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13 December 2014

Library Limelights 72

Nicole Mones. The Last Chinese Chef. New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 2008.
A savoury little find. Yard sales pay off. No mystery here, simply a sweet story of Maggie who is grieving the sudden death of her husband Matt and undertaking, reluctantly, an urgent trip to China. Well, there is a basic question involved and we have to wait for the answer. As a widow, Maggie is about to face her husband's devastating secret. As a magazine food writer, she is about to discover some therapeutic benefits in Chinese cuisine. More than a culinary tour, the novel touches on customs and culture of China both historical and modern. A local chef becomes her accidental but complaisant guide.

Maggie's encounters with Chinese families include their experiences of serving the Dowager Empress and the tragic days of the "Cultural Revolution," among others. A kept woman muses on her future that is spiralling downward. Also the author of Lost in Translation, Mones is a very engaging and sensitive writer. The ribs and the tofu with thirty-crab sauce are not to be missed!

The end is nigh:
He knew what was coming even though they did not tell him. Huh, old Dr. Shen, he was a fool if he thought Xie could not grasp his euphemisms and decode his glances to Wang Ling. Actually, it wasn't so bad. The pain he had felt in his limbs for so long was gone, replaced by numbness. His body was failing, spiraling away from him, his hands quivering when he could raise them at all. Yet he was clear. Steel cables sang in his mind. He remembered everything about his life. And while he could feel the next world, feel its sounds and urges and movements beyond the veil, at the same time he knew he had never been sharper or more astute about this one. He saw everyone and everything, not the surface but what was true inside. Most of what he saw made him content. (96)

Sam's family:
Then she heard Sam's footfall on the stairs. Strange that she knew his step already. ...
"Do you want to take a shower? And then we'll have breakfast."
Of course, she thought, another meal. "Does someone else need to use the bathroom?"
"Not now. They're Chinese. They bathe at night. You slept through it."
The sisters got up and trickled out, sly, smiling, as if now was the time for Maggie and Sam to be alone.
"They like you," he said. "They told me so."
"They think we're together."
"No," he said. "I told them we're just friends."
"Well, I'm sorry. I took your room."
"Not in the end," he said. (158)

Gao Lan's family:
I was born in the same year as our nation [1966], a fact that gave me great pride and also my name, Guolin, the country's Welcome Rain. This was my generation. Later we were termed the Lost Ones because we had lost our educations, but I always bristled at that. Being lost was a state of mind. On the contrary, we showed we had the fierceness for anything. When we were sent to the countryside in 1970 we endured privations such as even our mothers and fathers never did. I went two years without oil and salt. That is something most people today cannot imagine. Yet those ten years of chaos did not break us. The one thing that did break us had already happened, might in fact have made the Cultural Revolution possible, and that was the famine. Looking back, I have thought that only people who were starved as children could do the things we young people did. (106-107)


Annie Proulx. That Old Ace in the Hole. New York: Scribner, 2002.
Annie! Annie Proulx! As a huge fan of The Shipping News and Accordion Crimes (she also wrote Brokeback Mountain) I can't believe I missed this one. Proulx has transferred her bewitching humour to the Texas panhandle, wonderfully capturing the life and idioms of a fiercely proud rural society. Woolybucket County is experiencing the modern dilemmas of independent ranchers v. corporate farming and the oil business. Young and naive Bob Dollar comes to town, employed by a giant of the hog industry, to scout the area for a new site. Bob is not excellent at his job. But he devours tales of the old cowboys and the home cooking at the Old Dog Cafe. The twang accents and hilarious clichés of the natives don't conceal their canny practicality that defeats every desperate ploy Bob comes up with. Howsomever, they affectionately adopt him ... most of them. Except for the one or two who want to kill him.

The concocted place names (Roughbug, Slickfork, Struggle, Cowboy Rose, more) and personal names (Ribeye Cluke, Tater Crouch, Parch Wilpin, Freda Beautyrooms, Jim Skin, LaVon Fronk, Bromo Redpoll, and more) are only the tip of the iceberg, the introduction, to endlessly inventive anecdotes of these characters and the old days. I defy you not to laugh out loud in delight during the Cain and Abel quilting bee, or Bob's wasp sting, or his hapless run-ins with Sheriff Dough. Proulx's ability to get into the skin of her characters seems effortless and infinite. The word charm applies here unreservedly. Best advice: read slowly to appreciate every line. Annie rules!

