My CAMELOGUE is available at
More fun at CamelDabble Travel Babble

23 September 2014

Library Limelights 67

Martin Cruz Smith. Tatiana. New York, Simon & Schuster, 2013.
I couldn't wait, could I (after December 6) ... soon Smith's latest novel arrived at my local library. I'd say it's not one of his best in terms of action or drama, but Senior Investigator Arkady Renko of the Moscow police plunges ahead in his cynical way. Even more than usual, he sets his own agenda without, this time, any noticeable hassle from his prosecutor superior. A Russian mafia boss has been executed but Arkady finds more interest in the coincidental suicide of a journalist called Tatiana who fearlessly pursued and exposed fraud on many levels of society. Listening to her stored tapes, he falls in love with a ghost. Did she go out of her way to become a martyr?

The scene shifts to Kaliningrad, "Russia's most corrupt city." Surprises await our weary hero there. A cryptic notebook is the only clue to finding a covert meeting scheduled for the biggest illicit subversion yet of government money. An international translator has already been killed in the process. Arkady's erstwhile adopted son Zhenya might be able to decode the notebook but he has some extortion of his own in mind. His partner, the faithful Sergeant Victor Orlov, is on the job when he's not on the vodka. This is modern Moscow ― modern Russia ― seen through jaded eyes. Or is it jaded Russia seen through modern eyes? Little bloodletting, satisfactory ending. More Renko, please!

One-liner: "Her favourite targets were the former KGB who dwelled like bats in the Kremlin." (20)

A cross-section of society?
The funeral party was similarly mixed. Arkady spotted billionaires who had their arms around the nation's timber and natural gas, lawmakers who were sucking the state treasury dry, boxers who had become thugs, priests as round as beetles, models hobbling on stiletto heels and actors who only played assassins rubbing shoulders with the real thing. (10-11)

The modern army:
"You don't think I would make a good soldier?"
Arkady thought Zhenya would make a good punching bag for soldiers.
"It's not that."
"You were in the army. Your father was a general. I read about him. He was a killer."
"It's a different army now."
"You don't think I can take the hazing?"
It was more than hazing, Arkady thought. It was a system of brutalization at the hands of drunken noncoms and officers. It was daily beatings with fists and chairs, standing naked in freezing weather and the least sign of intelligence stamped out. It was a system that produced soldiers who went AWOL, strung themselves up by their belts or traded their weapons for vodka. (63)

Vintage Renko:
Whenever Arkady visited the university, he could not help but measure his progress in life against the precocious student he had been. What promise! A golden youth, son of an infamous general, he had floated easily to the top. By now, he should have been a deputy minister or, at the very least, a prosecutor, ruler of his own precinct and feasting at the public trough. Somehow, he had wandered. Almost all the cases that came his way were fueled by vodka and capped by a drunken confession. Crimes that displayed planning and intelligence were all too often followed by a phone call from above, with advice to "go easy" or not "make waves." Instead of bending, he pushed back, and so guaranteed his descent from early promise to pariah. (79)

Michael Connolly. The Gods of Guilt. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.
The Lincoln Lawyer is back. Mickey Haller, half-brother of detective Harry Bosch, has a new but unsavoury client who was framed by a complex conspiracy. Mickey is full of guilt from past experiences, and in this case more so because he knew the murder victim. Or he thought he did. Maybe he himself was framed; an attempt to kill him is another mystery to solve. Collaboration with some sinister types is necessary to make a courtroom case that exposes hidden drug activities. It's almost hard to believe the judge accepted some of the defence evidence, but the twisted chain of events finally becomes clear. Written in the first person, Mickey is not the easiest boss for his little team to work with. In fact, he does not start out as the most sympathetic hero but we are cheering for him well before it's over.

