by the time (1991) an international campaign to release them was successful. Their damaged bodies and brains were scarcely human.

It is shockingly beyond all sensibility and comprehension what we are capable of doing to our fellow man. Rotting bodies and unhinged minds. Abu Ghraib, Bang Kwang, Tadmor, San Quentin, Lubyanka, Devil's Island ... Guantanamo? ... and so many more hell-holes, historic or current, designed to dehumanize their populations. This was the worst. Yet we can't always ignore the dark side.

Quote: "I'm going to die without ever seeing the sun or light again." (158)

To reach his mouth:
I am sitting with my back and head against the wall. My right arm is immobilized. It sticks to the wall as if glued there. I must slowly pry it loose and raise it to my mouth. Easy to say, extremely hard to do. I focus all my attention on my arm. My entire body is in this arm. I am an arm sitting on the floor, and I must push with all my strength to get up. Staring at the arm, I can forget the bitter taste in my mouth and even reduce the pain in my joints to faint twinges. I hear the pain echoing. I can feel it moving away, but not disappearing. I bend my head down to bring it closer to my hand. I feel the bile rising until it nearly chokes me. I lean back quickly, whacking my skull against the wall. Holding my head still, I change tactics: my hand will come to my mouth, not vice versa. It takes hours. I use my other arm for support. I am bathed in sweat. Drops fall on my hand. What is most important is not to move, or think about anything but lifting that arm. (48-9)

Jack Harvey (actually Ian Rankin). Witch Hunt. (1993) UK: Orion Paperback, 2000.
An early Rankin, no Rebus. The copy I read was an older version which did not say Ian Rankin on the front. MI5 "intelligence technician" Michael Barclay joins forces with Special Branch detectives Greenleaf and Doyle to find and stop a notorious female assassin. They don't know if or which political figure she will target during an international summit in London. Barclay's boss Joyce Parry brings a retired operative into the mix: Dominic Elder clearly has some mysterious history with the cunning assassin he calls Witch. The quest to locate Witch before disaster strikes seems hopeless. Elder is an unlikely hunter, scarred as he is in more ways than one. A sweet side story develops between Barclay and a newbie French officer.

The story is a bit slow on the takeoff ― some initial confusion on my part in trying to follow who is connected to which section of British spies and police. Interesting to realize how far technology has advanced since the 1990s (walkie-talkies and fax machines) for criminal apprehension. Never mind the vintage, it's an all-engrossing Rankin thriller.

One-liners: You made up a joke, told it to someone in a pub, and three months later while on holiday in Ecuador some native told the joke back to you. (23)

Barclay muses:
These days there was no black and white: everyone spied on everyone else. This was no revelation, it had always been the case, but it was more open now. More open and more closed. Spy satellites were toys only the very rich and the very paranoid could play with. The spying community had grown larger, all-encompassing, bit it had also grown smaller, forming itself into an elite. All change.He'd actually used the word 'paranoid' in one of his selection board interviews. A calculated risk. If the service didn't want to think of itself as paranoid, it would have to recruit those who suspected it of paranoia. Well, he'd passed the exams and the tests and the interviews. (21)

The patronizing partner:
"So how was France then?" Greenleaf was smiling. Some might have called it a grimace. 
Doyle smiled too: with pleasure. "Mag-ni-fique, John. Just mag-ni-fique. Here ..." He reached into a carrier bag. "Have a bottle of beer. I've another 199 of them in the garage at home." 
Greenleaf accepted the small green bottle. "Thanks," he said. "I'll savour it." 
"You do that, John. That's one franc's worth of best Alsace lager in there. Four-point-nine alcohol, so take it slow, eh?" And Doyle gave Greenleaf a big wink. 
I don't really hate him, Greenleaf thought suddenly. He's smarmy all right, but I wonder how seriously he takes himself. Maybe the whole thing is just him sending himself up. I don't really hate him. It's just gentle loathing. (99)

Elder gets the vibe:
He could almost smell her, almost taste her behind the seaside flavours and aromas. She had been here. And not long enough ago for her taint to have left the place. Was she still here? He didn't think so. But if the hunt started to close in on her, she might just come back. A safe port in a storm. This had been her first lair on arriving in England. It would have meaning and resonance for her. Wounded, she might come crawling back. It would do no harm for Elder to learn the ground, her home-ground. So he walked, stopping to talk with people. (176)


Karin Slaughter. Pretty Girls. USA: William Morrow / HarperCollins, 2015.
Slaughter has out-bizarre'd all her peers (and she's right up there with the bestsellers) with an outrageous psycho killer. Pretty Girls is a beautifully-rendered, compassionate story of a family tragedy ― combined with the most repellent, bloodcurdling scenes. Sisters Claire and Lydia end their estrangement after the death of Claire's husband Paul. Paul had horrifying secrets they learn about, one by one. Together, trying not to panic, they intend to eliminate the threat facing their remaining family. Law enforcement is not trustworthy. Will they unravel the mystery before a killer catches up with them?