Words that need sounding out loud so you catch the drift of the context:
barbwar (also bobwire)
graindaddy as in your ma's pa
awl as in Standard Awl pumping millions of barls a day
waf as in the female you married
prior as in what you do at church (or to win the rodeo)
small as in the opposite of frown
flar is what a pansy is

One liners:
Every pie got its own piecrust. (69)
Couldn't hit an elephant's ass with a banjo. (80)
No sir, there ain't no corn on that cob. (240)
The ghosts come up out a this place ever night like a flock a bats. (241)
Jesus Christ, I just as soon put a funnel in my mouth and run against the wind. (313)

Oldtimers reminiscing:
"Oh, we was poor," said Methiel Huff. "Seems like at the end a the month all we had a eat was beans and more beans. Red-letter day when we got a little salt pork to perk them up. Mother used a keep the salt pork in a crock, lid on it and a big stone on the lid, but someway Dad's old hound dog pushed the stone off and got in there and eat ever bit of it up. Ma said then the only thing we had to flavor the beans was windmill grease. That old relief truck would come around and we'd get rice, beans, prunes and powdered milk." (107)

The Struggle cemetery:
[Jim has a condition that forces him to cough―Wagh!―every so often]
"When my deddy died they buried him in―Wagh!―Struggle. He is buried in the lightbulb cemetery―Wagh!―up there where a man's worth is spelled out by the watts a the lightbulbs set in the ground around the grave. Know what old Susie picked for him? Three burned-out refrigerator bulbs. She said he didn't deserve no more. Wagh! Wagh! Wagh! I always felt bad about that. I always told myself I'd go up there and put in bigger bulbs for him." (231 and 241)

Admitted to a cockfight:
Bob stayed for nearly two hours watching match after match until he began sneezing from the chickeny dust and feather effluvium mixed with smoke. There was something mesmerizing and terrible about the birds, the rank and sweaty crowd. Gradually he had understood that the cocks represented their owners, that the grossest lout, the skinniest Asian, mingled his psychological identification with that of the sleek, beautiful and dangerous birds. He said good-bye to the fat man and eased out. In the parking lot a heavy farmer was pissing on a tire. He glanced up at Bob.
"Lost me nine hunderd bucks in there," he said.
"Sorry to hear it."
"Not half so sorry as I am. I believe my waf will kill me."
Bob drove back to the Busted Star feeling he had been present at some dark blood sacrifice older than civilization, a combat with sexual overtones rooted in the deepest trench of the panhandle psyche. (236)

26 November 2014

Library Limelights 71

Eleanor Catton. The Luminaries. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2013.
This review began on Facebook. And I remind any reader of this blog that I do not strive for deep literary critique. My bent is escapist crime fiction that truly absorbs me. I do feel obliged, though, to check the bestseller and prize lists from time to time. In this case it was unfair to have no warning that Man-Booker prize-winning The Luminaries is a ten-pound doorstopper (I rarely read other reviews in advance, keeping my shallow mind open). But ah, I had seen the occasional FB friend drop a remark about the impossibility of it all ... not to mention the uncomfortable aspect of reading in bed.

Hokitika is a gold rush town in western New Zealand, 1860s. By page 150 (of 800) my head was swimming with an enormous cast of confusing characters in interminable discussion of their recent events without explaining anything to me. By page 250 I still had no clue who these people were or what the plot was. I understand some readers fell by the wayside long before that. There's a limit to the attention span amidst excessive verbiage and often exquisite Victorian manners. Nevertheless, with some judicious speed reading over the painfully detailed physical and psychological profiles of something like sixteen characters, by about page 350 I was committed.

There is a crime needing solving, you see. The whole works is no end challenging, because of the novel's complicated structure.

To stay the course, you must accept the sensibilities of the times. You must accept that there will be a back story for many of the characters, each adding another perspective or more perplexities to the overall mysteries. You will find the chronology is not linear so just accept that too. You can skip some boring parts like how to typeset a newspaper or how to pan a river for gold (because you already know those things, right?). The author could have ditched the astrological pinnings in my opinion. Midway through, dialogue gains the upper hand to my great relief, accelerating some general enlightenment.