Emergency team meeting:
"I can put a guy on the place―twenty-four-seven," Cisco said. "Might be worth it."
"And what money do we use to pay for all of this?" Lorna asked.
"Hold off on the guy, Cisco," I said. "Maybe when we get to trial. For now we'll go with just locks and cameras."
I then leaned forward, elbows on the table.
"It's all one case now," I said again. "And so we need to take it apart and look at all the pieces. Eight years ago I was manipulated. I handled a case and made moves I believed were of my own design. But they weren't, and I'm not going to let that happen again here." (155)

Robert Galbraith. The Silkworm. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014.
Private detective Cormoran Strike is hobbling worse than ever, this time through the literary world of writing, editing, and publishing. I really thought we'd see him in hospital again nursing his aching, damaged stump. Thankfully, business is good due to publicity regarding his previous case (The Cuckoo's Calling). Hired to look for a missing husband, he meets vain and/or rude characters one after another, any of whom may have staged an ultra-gruesome murder; the scene replicates the murder description in the victim's unpublished manuscript.

In following Strike's lead to find the real killer (naturally, there are red herrings), remembering who said what to whom is a good test of the reader's acuity. It's encouraging to see Strike's assistant Robin stepping up to the plate, but she just won't get rid of her pompous, humourless fiancé. Almost, not quite, as captivating as the first book.

Happy hapless birthday:
Lucy appeared with the homemade cake, blazing with thirty-six candles and decorated with what looked like hundreds of Smarties. As Greg turned out the light and everyone began to sing, Strike experienced an almost overwhelming desire to leave. He would ring a cab the instant he could escape the room; in the meantime, he hoisted a smile onto his face and blew out the candles, avoiding the gaze of Marguerite, who was smoldering at him with an unnerving lack of restraint from a nearby chair. It was not his fault that he had been made to play the decorated helpmeet of abandoned women by his well-meaning friends and family. (111-112)

Galbraith's real message:
"You were still friends at this point?" Strike clarified.
"When he started the book we were still―in theory―friends," said Fancourt with a grim smile. "But we writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want lifelong friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels." (397)

18 September 2014

Lost and Found: Common Prayer

Times past ... a little treasure, worn and used before I first found it.

The page with the publishing data had been cut out.

09 September 2014

Library Limelights 66

Herman Koch. Summer House with Swimming Pool. New York: Hogarth/Crown Publishing Group, (translation) 2014.
Koch has done it again (since TheDinner): purposely presenting us with a less than amiable narrator: Dr Marc Schlosser is a general practitioner with rather odd professional standards. The initial scenes create antipathy but soon the author has us following the tantalizing thread of what led to the introductory situation. Schlosser's ordered life unravels in suspicion and paranoia upon socializing with a celebrity patient, Ralph Meier. They do like to party. Their families get along swimmingly. Then Ralph dies.

Summer House is a mystery but not really a crime novel. Privy to the doctor's thoughts, we clearly see his love for wife Caroline and daughters, but we also see his subterfuge and hangups about human physicality. Schlosser's fantasies of destruction and bloodbaths, while examining his patients, are bizarre, yet have a comical element. Above all, Koch is a master of nuance, of unspoken motivation. Watching his people reveal themselves is a writer's model of character development. On the other hand, you may never trust your family physician again.

Ralph in lust:
It took a couple of seconds before I realized that Ralph was no longer listening to me. He was no longer even looking at me. And, without following his gaze, I knew immediately what he was looking at.
Now something was happening to the gaze itself. To the eyes. As he examined the back of Caroline's body from head to foot, a film slid down over his eyes. In nature films, you see that sometimes with birds of prey. A raptor that has located, from somewhere far up, high in the sir, or from a tree branch, a mouse or some other tasty morsel. That was how Ralph Meier was regarding my wife's body: as if it were something edible, something that made his mouth water. (47)

Marc in lust:
I said nothing. I walked a little closer to her, so that our forearms touched. I smelled something vague: sea air mixed with a hint of perfume or deodorant. It was only a matter of time, I knew. Or rather, a matter of timing. To grab her around the waist already would be taking things too fast. I estimated the distance to the beach club. Ten minutes. Within ten minutes she would be all mine. (242)