But oh, the contrast: inserting shock value takes away from the author's great moments of describing a grieving but lively family. Are we going to call this Southern Noir? Atlanta Noir? I feel this loyalty to Slaughter because I met her at an OLA convention years ago when she was flogging her first book. She steadily proved herself a better and better novelist; she excels in both plots and characters. Let me just say that she can hold her own among top crime writers without the graphic brutality. Although I like the best of the noir genre I question again why, why ― this apparent writers' competition for the most twisted, lurid perpetrator (I really pick 'em, don't I?).

One-liner:
A particularly beautiful woman is a source of terror. (frontispiece; quote from Carl Jung)
"Optimism is a sliver of glass in your heart." (28)

Soon, the guests:
Claire wiped away her tears. She tried to logic down the panic. January was next year. The wake was right now. Claire didn't have to be told how to throw a get-together. The caterers would've arrived an hour ago. The wine and liquor had been delivered this morning. As Claire had gotten dressed for the funeral, the gardeners were already out in the yard with their leaf blowers. The pool had been cleaned yesterday evening while the tables and chairs were being unloaded. There were two bartenders and six servers. Black-eyed pea cakes with shrimp., Zucchini and corn fritters. Coriander-spiced beef fritters. Burgundy beet risotto tarts. Lemon-spiced chicken with dilled cucumbers. Pigs in a blanket with mustard, which Claire always threw in as a joke but was invariably the first thing the caterers ran out of because everyone loved tiny hot dogs. (42-3)

Out of the blue:
Her cell phone chirped in the other room. 
Rick knew better than to ask her to ignore the phone when Dee was away. 
She told him, "Keep going without me. I'll catch up." 
Lydia picked her way past the dogs and a pile of laundry as she made her way into the kitchen. Her purse was in a chair. She dug around in the bag for several seconds before spotting her phone on the counter. There was a new text. 
"She all right?" Rick was standing in the doorway. 
"She probably forgot her book again." Lydia swiped her thumb across the screen. There was a text from a blocked number. The message listed an unfamiliar address in Dunwoody. 
Rick asked, "What's wrong?" 
Lydia stared at the address, wondering if the text was sent by mistake. She ran a small business. She didn't have the luxury of clocking out. Her voice mail at work gave her cell phone number. The work number was on the side of her van alongside a photo of a giant yellow Lab that reminded her of the dog her father had rescued after Julia was gone. 
"Liddie?" Rick said. "Who is it?" 
"It's Claire," Lydia said, because she felt it with every ounce of her being. "My sister needs me." (112-3)



24 May 2016

Library Limelights 109

Robert Wilson. Stealing People. UK: Orion Books, 2015.
Most complicated Charles Boxer novel yet. A series of kidnappings in London, six children of mega-rich families, each a different nationality, is executed in a tightly coordinated manner. Because they happen almost all at the same time, it's clear that a large number of personnel are involved. Various levels of investigation are swiftly put in place by police, kidnap specialists, MI5, MI6, international intelligence agencies, and ... the parents. Mercy Danquah is in charge of the police operation that seems an overwhelming job. Strong personalities clash over procedure and the tension can't get any higher while everyone waits for ransom demands, but the kidnappers have mysterious motives. Boxer and his daughter Amy (thankfully acting mature this time) are drawn into it through a missing person request from the enigmatic young Siobhan.

Two more kidnappings close to home add harrowing confusion as Mercy and Boxer work the cases from different angles, suspecting conspiracy of a military nature. Dead bodies are strewn in their wake. Challenging ― I had to keep flipping back and forth to keep track of so many characters. Wilson makes his salient angry point about the deception of the Gulf War and its profiteering private contractors. We never see the kidnap victims interacting until the very end; seems like a missed opportunity, unusual for Wilson, but of course would have substantially increased the page count. Clearly more to come with Boxer.

Word: anodyne (adjective) ― moderating, medicating

One-liners: The kid looked like trouble on stilts. (27)

Fight for emotional control:
Silence from Mercy as anger and fear battled away. She got to the car, dropped her head on to the steering wheel. She was not prone to tears, never cried in her professional life, whatever the horrors of the case. Her job demanded a cool head at all times. But in this situation she couldn't help herself: professionalism went out the window, the tears flowed as her imagination ran riot with images of Marcus's bloodied face. She had to grip the wheel and remind herself of the basics of kidnap negotiation. The mind game. The power of the unseen. (70)

Mind over matter?
Boxer lowered himself to the floor, which was covered with overlapping carpets, and studied the perfect calm of the face in front of him. 
He'd been a long time waiting for this moment and was surprised to find that the anger he'd readily summoned in London was now more difficult to come by. The distance from the turmoil of modern life, the presence of time and space, the cleanliness of the mountain air, the tranquillity of the room and the meditative serenity of the man before him were not conducive to extreme emotions. (344)