Without trying to name the characters ― there are no heroes but opportunists and villains aplenty ― we have the diggers; the prostitute; the chemist; the captain; the gaoler; the enigmatic Maori; the opium smokers; the false friends; lost family; star-crossed lovers; and so on. Figuring out the flaws and the truth is just part of the reader's job. The questions involve deeds; contracts; marriage documents; shipping records; signatures; treacherous motives; and assumed identities, all appealing to family history detectives. Perhaps like me you will itch for a timeline on a spreadsheet!

Catton's encyclopaedic range of rich historical detail is a marvel: surely something of interest for everyone? An entire community, a town, has been created here. And there's even a delicious courtroom drama. Yet a number of contemporary terms are not explicit, another challenge to glean from context: celestials was a common reference to Chinese immigrants; I shall give you 'bounders for homework. Some of the scenes were reminiscent of an old black and white silent movie, or dear lord, maybe I was channelling Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush.

The key seems to be allowing yourself to absorb a rich new environment. You will be rewarded with a twisting tale like no other. Ultimately I recommend not missing an intricate, first-class novel.

Dare I suggest reading it a second time to get what you glossed over the first time? ~ evil laugh ~

The death at the centre of it all:
The wooden headstone that marked Crosbie Wells' grave had surrendered already to the coastal climate. Two weeks following the hermit's death, the wooden plaque was already swollen, the face already spotted with a rime of black mould. The indentation of the cooper's engraving had softened, and the thin accent of paint had faded from white to a murky yellow-grey, giving the impression, not altogether dispelled by the stated year of his death, that the man had been deceased for a very long time. The plot was yet unseeded by lichen or grass, and, despite the rain, had a barren look―not of earth recently turned, but of earth that has settled, and would not be turned again. (309)

The newly arrived widow:
In the parlour of the Wayfarer Hotel Gascoigne discovered her stretched out on the sofa with her slipper dangling free from her toe, one arm flung wide, and her head thrown back against a pillow; she was clasping a pocket-sized novel in her other hand, quite as if the book were an accessory to a faint. Her rouged cheeks and titillated aspect had been manufactured in the moments prior to Gascoigne's entrance, though the latter did not know it. They suggested to him, as was the woman's intention, that the narrative in which she had been engrossed was a very licentious one. (285-6)

Only one of the secrets:
If Shepard was the subject of idle rumour, it was of the conjectural sort, and nearly always concerned his private relations with his wife. Their marriage was to all appearances conducted in absolute silence, with a grim determination on his part, and a fearful inhibition on hers. The woman referred to her own self as Mrs. George, and this only in a whisper; she wore the bewildered, panicked aspect of a tortured animal, who sees a cage where there is none, and cowers at every sudden thing. Mrs. George rarely ventured beyond the gaol-house door except, on rare occasions of civic display, to trip red-faced down Revell-street in Governor Shepard's wake. They had been at Hokitika four months before anyone had discovered that she did in fact possess a Christian name―Margaret―though to speak it in her presence was an assault so dreadful that her only recourse was to flee. (132)

"Truth"
Moody paused a moment, thinking. "In a court of law," he said at last, "a witness takes his oath to speak the truth: his own truth, that is. He agrees to two parameters. His testimony must be the whole truth, and his testimony must be nothing but the truth. Only the second of these parameters is a true limit. The first, of course, is a matter of discretion. When we say the whole truth we mean, more precisely, all the facts and impressions that are pertinent to the matter at hand. All that is impertinent is not only immaterial; its is, in many cases, deliberately misleading. Gentleman," (although this collective address sat oddly, considering the mixed company in the room) "I contend that there are no whole truths, there are only pertinent truths―and pertinence, you must agree, is always a matter of perspective. I do not believe that any one of you has perjured himself in any way tonight. I trust that you have given me the truth, and nothing but the truth. But your perspectives are very many and you will forgive me if I do not take your tale for something whole." (282)



29 October 2014

Skeletons for Four Closets



Coming soon: All Saints Day and All Souls Day.

Prepare yourself.

These creative designs come from Biscuit Box:
http://bisqytbox.blogspot.ca/2012/11/inspirational-panel-dia-de-los-muertos.html.

Feliz Dia de los Muertos!

20 October 2014

Library Limelights 70

Nathan Dylan Goodwin. The Lost Ancestor. www.nathangoodwin.co.uk, 2014.
Goodwin's novel is a dilly that sucked me right in, not an easy thing to do with my predilection for Scottish noir and Swedish perverse. It's the second book after Hiding the Past in a planned series. Based in East Sussex, England, forensic genealogist Morton Farrier gets a dream job: find out what happened to the missing sister of an ancestor one hundred years ago. Mary Mercer was learning the ropes as third housemaid in an upper-class mansion (Downton Abbey fans will love the minute details of service life); she suddenly disappeared, leaving a hole in a family tree. It's hard to avoid spoilers, so let's just say this is a lively romp through Edwardian times and someone (or two?) is prepared to kill Morton to stop his research meddling.