Chopping a giant swordfish for BBQ:
He was down on his haunches and had kicked off his flip-flops. I looked at his bare feet: from time to time the hatchet came awfully close to his toes on the tiles. I looked on as a physician. Just to be safe, I tried to work out what I would have to do first. If kept cool, toes and fingers could be put back on at the hospital. If Ralph planted the hatchet in one or more of his toes, someone would have to keep a level head. There was a doctor in the house. It would be up to the doctor to stanch the flow of blood and wrap the toes in a wet towel with ice cubes. Women and children might faint; the doctor was perhaps the only one who would be able to keep cool. Judith, ice from the freezer! And a wet towel! Caroline, help me apply a tourniquet to his calfhe's losing too much blood! Stanley, start the car and fold down the back-seat! Julia, Lisa, Alex, Thomas, go inside, you're only getting in the way. Leave Emmanuelle where she is. Just put a pillow under her headshe'll come around in a bit ... It would be my opportunity to shine in a leading role, the role for which I was perfectly suited, but the hatchet came down only once within a fraction of an inch of Ralph's big toe. (191)

Claire Cameron. The Bear. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2014.
Prejudice here: I liked Cameron's first (mystery) novel The Line Painter very much and I've been associated with her mother for some twenty years. But then I thought to myself: I am so over having toddlers, can I really get into the skin of a pre-schooler? Because once begun, The Bear is just that ― narration by a five-almost-six-years-old girl whose parents are savagely killed by a marauding bear in a wilderness park. Little Anna and her even younger brother Alex (whom she calls Stick) were saved by their father's last desperate action to hide them. Anna's limited frame of reference deals with the devastation by allowing her to see only what makes sense to her.

It's quite magical how Cameron captures Anna's fertile imagination, the natural jumps in attention span, the childish logic. How will these small children survive? Will they ever be found? Will the bear return? Anna's memories help sustain her; one of them turns her to a game only she and Stick share. It's brilliant how the author makes Anna's character internalize the idea of bear. I don't want to give away the suspense but later events contrast the innocent inner life of a child with how wrong we can be about it. I'd say Cameron has talent to burn. But then, I'm prejudiced.

The campsite from the canoe:
I look at Daddy's broken paddle on land and worry drips into my heart. I don't see Daddy. Momma said to take Stick in the canoe and wait. A little puddle of black sits in my heart too and I know Momma said to wait. I am supposed to get Stick in the canoe and wait and now I am going back. I am bad. I want to be good girl and Daddy will come back again and my family will be four. (59)

Little brother:
I think Stick has English inside his head and he doesn't make it come out loud so much even when it comes out the wrong way or backwards like my name Nana. His words are in his head and they get stuck when they swim around inside. This is because I saw a picture of a brain and there are little squiggly paths that wind around like worms and English has to travel through the squiggles that are like tunnels for worms. A baby can't push their thinking because there are so many worms. Stick isn't a baby any more but he still is wormy gross and I tease him about worms and get in trouble when I put them in his face. I have to put them back in the dirt to let them have a nice life again. (74)

Feverish Anna:
"Sticky! Stick!" I stand up and the rain hits me on every side of my body and I shout both his names over and over and my throat has claws that are ripping me and I am so scared and my kneecaps wiggle so much they will fall and my tummy heaves and I have a little barf and my arms are so bubbled and red and my face is hot and might fall off but I have to keep calling and I shout for Stick for the longest time I can. And finally I can't shout because my voice isn't making noise out of my throat. My legs fall down and I am on the ground and my heart has shaken loose and rolled away. I can't open my eyes. All I see is my lids and black and I can barely feel the rain but the itchy black is eating up my skin from the outside and crawling all through my blood. I want to get up but I can't. Only my brain can think so everything is black and I can't move. (144)

28 August 2014

Library Limelights 65

Martin Cruz Smith. December 6. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.
Long ago I was smitten with Arkady Renko in Gorky Park, and devoured all the subsequent novels featuring the incomparable Moscow detective. Here, no Arkady; instead a great device the author uses to explore all the disparate elements underlying the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour: a most engaging fellow by the name of Harry Niles. Son of a Baptist missionary couple, having lived in Tokyo most of his life (colourfully reenacted as a street urchin), Harry's lens encompasses a broad if jaundiced view of international machinations, sometimes being accused of being more Japanese than the natives. His reputation as a gambler and profligate ne'er-do-well is belied by his humane but anonymous acts of benevolence. He has wriggled out of many a tight spot before.