Rosemary Sullivan. Stalin's Daughter. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2015.
A lonngggg wait for this extremely popular biography. As if I hadn't consumed enough hardship and suffering in Child 44! At 600+ pages Sullivan indeed covers "the extraordinary and tumultuous life of Svetlana Alliluyeva" from hundreds of documents, interviews, and published sources. What can one say about someone who grew up in the dense shadow of Joseph Djugashvili aka Stalin, a paranoid monster, the Russian vozhd who murdered countless more people than Hitler ever did? An isolated child whose father was distant and rough, whose mother committed suicide? A woman whose life was characterized by restlessness and loneliness? Her own birth family was decimated by executions or sentencing to the gulags.

I thought I could slip and slide through this, picking just the sections I wanted to read. But couldn't help myself, the entire book went by thanks to Sullivan's compassionate and compelling rendition that quotes so many who knew Svetlana. Rare photographs enhance. She was very attractive, usually outspoken, intellectually strong but emotionally needy. A great variety of friends over her lifetime admired her down-to-earth kindness and occasionally suffered her volatile temper. She sought, unsuccessfully in multiple marriages, a man who would stay the course. Abandonment issues, so very sad.

Word: tropism ― a one-directional biological response to external stimulus

One-liners:
Olga slowly came to realize that Svetlana was "essentially an orphan." (109)
Ordinarily, suicide was looked on as treason against the collective. (156)
"Svetlana was doomed to carry the cross of her origin for the rest of her life." (223)

Visiting "papaschka" as a married woman:
When she and her father were alone, it was difficult to find subjects to talk about, other than the food they were eating or the botanical details of nearby plants. She was careful not to talk about people, in case she might mistakenly say something about someone that might arouse her father's suspicions. She never knew what to say or, more important, what not to say. It was easiest when she read to him. 
Dejected by the whole ordeal, Svetlana returned to Moscow after three weeks, but as soon as she was back in the Kremlin apartment with her son Joseph, she felt she was again trapped inside a sarcophagus. She grew desperate. Given her psychological history, Svetlana did not know how to be alone. Alone, she felt totally exposed. She thought she would be safe if only she could entwine her life with another, but then, once she had achieved this, she would feel suffocated, a pattern that would take her decades to break, if she ever succeeded. (136)

The Zhadanov marriage:
It was not possible for either her or her husband to go into the dark interior spaces where the fear and anger raged. It was not possible to engage real emotions in these families where nothing was said. Did she and Yuri discuss his father, her father, what was happening in the world beyond their walls? That seems impossible. Was what she called an "inborn lack of emotion" simply an inability to speak truthfully? And yet it was also true that in orthodox Bolshevik circles, certain kinds of emotion were seen as weakness or self-indulgence. (167-8)

John Verdon. Let the Devil Sleep. New York: Crown Publishers/Random, 2012.
Retired detective Dave Gurney is emerging from the trauma of being shot (Shut Your Eyes Tight), needing to prove to himself that his mental faculties are still intact, although most of the time he's gloomier than ever. He meets young Kim whose thesis research on a cold case of serial murders brings her an offer from the fictional equivalent of Fox News. The media had dubbed the unknown killer as the Good Shepherd. Dave agrees to be Kim's consultant but soon dramatically differs from the accepted police theory of the time ― and no-one believes him. Even worse, the killer is returning to terrorize the original families. And he may be invading Dave's home life.

Although Dave's celebrated cop instincts come to the fore again, he recognizes that his emotional life is in a dead-end fog. One wonders how he maintains any relationships at all but wife Madeleine and son Kyle are supportive. IMO the author was not all that successful in portraying Dave's gradual opening up to normal feelings. The lesser characters are well done, and here's a welcome move: Jack Hardwick, Dave's former colleague of the impossibly rude, irreverent attitude, turns from nemesis to ally. Sort of. Some of the television interviews with "expert" talking heads are wickedly on point. Lots of life left in Dave yet.

One-liners:
Meese seemed to be riding an emotional horse that was getting away from him. (123)
"Anger doesn't hurt as much as guilt." (359)

Find the root:
A therapist had told him long ago, "Whenever you're disturbed, try to identify the fear beneath the disturbance. The root is always fear, and unless we face it, we tend to act badly." Now, taking a cool step back, Gurney asked himself what he was afraid of. The question occupied him for most of the remaining trip home. The clearest answer he could come up with was also the most embarrassing. 
He was afraid of being wrong. (49)