Identity is a major issue as a twisting, strange scenario unfolds. Technicalities of the genealogical research are not intrusive for a non-family historian reader, quite the contrary. You might say certain unusual documents coincide rather conveniently to drive the plot, but Goodwin skillfully builds credibility. Even better is how the author carefully parallels Morton's progress with Mary's own story, a challenging device handled admirably. Dialogue and characters integrate naturally with just the right touch of our hero's own family problems. One quibble: overly-long paragraphs can be a drag. Nevertheless, The Lost Ancestor is a winner in my books.

Mary reflects:
Her mother's words and a flashback of a visit to see her granny in the Rye workhouse filled her mind. Now she understood why Granny, spirit and body broken, was dead and buried in a pauper's grave at the age of sixty-two.
The chunks of willow in the grate had all but disappeared when sleep finally came for Mary. She had cried for what seemed to her like an eternity: she cried for the pain in her body; she cried for her granny; she cried for her sister, Edie; she cried for the life she wanted; but most of all, she cried for the life to which she had given herself over. (53)

Mindmapping:
Whilst he was alone in the room, Morton stared at the wall that Juliette had dubbed haphazard. It might look chaotic, but each little pin, Post-it and string connection made sense in Morton's head. At the centre of it all was the photo of Mary. The last known picture ever taken of her. He sent the latest email from the Nova Scotia Archives to the printer and added the information to the wall then emailed Ray Mercer asking if he knew when his grandmother divorced. (178)

Friend speaks to unfriendly archivist:
"You know, we really must meet up for dinner sometime."
"Well, I'm free after work today if you'd like?"
"I can't today, I'm afraid―I came in Morton's car." She turned to Morton. "Unless you'd care to join us?"
Morton waited for his life to flash before his eyes. This had to be a near-death experience. Dinner with Deidre Latimer would be one of the worst tortures imaginable. At the moment, he could not think of a single thing that was a worse idea. He tried to disguise the look of horror on his face. (203)


[Paperback copies of The Lost Ancestor can be ordered on the website; the Kindle version is currently only available in the UK and the US.]

Jonas Jonasson. The Girl Who Saved the Swedish King. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2014.
Um, I have to say a little disappointing. Perhaps not unusual in a second novel, but not matching the lighthearted and (what I consider) exquisite The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Take an illiterate Soweto girl, an addled engineer, a pair of unlikely-named twins, Mossad agents, and a variety of time-warped hangers-on: stir briskly to see what floats to the top. Our protagonist Nobeko is something of a prodigy, rising from South African slums to advising international heads of state. She spends a long time locked up in the Pelindaba nuclear facility where she is treated no better than a stick of furniture (ten years of being called whatsername). Then she meets the king-obsessed twin just as her Chinese friends commit a huge blunder with the diplomatic mail ― and the plot truly takes off.

A potato truck, an atomic bomb, and some volatile activists in Sweden become central to much of the book. Yes indeed, another Jonasson screwball comedy but with political intrusions more polemically spiteful than his usual brand of black humour. Maybe that's because they can't mask the disenfranchised poverty in African history. The more I read, the more I felt a lot of strain going on here to maintain an effortless whimsy that evaporated along with some of my attention. At the the end, the characters became strangely repetitious; did they (or the author?) run out of steam? Not to kvetch further; The Girl does have redeeming moments.

Word: Klipdrift – An honest-to-gawd South African brandy (I thought he made it up) apparently favoured by Australians and nuclear scientists.