Spy or informer? It's all we can do to follow the web he's woven in an attempt to stop the impending war. At times Harry has credibility with officials of different stripes; but his dramatic reckoning comes when they all hunt him down, right up to the crucial moments. His biggest nemesis, Ishigami, is particularly fearsome as a crazed, born-again Samurai. The reader's immersion in the doomsday climate is complete; the suspense is brilliantly built. Until the last minute, we don't know if Harry will make it or not. Highly recommended for historical fiction fans. And whoopie, I see Smith's latest Renko novel (Tatiana) is out; already on my TPL holds!

He had literally run into her when they met, Harry at the wheel of his car, Michiko bloody from a crackdown on the last Reds in Tokyo, a police sweep that scattered the comrades over rooftops and down alleys. Harry had pulled Michiko into the car and driven off, the first in a series of impulsive decisions he regretted, such as taking her home, patching her head, letting her stay the night. She left in the morning and returned a week later, her hair hacked short, with a pack containing a prayer wheel and the works of Marx and Engels. She stayed another night and another and never left Harry's for good; that was two years ago. If he'd left her on the street, if he'd given her over to the police, if he hadn't fed her the morning after he'd rescued her. That was probably the worst mistake of all, the fatal bowl of miso. ... Gratitude was always a dicey issue in Japan; the very word arigato meant both "thank you" and "you have placed a sickening obligation on me." (38)

With his bowed legs, shaved head, mustache and spectacles, Tojo fit the bill of a cartoon Japanese. Harry remembered him from the geisha houses in Asakusa as a loudmouth with a big cigar. In fact, what always struck Harry was how un-Japanese Tojo was. Most Japanese strove so hard for modesty they could be virtually inarticulate, while the general had a paranoid's talent for public ranting. On the other hand, his paranoia was well deserved. There were army officers ready to shoot Tojo because they thought he wasn't warlike enough. (72-73)

Close to zero hour:
"Harry, you must get on that plane tomorrow.""My thought too."Alice was quiet for a moment. "Do you imagine if I thought anyone would heed our warning of an attack, that I would abandon my post? It's too late for warnings, Harry. There are no brakes on the bus and no ears on the driver. This crash is going to happen.""We can try." (299)

Lee Child. Never Go Back. New York: Dell Mass Market Edition, 2014.
Say hello to Jack Reacher again, in Child's umpteenth novel about the man. Reacher never goes stale because he always meets a new problem-situation thrust upon him, and the prose is no-nonsense, pedestrian style. In this case, the ex-army MP, a drifter by choice, goes to DC on a whim. Visiting his old command post triggers a series of planned traps and unpleasant encounters designed to get rid of him. The mysterious opponents (are they army? government? private interests? all three?) have a probable connection to Afghanistan. He forges doggedly ahead in his usual, meticulously logical way like a well-oiled machine ― no introspection here: Reacher is a physical Superman but more or less verbally inarticulate.

The female interest, Major Susan Turner, was made a target for career disaster so they team up after Reacher busts her from prison. She turns out to be just as tough as Reacher: his ideal woman? The nearest he seems to come to human emotion is thinking to himself a few times that she's "worth it." One of the traps involves a brand-new idea of family for Reacher. As they chased around the eastern seaboard and then Los Angeles, I got a little tired of Reacher's continual reference to the coin toss and 50-50 odds. But Child is always great for macho fight descriptions. And anyone who can employ the description "voiceless alveolar fricative" (150) has my admiration.

Dining out:
The cafe was a rural greasy spoon as perfect as anything Reacher had ever seen. It had a black guy in a white undershirt next to a lard-slick griddle three feet deep and six feet wide. It had battered pine tables and mismatched chairs. It smelled of old grease and fresh coffee. It had two ancient white men in seed caps, one of them sitting way to the left of the door, the other way to the right. Maybe they didn't get along. Maybe they were victims of a feud three hundred years old.
Turner chose a table in the middle of the room, and they rattled the chairs out over the board floor, and they sat down. There were no menus. No chalkboards with handwritten lists of daily specials. It wasn't that kind of place. Ordering was clearly telepathic between the cook and his regular customers. For new customers, it was going to be a matter of asking out loud, plain and simple. (219)