No flies on Dave:
A long silence fell between them. Gurney's mind felt empty, unfocused, uneasy. 
"It's kind of chilly down here," said Kyle. "You want to come back up to the house?" 
"Yeah. I'll be up in a minute." 
"So ... you never finished saying what it is about the Good Shepherd case that's getting to you. You seem to be the only person who has a problem with it." 
"Maybe that's the problem." 
"That's way too Zen for me." 
Gurney uttered a sharp, one-syllable laugh. "The problem is a gaping lack of critical thinking. The who goddamn thing is too neatly packaged, too simple, and way too useful to too many people. It hasn't been challenged, argued, tested, ripped, and kicked, because too many experts in too many positions of power and influence like it the way it is―a textbook crime spree by a textbook psycho." (183)

Kim's media education:
Gurney took the opportunity to ask casually, "Will the new murders boost your ratings?" 
Getz flashed another grin. "You want the truth? The ratings will shoot through the roof. We'll run news specials, Second Amendment debates, maybe even a spin-off series. Remember the project I offered you? In the Absence of Justice―a hard-nosed review of unsolved cases? That could be a hot one. That's still very much on the table, Detective. The Orphans of Murder could have real legs. A franchise. Media alchemy." 
Kim's hands were balled into fists. "That's so ... so ugly." 
"You know what it is, sweetheart? It's human nature." 
Her eyes blazed. "It sounds to me like ugliness and greed." 
"Right. Like I said, human nature." 
"That's not human nature! That's trash!" 
"Let me tell you something. The human animal is just another primate. Maybe even the ugliest and stupidest one. That's the real truth. And I'm a realist. I didn't create the fucking zoo. I just make a living in it. You know what I do? I feed the animals." (389) 

13 May 2016

That bloody churchmen

When we discuss health matters lately by email (facial wrinkles, whole grains, yoga, and the like) which is all the time, my friend began highly recommending churchmen. As we do not normally discuss our spiritual preferences, I let it slide. But it was getting kind of creepy. Was she born again without telling me? Was she going all cult-y? Yoga talk is about as close as we get to organized religion.

My friend does not review her email before sending. She was recommending curcumin. My friend does not know how to turn off her auto-correct.


Curcumin was better known to me as turmeric. A rather exotic spice popular in Asian foods. This amazing, natural anti-inflammatory was going to soothe my free radicals, whatever they are. Those online health rags boast exciting, neurotrophic-boosting antioxidant.

Now ... I've been through all the cosmetic and food and health fads with my friend. The miracles of red wine, vitamin E oil, kale, vitamin imbalances, naturopathic remedies, Feldenkrais, aquafaba, you name it. It took ages to self-diagnose her allergy to red wine. The last marvel was swathing coconut oil on your face, your hands, your body, your frying pan. I was the walking embodiment of intensive sunscreen aroma, spreading the joy everywhere I walked. Until the pervasive smell was making me heave. How many grease-stained pillowcases did I have to throw out. It was some time before I could face my beloved Thai green curry again.

So. The turmeric. Instead of buying a tiny, expensive, fancy container, I opted for like a one-pound bag at my dollar department store for the same price. The thrill of a bargain. The optimism. Simply sprinkle a teaspoon on your salad, your stir fry, your frozen dinner. If a teaspoon helps, why not a tablespoon? Maximizing my disease prevention.

No-one tells you it's yellow peril if you drop so much as a grain of powder anywhere other than on its food destination. A grain here, a grain there. No-one tells you that turmeric is non-erasable. On the counter, the utensils, the dishes, the tea towel, my shirt, my hands, the (white) floor. My face, after consumption. Yellow. Not my favourite colour. Bright, blinding yellow that defies every scrubbing; epic fail of industrial strength cleanser. Here is my kitchen:

 

Van Gogh would have loved it. I'm going to sell the remaining fifteen and a half ounces to a graffiti artist.

YELLOW BASTARD.


05 May 2016

Library Limelights 108

Tom Rob Smith. Child 44. NY: Grand Central Publishing/Hachette, 2008.
Grim, grim, GRIM. An inside view of Stalin's Soviet Union and its brainwashed, fearful, struggling inhabitants ― for which Smith has deservedly won accolades ― incredulous as the events of that era to us. Some years ago I began reading this book, did not finish. This time I persevered. Leo Demidov, officer in the MGB (numerous acronyms before and since for secret police), does his job doggedly persecuting innocent people until the tables are turned on him ... just when he's finding the trail of a serial child killer. The MGB refuses to consider such a notion. Unwilling to give up a righteous quest against all odds, he knows everything that can go wrong, will and does.

Leo's indoctrinated conditioning makes for a painful metamorphosis of self-awareness. Wife Raisa sticks with him despite the coldness of their marriage and her own initial misgivings. On the run, they intend to find the killer before they find themselves being executed. Many dramatic, horrifying scenes follow. Possibly General Nesterov of the militia will cut them some slack. Nevertheless, in this squalid society the MGB holds the ultimate power, destroying lives right, left, and centre. You are warned: prying your toenails off with a red-hot scalpel would be more fun than reading this book. It's not the writing, it's the depth of (justified) paranoia, the unrelenting grey of hopeless existence.