South Africa's prime minister Vorster:
He was very busy from early in the morning to late at night. The most pressing matter on his desk right now was that of the six atomic bombs. What if that obsequious Westhuizen wasn't the right man for the job? He talked and talked, but he never delivered.
Vorster muttered to himself about the damn UN, the Communists in Angola, the Soviets and Cuba sending hordes of revolutionaries to southern Africa, and the Marxists who had already taken over in Mozambique. Plus those CIA bastards who always managed to figure out what was going on, and then couldn't shut up about what they knew.
Oh, fuck it, thought B.J. Vorster about the world in general.
The nation was under threat now; not once the engineer chose to take his thumb out of his ass. (44)

The angry young woman:
Nombeko sat down in the angry young woman's kitchen and said there was probably an awful lot of lying in every country. And then she opened the conversation with a simple and general question:
"So how are things with you?"
The angry young woman turned out to be angry about everything. She was angry about the country's continued dependence on nuclear power. And oil. About all the rivers harnessed for hydropower. About the noisy and ugly wind power. About how they were going to build a bridge to Denmark. At all the Danes, because they were Danes. At mink farmers because they were mink farmers. At animal breeders in general, actually. At everyone who ate meat. At everyone who didn't (she lost Nombeko here for a moment). At all the capitalists. At almost all the Communists. At her father because he worked at a bank. At her mother because she didn't work at all. At her grandmother, because she had some noble blood. At herself because she was forced to be a wage slave instead of changing the world. And at the world, which didn't have any good wage-slavery to offer. (169-170)

Swedish history, by Gustav Adolf IV:
It all started when his father was shot at the Royal Opera House. The king's son had two weeks to get used to his new role while his dad lay there dying. This turned out to be too little time. In addition, his father had succeeded in hammering into the boy that the Swedish king was given his post by the grace of God and that the king and God worked as a team.
A person who feels the Lord watching over him finds it to be a minor thing in order to defeat both the emperor Napoleon and Czar Alexander―all at once. Unfortunately, the emperor and the czar also claimed to have divine protection and acted accordingly. Assuming they were all correct, God had promised a little too much in too many directions at the same time. All the Lord could do about that was to let their true relative strengths settle the matter. ...
"Well, look at that," said Holger One.
"I'm not finished yet," said the king. (338)

14 October 2014

Library Limelights 69

Tom Rob Smith. The Farm. New York: Hachette Group/Grand Central Publishing, 2014.
On reading this after a published review recommended it, my question: is this book basically an English nightmare of Swedish noir? Keep in mind that yours truly is a fan of fairly hard-boiled crime fiction. This tale is something else; Daniel has to make decisions about which of his parents is either lying or "disturbed." His Swedish mum and English father retired to a modest farm in Sweden. She starts seeing threats everywhere. Old gossip takes on new meaning. Trivial, commonplace gestures, even from her husband, become sinister. Her appearance deteriorates. She's institutionalized briefly. She runs away to her son.

Narrator Daniel finds himself in the position of coaxing the real story from his mother Tilde in her own words; but is it the truth? Tilde has secrets in her past; one or two dead bodies may be involved. The book has a differently-structured format calculated to build suspense, but the stretching out of mum's experiences soon palled. Long paragraphs, i.e. mum's carefully recited suspicions, become tiresome ... and so does the aimless Daniel. As she talks-talks-talks in oddly formal style, I'm asking will the woman ever get to the point? Daniel needs to visit Sweden for himself. Who exactly is nuts or not is the obvious underlying question. Stick it out and you'll see.

One- Two-liner: She was his. He was not hers. (208)

Daniel to himself:
I have no brothers or sisters, there are no uncles or aunts, when I speak about family I mean the three of us, Mum, Dad, me―a triangle, like a fragment of a constellation, three bright stars close together with a lot of empty space around us. The absence of relatives has never been discussed in detail. There have been hints―my parents went through difficult upbringings, estranged from their own parents, and I was sure that their vow never to argue in front of me originated from a powerful desire to provide a different kind of childhood to their own. (4)

Tilde to Daniel:
Let me quickly remind you that the allegation of being mentally incapable is a tried and tested method of silencing women dating back hundreds of years, a weapon to discredit us when we fought against abuses and stood up to authority. That said, I accept that my appearance is alarming. My arms are wasted away, my clothes are tatty, my nails chipped, and my breath bad. I've spent my life striving to be presentable, and today you looked me up and down at the airport and you thought―
"She's sick!"
Wrong. I'm thinking more clearly than ever before. (25-26)

Lars Kepler. The Sandman. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2014.
Originally published in Sweden in 2012, that's how long I've been waiting. It's the fourth in the series with detective Joona Linna from the unsurpassed writings of Lars Kepler, now known to be the real-life husband-and-wife writing team Alexandra and Alexander Ahndoril. Ghastly human discoveries in a forest are the signature of the psychotic Jurek who's been locked up in a secure psychiatric facility for years. Then panic starts building to find and save a potential survivor. So many dead ends, so little time. Joona's police colleague Saga Bauer volunteers to masquerade as a psychiatric patient; her experience will keep you riveted. Joona has a personal stake in solving the mystery; his wife and child were targeted by Jurek long ago. A quick trip to Moscow adds yet another element for the reader's imagination to picture.