Dining again, their cryptic relationship:
Turner chose a booth at the front window, and they watched a bus go by, and Reacher said, "I'm a detective and I know what you're going to say."She said, "Do you?""It was always fifty-fifty. Like flipping a coin.""That easy?""You have no obligation even to think about it. This was my thing, not yours. I came here. You didn't come to South Dakota.""That's true. That's how it started. I wasn't sure. But it changed. For a time. Starting in that cell, in the Dyer guardhouse. You were taking Temple away, and you looked over your shoulder at me and told me to wait there. And I did." (511)

22 August 2014

FEC Fire Drill

Past performance (pun intended) by the denizens of FEC (Fading Entertainers Central) prompted Upper Levels in the Chain of Command to issue orders: FEC will have a Fire Drill.

 Mr. OCD is fuming because he the IC (Inmates Committee) was not consulted. He has a need for position recognition. What he feels is an oversight causes him to upgrade his usual operatic humming to intermittent but furious Wagnerian bellows as he paces the communal lobby. His stress kills the initial excited buzz recalling fire drills in school days of yore.

It's no secret FEC has a rocky relationship with the Fire Department thanks to said past performance. To date about a hundred false alarms have rousted the local firemen, and often the deputy chief, from whatever they normally do, engines screaming up to our doorstep at all hours of day and night. Mostly night. To the great annoyance of the neighbourhood. Our lunatics residents have sent the smoke alarms blaring with stove fires, malfunctioning ovens, forgotten cigarettes, faulty wiring, and occasionally, an orgy of candles running amok. Also never forgotten, a memorable balcony explosion from an illegal barbecue that blackened six surrounding suites and actually incurred the use of hoses.

Firemen are also beckoned by 911 calls, sometimes legitimate, followed by the paramedics, till the street is filled with whooping sirens, flashing lights, and our heroes dressed in all their heavyweight gear. Then there are the calls blamed on the faulty intercom, bathtub floods, accidentally pushing the call alert thingy, perhaps even a few pocket dials.

So the FEC Upper Levels decided a proper Fire Drill will go a long way to ass-kissing improving our reputation public relations with our boots-and-helmet brethren. Demonstrating competence in their eyes, we will become a sterling example of community compliance.

Building manager Simon distributed information sheets to each suite for an orderly exercise. We know, we know. The alarm goes on and the elevators turn off. Everyone descends the stairways to safety outside on the sidewalk. The logistics are thrust on Simon and to a marginal degree, Sandor the Super.

Oh wait. Inmates residents with mobility issues are to remain in their suites. No further instructions for them beyond that. Rapid, rampant speculation circulates through the rumour circles that aerial ladders will be employed to extricate them. Or since they can't climb down the stairways, perhaps they could climb up to the roof. Much heated discussion, does the fire department have a rescue helicopter or not.

Certain elements are seen hastily pasting CAT RESCUE signs to their doors. More discussion: does the fire department rescue cats or not. [Forget me? and just get Whiskers the hell outta here?]

Comes the appointed day. One might notice that the garage is almost empty, those with cars and foresight having fled the exercise well in advance. The rest of us with cars and no mobility issues snuck away minutes beforehand to gather in the Hearty Tartan pub for a quick one. And debate how long a Fire Drill might take. The HT has a convenient window to accommodate our crowd of spies.

We see, from our comfort zone, a few hapless lunatics residents stumble out of FEC, directed by Simon in his teamwork zeal not to our sidewalk but to better safety across the street. These are the loyal FEC minority who are genetically programmed to obey all management memos. Sandor the Super is manning the intercom with the demeanour of an East Berlin border guard.

Dear Simon ― of whom we are generally fond ― obliviously scheduled the Drill at rush hour for crossing the street. To safety. Single-handedly he manages to direct and assist, obstructing traffic for blocks. Some like Fragrant Elayne and dear Blanche and distracted Daphne need a good five minutes each to totter across. McElroy is grinning like a maniac with half a cigar defiantly clamped in his teeth. Sally (who else) and Luther trail Simon back and forth in the frenetic crossing chain, demanding he wear a day-glo orange vest. Blockaded drivers exit their vehicles to contribute their own demands. One of Marietta's wretched creepy dogs escapes her bundle buggy and hightails it between the cars, having spotted a kid with a hot dog. Plenty of screeching and bad language.