One-liners:
Those who appear the most trustworthy deserve the most suspicion. (40)
A suspect's guilt became real as soon as they became a suspect. (41)
Not even those who worked within the Lubyanka's walls, not even those who kept this machinery of fear ticking, could be certain that the system they sustained would not one day swallow them too. (71)

Interrogating a colleague:
None of his heroism or military training had any relevance today. Here was no enemy. This was a colleague, a friend, a grief-stricken father. And yet, even so, this was an MGB protocol and this father-in-mourning was the subject. Leo needed to tread carefully. He couldn't allow himself to be swayed by the same feelings that were blinding Fyodor. This hysteria was putting a good family in danger. If left unchecked, the groundless chatter about murder could grow like a weed, spreading throughout the community, unsettling people, making them question one of the fundamental pillars of their new society: There is no crime. (25-6)

First official visit to Lubyanka:

Entering the main corridor, Leo wondered how it would feel to be led down to the basements with no leave to appeal and no-one to call for help. The judicial system could be bypassed entirely. Leo had heard of prisoners who lay abandoned for weeks and doctors who served no other purpose than the study of pain. He taught himself to accept that these things existed not just for their own sake. They existed for a reason, a greater good. They existed to terrify. Terror was necessary. Terror protected the revolution. Without it, Lenin would have fallen. Without it, Stalin would have fallen. Why else would rumors concerning this building be deliberately spread by MBG operatives, muttered on the metro or on tramcars as strategically as if they were releasing a virus into the population? Fear was cultivated. Fear was part of his job. And for this level of fear to be sustained it needed a constant supply of people fed to it. (70)

 Joy Fielding. Now You See Her. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2011.
Loss ― women's loss ― seems to be a recurrent theme with Fielding. Marcy Taggart has lost her daughter and her husband, one to mental illness and drowning, one to divorce. Not to mention the mother who never really mothered her. So Marcy is more or less a basket case when she goes off alone to Ireland. Her neurotic obsession causes her to see daughter Devon around every corner. In flashbacks, Devon is a proper bitch. Marcy's hunger to change the vanished but strained relationship into something lovey-dovey, which it was not, made me queasy at times.

In Cork, Marcy is convinced she had a true glimpse of Devon and somehow collects a few people (mostly men) to help her hunt. That is, when the gardia are not questioning her about all the strange events that follow. The egotistic ex-husband, Devon's father, dismisses her concerns; her sister implores her to come home. But we understand that her lack of self-esteem and enormous sense of guilt, over every relationship in her life, will probably resolve by sticking to her errant course. One episode where Marcy is conducting two conversations at once is extremely effective. Fielding is a master at this kind of suspense novel.

One-liner:
Peter's voice chimed in, almost alarming in its enthusiasm for being who he was. (295)

The weight of passive aggression:
Peter never snored, although he claimed she did. "Why do you have to sleep on your back?" he'd say accusingly, as if her snoring was something she was doing deliberately to provoke him. And then increasingly, as the years passed and more grievances surfaced: "Do you have to move around so much?" "Do you know you talk in your sleep?" "Can't you ever lie still?" Until one morning about a year after Devon's accident she woke up to find Peter's side of the bed empty, and when she'd gone to look for him, she'd found him asleep in the guest bedroom. 
He never came back. 
Five months later, he moved out altogether. (49-50)

A thousand cuts:
"I'm over twenty-one. You can't tell me what to do." 
"As long as you live in this house, I can and I will." 
Devon jumped off the bed, flew toward her mother, arms flailing. "Then I guess I'll just have to move out." 
Marcy didn't flinch, her toes digging into the bottoms of her shoes as if to root her in place. "I remind you that one of the conditions of your bail is that you continue to live at home." 
"So now you're my jailer?" 
"I'm your mother." 
"Yeah. Great job of that you're doing." 
"This is not about me." 
"No? This is your fault, you know. It's your rotten genes I inherited." (193)

Repetitive default:
"I'm sorry," Marcy said. 
"Jesus, is that all you ever say?" 
Marcy was about to apologize again and had to bite down on her tongue to keep the words from escaping. 
"It's bloody irritatin', you know that? The color was slowly returning to his cheeks. "You'd think you were responsible for every bad thing that ever happened." 
"Sometimes that's the way I feel." 
"You really think you're so bloody powerful?" 
Marcy almost smiled. She'd always felt the exact opposite, as if she had no power at all. But maybe he was right. (336-7)

Ian Rankin. Even Dogs in the Wild. UK: Orion Books, 2015.
Oh the joy of a new Rankin! As compelling as ever, the author wends an intricate dance of criminal activity in and around Edinburgh. Rebus is now officially retired from Police Scotland but as we expect, he cannily interjects himself into his friend Siobhan Clarke's investigation of a high-profile murder. The case multiplies into victims, plural, just as local and out-of-town gangsters are becoming more visible with a turf war looming. We've met some of the characters before; Rebus finds himself strangely allied with two former enemies: Malcolm Fox, the one-time Complaints officer, and Big Ger Cafferty, the aging underworld kingpin.