The author(s) have faultlessly constructed an intricately contrived plot. They portray the struggles of various characters to master their fears or darker instincts: among them, the elfin but highly trained Saga has unresolved childhood guilt; grieving Reidar, father of some victims, lives only to rectify his deepest regret. Some of the developing scenarios and sudden action kept me breathless. Reviews of the book have received such universal praise, this amateur has nothing to add ― but if you are a fan of crime fiction thrillers and/or psychological suspense, introduce yourself to Lars Kepler! Personally I always like to start at the beginning of a series, in this case The Hypnotist, then The Nightmare and The Fire Witness.

Who will interview the psycho?:
"No, I can't," says Joona.
"Why not?"
"Because I'm frightened," he replies simply.
Carlos looks at him uncertainly.
"I know you're only joking," he says nervously.
Joona turns to face him. His eyes are hard, and as grey as wet slate.
"Surely we've no reason to be scared of an old man who's already locked up," Verner says, scratching his head slightly nervously. "He ought to be scared of us. For God's sake, we could rush in, pin him down on the floor and scare the shit out of him. I mean, seriously fucking tough."
"It won't work," says Joona.
"There are methods that always work," Verner goes on. "I've got a secret group who were involved in Guantanamo."
"Obviously, this meeting has never taken place," Carlos says hurriedly. (143-144)

No means no:
Saga is still consumed by rage, holding him in the blind spot and hitting him with another right hook. The blow is extremely hard. His head is knocked aside, his cheeks flap and his glasses fly off to his left.
Bernie sinks to his knees, his head hanging as blood drips onto the floor in front of him.
Saga pulls his head up, sees that he's on the point of losing consciousness and punches him on the nose once more.
"I warned you," she whispers, letting go of him.
... Saga has time to think that she's ruined everything as she walks past Jurek to her room. (262)

A chase begins:
Snow is blowing across the windscreen and she slows down, switches the wipers on and brushes the light snow away.
In the distance a large piece of machinery resembling a scorpion stops in the middle of a sideways movement: it's holding a red container quite still, just above the ground.
There's no-one in the driver's cab, and the wheels are quickly being covered by snow.
She starts when her mobile suddenly rings, and smiles to herself as she answers.
"You're supposed to be asleep," she says brightly.
"Tell me where you are right now," Joona says, his voice intense.
"I'm in the car, on my way to―"
"I want you to skip the meeting and go straight home." (427)

A chase continues:
Joona is driving too fast when he turns left at the roundabout, the front bumper thuds up into the banked-up snow, the tyres rumble over the packed ice. He wrestles with the steering wheel as the car slides sideways, then puts his foot down and the car leaves the pavement and carries on along Lindarängsvägen without losing much speed.
... He overtakes a bus on the straight, hits one hundred and sixty kilometres an hour, and flies past yellow-brick blocks of flats. The car slides between the edges of the deep tracks through the snow as he brakes to turn left towards the harbour. Snow and ice are thrown up across the windscreen. Through the tall wire fence surrounding the harbour he can see a long, narrow ferry being loaded with containers in the blurred light from a crane. (429) 

03 October 2014

Library Limelights 68

Denise Mina. The End of the Wasp Season. Toronto, McArthur & Company, 2011.
Mina has a unique way of approaching the events and fallout from a crime scenario. There's a sting here, and not from the wasps that curl up and die after their natural span, as observed by a disturbed juvenile. DI Alex Morrow ― a Mina regular ― is called to investigate a particularly brutal murder; we are confronted first thing with puzzling elements of the scene. The narrative switches between the police investigation and the dysfunctional family of one miscreant, preparing for a funeral. Whether Morrow can connect them, and when more violence might take place, is at the heart of this suspense mystery.

It's a bit annoying not to understand the initial cryptic scenes that are almost a trademark style for Mina. She develops her characters with deceptively light but consummate touches ... the turn of a head, the querulous non sequitur, the daydreaming stare that hides confusion and ugliness. Family complications increase one after another; Lars and Moira were absent parents for their troubled children. Good thing Morrow's pregnancy (with twins) has made her more amenable to teamwork, in spite of an aggravating boss. Also, a childhood friend ultimately adds some needed warmth to Morrow's own tough background story. I'm hooked on Mina now.