Fox, working with a team on surveillance of a nasty criminal element, manages to fumble his end a few times but eventually scores ― bloody but unbowed. His relationship with Siobhan remains ambiguous. I love the cop meetings in various cafes and curry joints to compare notes. Rebus figures out a tricky suspect, calmly managing a climactic confrontation. Looks like he will adopt an adorable dog. "Even Dogs in the Wild" is a song by Billy Mackenzie of The Associates, echoing for Rebus (and Rankin?) the dark side of impoverished and unloved lives. The next Rankin can't come fast enough!

Words: stairheid rammy ― stairheid = landing, rammy = noisy brawl

One-liner: "There was a time," Fox said as they took their drinks through to the living room, "when you wouldn't have let me past the front door." (169)

The Job:
"So you'll talk to Page?" Rebus asked. 
"I'm doing it right now." Clarke brandished her phone and headed for the door. 
"And tell him about the gun," Rebus called to her retreating figure, after which he sank another inch of his drink and scooped up a few nuts. 
"So how are you, Malcolm?" he asked, chewing. 
"Me?" Fox sounded taken aback by the question. 
"Recovering from that hiding you took?" 
"It only hurts when I laugh." 
"Can't recall seeing you laugh." 
"Exactly.""And things are going well with Siobhan? I'm only asking because I care." 
"We don't always see as much of each other as we'd like." Fox paused. "Well, as much as I'd like, anyway." 
"She's in love with the job, same as I was. How about you?" 
"The job has its moments," Fox was forced to concede. 
"Moments aren't enough, though – everything about it should give you a buzz." (160-1)

Winter:
Rebus stood on the walkway. It was only partially glassed-in, the glass itself scored with graffiti. But he had a view south to where snow lay on the Pentlands, just beyond the bypass. The street lights were already on, though the sun was just barely below the horizon. Long shadows at ground level. Rebus tried thinking how many hours of daylight there had been – not quite eight, maybe seven and a half. At this time of year, kids went to school in the dark and came home at twilight. He'd often wondered if crime rose in the winter – darkness changed people's mood, darkness changed everything. And under cover of darkness, anything might happen undetected. (228-9)

Fox plods:
A cheap souped-up saloon car passed him, its occupants barely out of their teens. Both front windows were down so the world outside could share their taste in what they presumably thought was music. They paid Fox no heed though. He wasn't like Rebus – he didn't look like a cop. A detective he'd once investigated when in Complaints had described him as 'a soulless, spunkless middle manager from the most boring company on the planet'. Which was fine – he'd been called worse. It usually meant he was closing in on a result. And the fact that he didn't stand out from the crowd could be useful. As far as the kids in the car were concerned, he barely existed – if they'd thought him a threat, the car would have stopped and a scene of sorts would have ensued. Instead of which, he arrived at the lockups without incident. (304)


26 April 2016

Library Limelights 107

Patrick DeWitt. Undermajordomo Minor. Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2015.
How bizarre and delightful is this? I loved the author's Sisters Brothers and this new book of sly black humour only confirmed that this guy's talent mesmerizes me. Young Lucien Minor, known from page 1 as Lucy, drifts from his gentle, boring life to an odd world when he takes a service job at Castle Von Aux. Lucy the näif meets new people, most of them friendly ― Memel the thief, Adolphus "the exceptionally handsome man," Olderglough the loyal majordomo, Klara the beauty, Agnes the cook, and so on. In the village background, soldiers are fighting endless battles of long-forgotten motivation, for the most part ignored by the general populace and the castle residents.

It's rather idyllic and fairytale-like as Lucy develops character and finds resources within himself. His boss is agreeable, his duties pleasant, he falls in love. Yet mystery surrounds the madness of the Baron and the fate of Lucy's predecessor. Uneventful days take a sharp turn when the Baroness returns to the castle. The household vibrates with planning for visitors ― the Duke, Duchess, Count, and Countess. But the unsavoury guests initiate a debauche inadvertently witnessed by a shocked Lucy. What are we to make of DeWitt's parallel world? Is the honest thief more honourable than the degenerate aristocrat? What level do we engage on?

One-liners: Lucy's father, a man without God, came home from working the fields to find the priest in his home; he led the man out by the arm, this accomplished in a business-like fashion, the way one shepherds a cat from a room. (5)
"You always bring God into arguments you're losing, for the liar is lonely, and welcomes all manner of company." (104)

Emulating a man of the world:
He adopted the carriage of one sitting in fathomless reflection, though there was in fact no motion in his mind whatsoever. Holding the pipe head in the basin of his palm, he rotated the mouthpiece outward so that it rested between his middle and ring fingers. Now he pointed with it, here and there, for this was what the pipe-smoking men in the tavern did when giving directions or recalling a location-specific incident. A large part of the pipe's appeal to Lucy was the way it became an extension of the body of the user, a functional appendage of his person. Lucy was looking forward to pointing with his pipe in a social setting; all he needed was an audience for whom to point, as well as something to point at. He took another draw, but being a fledgling he became dizzy and tingly; tapping the pipe against the heel of his hand, the furry clump clomped to the ground like a charred field mouse, and he watched the blurred tendrils of smoke bleeding out through the shredded tobacco. (5)

Important servants' dialogue:
" ... The Baron's is a one-sided correspondence." 
Lucy pondered the definition of the word. "I was unaware there was such a thing," he admitted. 
Mr. Olderglough's face puckered, as one stung by a discourtesy. 
"Is this a comical observation?" he asked. 
"It was not meant to be, sir, no." 
"I certainly hope not. Because I don't subscribe to amusements, Lucy. Laughter is the basest sound a body can make, in my opinion. Do you often laugh, can I ask?" 
"Rarely." 
"How rarely?" 
Very rarely, sir. Extremely rarely, in fact." 
"Good," Mr. Olderglough said. (70-71)

Arrivals:

The Countess paused. "Well, I don't want to hear another word about it." And with this, she emerged: a corpulent, panting woman with frizzed black hair, a crimson neck, and a fierce displeasure in her eye which Lucy took to be travel fatigue but which he would soon discover was simply her root mood. When he held out his hand to help her from the train, she cracked him across his knuckles with her folding fan, a stinging blow that took his breath away. Pushing past him, she stepped up the path and towards the castle, murmuring vague threats or regrets to herself. Once she was clear of earshot, the Count addressed Lucy breathily, and through a shroud of bluish smoke. (231)

Steve Martini. Shadow of Power. New York: Harper (paperback), 2008.
Martini crafts superb courtroom trials, this being no exception. His protagonist, Paul Madriani, is a veteran defence lawyer, once again undertaking what looks like a hopeless case. A popular and controversial author is found bludgeoned to death and the only scapegoat is Madriani's young social misfit of a client. The author's latest book had exposed the wording of slavery in the American constitution, creating escalating mini-riots wherever he went; he promised next to publish a hitherto unknown, inflammatory letter penned by Thomas Jefferson. That document, possibly pointing to a different killer, can't be located nor introduced into trial evidence.

Martini as Madriani expands now and then on the dirty politics of economic realities ― the historical and judicial foundation of a nation; you may not agree but it's compelling reading. At the heart of the case a Supreme Court judge seems to be personally involved. So many nuances of criminal law as prosecution, defence, and trial judge try to control the course of disclosures! Meanwhile, the media reports leaked information, fanning the flames; clamourous demonstrations outside the courtroom are turning ugly. How timely? It's all during national election year. Ultimately you may guess the denouement, but overall it's a gourmet meal for hungry armchair lawyers.

One- and two-liners:
But for certain aspects of terminal cancer, there is nothing I can think of in life that will destroy a person faster than the perils of dealing with the American judicial system. (32)
It is one of those imponderables, the snippets of life that engrave themselves on the mind of a small child. (54)
Anyone who thinks judges aren't political should buy a bridge or two. (86)
Short of revolution, something Jefferson urged take place at least every twenty years, the average citizen is left to pound sand by casting a largely empty vote to replace the devil-in-office with the devil-in-waiting and hope that the caustic nature of power to corrupt can somehow be neutralized. (127)
She looks at him, one of those drop-dead expressions that only a woman can give you. (367)
By ten o'clock, before the midmorning break, you can hear the drumbeat, the resonant pounding like that of Zulu warriors striking spears on their shields on the street outside. (391-2)
A little past noon, and the rhythmic pounding of demonstrators, the ceaseless chants and yelling, against the pitched wail of electronic sirens outside, has the constancy and power of rolling surf. (395)
When a jury comes in, it is always the same, the rush of emotions, the anxiety. My stomach produces enough acid to etch the concrete on my driveway. (420)
The price of holding on to the original thirteen colonies was slavery. It was a price that history records they [founders] were willing for others to pay. (449)

Robert Wilson. Capital Punishment. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2013.
Does anyone create more complicated mysteries than Wilson?! This one is his first Charles Boxer novel, preceding You Will Never Find Me (reviewed here), and centres again around Boxer's specialty as a kidnap consultant. The adult daughter of a South Asian billionaire is kidnapped in London and Boxer is hired to negotiate her freedom. However, even as one tortuous relationship after another is uncovered among gangs and smugglers and corporate hypocrites and terrorists, no-one is making the expected contact to negotiate. MI5 and MI6 are on full alert. In the light of his deep attraction to the victim's mother, Boxer fears his "dirty secret" ― a proclivity for killing hostage-takers ― may be revealed, but worse, could possibly come to dominate his sensibilities.