Word: oxter ― the armpit, as used in Scotland and northern England (167)

Thomas is told his father died:
Abruptly Thomas slapped the wet off his face. He stood up and looked at the two men. 
"My father came here," he said, looking down at them, not saying what he meant: when my father came here there were religious brothers running this school, monks ran this school, not just fucking teachers who couldn't get another job or work in industry actually making things and doing things. 
"You're teachers." And my father paid for the fucking extension to the sixth form halls and the computer lab and you couldn't do that because you're just fucking teachers, so don't look down on me as a sad, lost fucking kid whose own fucking mother won't bother phoning ...". (53)

Morrow has soft moments:
Her hand stroked her stomach and she smiled faintly to herself, allowing herself another stroke and a smile before she set off. Four months pregnant and no miscarriage and the scans said both were growing and all was well. She felt happy, content for them all three to stay here for ever on the cusp of disaster and worry and sleeplessness. 
She looked again at the green floor, at the scuffed walls of the corridor where terrified and half mad men and women had been dragged to interview rooms, angry, sad, kicking against officers, pathetic and passive or swearing revenge. The walls were lined with grief and fright and worry and she felt suddenly that she might be the only person in the short history of the building to find such a measure of absolute contentment there. 
Knowing how few of these moments there might be, she shut her eyes, committing it to memory, before she blinked away her mood and moved on. (118-119)

New understanding dawns:
... Ella dissolved to the floor, arms in front of her. He looked down. Her wrists were scarred, badly scarred with long scratches up and down them. 
He tried to pick her up. She flopped onto the floor again and curled around his ankle, sobbing, tears rolling into her yellow hair at the temple, her cheek maddened by the slap. 
... Suddenly he understood the worried calls from the school over the year. This was why Lars and Moira went to visit her so much more than they went to see him. This was why they dropped their voices when they spoke about her. This was why they kept them apart. She had been ill for a long, long time. (311)


Ridley Pearson. Killer Summer. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2009.
With all due respect, this tale starring Sheriff Walt Fleming is no match for the adventures of detective Lou Boldt of Pearson's Seattle series. In my opinion. Even with an end paper map, the complicated treks through Idaho's daunting mountain country ― by more than one party ― are difficult to follow. Walt was enjoying an evening of fishing with his nephew when emergencies call him away, but for some time he can't tell if he's facing a bold heist, a complex extortion, or a kidnapping. Would you believe a character called Summer Sumner? I didn't ... a spoiled, entitled, teenage brat who precipitates at least half the action here. Summer is perhaps the best-developed of the rather superficially drawn players in the plot.

Nephew Kevin also gets swept into the action, along with Summer's father, Walt's father, a cowboy recluse, and a trio of calculating lowlifes. The plot is satisfactory but I felt a certain choppiness in sequence does not create a good story flow. Like many another big strong hero, Walt's inner feelings are hard to articulate, but his clumsy dialogue seems more stilted than credible. By the time the end came around, I didn't know or care who pulled off a shot, who missed, or who mis-fired. Shall I mention how many times I read "off of"? Pearson is not quite the author I remember; nevertheless, Sheriff Walt probably deserves another go, since he has his own series too.

One-liners:
You gotta learn to strike a balance between your pecker and your brain, boy. (297)
Sometimes his own staff treated him [Walt] like he didn't understand his own requests. (288)
[Kinda summarizes my comprehension ...]

An inexplicable moment:
The pilot was stocky, with an Irishman's florid cheeks and the kind of handsome that found its way onto the labels of soup cans. (254)

A platitudinous moment:
Mistake number one: don't ever expect a woman to do what you think she's going to do. Mistake number two: don't ever tell her what to do because that's a surefire way of making sure she doesn't. (295)

How I felt too, Walt:
"You do go to the movies?" Remy asked. 
"Apparently not often enough." 
"Christopher Cantell," Remy said. "That movie. Italian Job? No, that was a different one. Mark Wahlberg, right? Was it that one with Hanks? No, no, that was a con man, I think ... I don't know, I forget ... But they made a movie based on this guy Cantell. a heist movie. Above average, nothing great. But I remember the press: they played up the real-life side of it ... That's as much as I know about him." 
"A movie," Walt said. He felt the rug going out from under him. (269-70)