The clock ticks down as the kidnapped Alyshia is subjected to a demeaning psychological cat-and-mouse game. Her father Frank D'Cruz is an enigma unto himself, reluctant to provide insider knowledge that might help identify the criminals. Boxer and ex-wife, Metro cop Mercy Danquah, try not to be distracted by their own daughter's abominable behaviour. The ever-revolving plot sees kidnappers switching places. This is a book, an author, for fans of any crime genre. I had to order the third in the series as fast as my fingers would travel into the TPL system.

One-liners:
D'Cruz blinked at the possibility of his enormous capacity to pay becoming an insignificant factor. (76)
"Tea?" said Mehta, in a perfect imitation of a waitress in a south London greasy spoon. (131)

Boxer gets a pass from Isabel:
It was always a tense moment to be introduced to the mother of a kidnapped child. If she didn't like the look of you, no matter what the husband might say, you'd lose the job. Boxer elicited extreme feelings. He either inspired total confidence or profound dislike. He'd noticed that the wives of very rich men generally fell into the second category. They did not like it that he was self-contained, unimpressed by wealth, not overawed by status or celebrity, and didn't have a molecule of subservience in his nature. He'd been fired on doorsteps in Miami, São Paulo, Nassau, Manila and Johannesburg. (66)

The teenager from hell:
Esme put a coffee down in front of Mercy's clenched hands. Mercy leaned over and rested her forehead on her fists as her body was wracked with shuddering sobs. She leaned back, tears streaming down her face. 
"Sorry," she said. "I'm losing it." 
Esme was transfixed, had never seen Mercy in such a state.Mercy got up suddenly, wiped her face and walked across the living room into Amy's bedroom. The girl was sitting on her duvet in her pyjamas with an MP3 player plugged in. She glanced up, yanked the buds out of her ears and a look of such scowling meanness crossed her face that Mercy reared back. 
"What do you want?" she said. 
And Mercy didn't know. She didn't know what she wanted. Except for it to be all right. But not how to make it so. 
"I just ..." she started. 
"What?" 
"I just wanted to tell you how much I love you." 
"Now you're all at it," said Amy, mocking. (214)

One set of kidnappers:
"I'm just saying, it'll take me an hour. We need to build that into our timings." 
"All right, sorry. I'm just a bit stressed, with London on red alert for our arses." 
"Take a hit," said Skin, handing him the last dark inch of spliff. "What's the worst that can happen?" 
Dan took a huge toke, held it in until he squeaked and his eyes filled and streamed. The drug slipped into his blood and suddenly he didn't feel hounded anymore. 
"The worst that can happen," said Dan cheerfully, "is that we die horribly long, tortuous deaths in the hands of one London gang or another." 
"I'll shoot you before it comes to that," said Skin. "Promise." 
"That's a very fine thing for you to say, Skin," said Dan. "You're a true friend." 
"Don't mention it," said Skin. (288)

20 April 2016

FEC Old


Most FECsters have something in common besides raging preening self-indulgent egos and a pervasive but vague mantra of penning an autobiography: being SENIORS.

"Most" ... since FEC does harbour an invisible faction of middle-agers who have real jobs and generally ignore participating and volunteering in activities shouldered by the halt and the lame and the autocratic. One Senior did some meditation:

When you are old.
Old is a new place. Time speeds up and you slow down. Time that once stretched out endlessly, busily, productively, now perversely quickens. Yet the morning ritual of waking body and brain takes three times longer.

When you are old.
That growing cache of surprise aches, pains, and symptoms interferes with your gratitude for another day of life. Even as you ambitiously make plans for next year, next month, tomorrow, your options and finances dwindle. Old hurts.

When you are old.
The time you want to grasp and hold is so often frittered on health issues, medical visits, diagnostic waffling or shock revelations, counting pills, learning assistive equipment, relying on strangers for token services. No more high heels. No more dancing.

When you are old.
Friends move away. Friends die. Loss. When you are old, making new friends is laborious. People your age are just as opinionated and suspicious as you are. Young people inhabit an alien world only faintly familiar. Or are you the alien?

When you are old.
Your senses dull. People get impatient with your hearing impairment, your unsteady gait. You get impatient. You forget things. Focus and concentration, listening, conversing, reading, all take conscious effort. Socializing might be painful.

When you are old.
Creative introverts and hermits win — those who live alone, adapt to it, prefer it. They like themselves, have inner resources, are not lonely. They share when the spirit moves them and energy complies.

When you are old.
Time has no time for you.