Oh, look. Here comes our amiable friend Officer Strombolopolus to have a word with Simon and unsnarl the traffic.

No telling how many sneaks residents actually stayed put ― a few would be long passed out in their recliner chairs at the TV set and others clandestinely peeping at the excitement from their windows. A few waiting for the helicopter. Poor Simon looks dangerously close to collapsing. George and Jiminy Crickets try to marshal the motley evacuees while Mr. OCD stands by, glowering.

Not a fireman in sight.

So perfectly FEC'd up, we in the Hearty Tartan agree. Let's have another quick one since we're here anyway. With no official witnesses appearing to approve the sorry pandemonium Fire Drill, Upper Levels in the Chain of Command can stop chewing their nails. And go back to the drawing board.

It's true we can't see the roof from here, but we know Bella is up there, waiting for the helicopter. Sandor will find her on his nightly inspection and tell her to go home.

Another pointless feckless day in the life ...  


17 August 2014

Library Limelights 64

Andrew Pyper. The Guardians. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2011.
The paranormal is not my cuppa, something I should have remembered from reading Pyper's Killing Circle. There's no question the author is very good at this genre; his grasp of the psychological effects on witnesses in the story is excellent. It's a mystery tale as well ― boyhood friends return to small-town Ontario for a funeral only to face their mutual past secrets. Then a woman disappears and history seems to repeat itself. If Trevor, Randy, and Carl help the police, they will have to reveal old crimes. But they discover the first crime was even before their time. The story is structured between the present-day and Trevor's re-creating a diary of the past.

Object of boyhood fear:
The Thurman house was no different in its construction than any of other squat, no-nonsense residences it shared Caledonia Street with, two rows of Ontario re-brick built at the last cebntury's turn for the towns first doctors, solicitors and engineers. So why did it stand out for us? What made it the one and only haunted house in Grimshaw for our generation? Its emptiness was part of the answer. Houses can be in poor repair, ugly and overgrown, but this makes them merely sad, not the imagined domicile of phantoms. Vacancy is an unnatural state for a still-habitable home, a sign of disease or threat, like a pretty girl standing alone at a dance. (91)

Trevor struggles with Parkinson's:
It's my legs ― kicking and side-swinging worse than at any other point since my arrival in Grimshaw ― that seem to know I'm going to Sarah's before I do. I must now appear, as one of my doctors said I would eventually, as a "top-heavy drunk," leaving my shoe prints on dew-sodden lawns. You'd think, in my condition, presenting myself before a woman I like would be a bad idea. But the thing is, I don't have time to wait for good ideas anymore. (306)

Mark Billingham. From the Dead. Toronto: McArthur & Company, 2010.
Despite the publisher's blurbs, I find DI Thomas Thorne is not as engaging as, say, Rebus (Rankin) or Banks (Robinson). Meaning I didn't enjoy this as much as Billingham's Rush of Blood which is not in the Thorne series. Nevertheless, From the Dead is an unusual crime story. New information re-opens an old case when the convict Donna is released from prison. Was the wrong man killed? Her intended victim is alive and mocking police efforts in England and Spain. Tracing the actual victim's identity looks hopeless. To complicate matters, her daughter disappears. Donna hires would-be private eye Anna Carpenter to help her.

Anna latches onto DI Thorne to his chagrin but with the blessing of his superiors, Brigstocke and Jesmond. We see how this new association affects Thorne's bumpy relationship with girlfriend Louise. The policeman is mentally suffering over the jury's acquittal of a dangerous felon in a prior case; Thorne's evidence had not been strong enough for a conviction. He agonizes about unsolved cases of missing and/or assaulted women. But it's as if he does more observing than detecting. Donna triggers the climax, not unexpectedly, but Billingham provides a great anti-climactic ending.

Anna makes a career decision:
Her father did not often lose his temper, and seeing him looking so lost, so genuinely confused, when Anna announced that she had thrown in her job at the bank had been hugely upsetting. She felt ashamed just thinking about it; prickling with sweat and as close to tears as he had been when she'd told him.
"What are we supposed to think, your mum and me?"
Her mother had slowly risen from her seat as soon as Anna had begun saying her piece, but had made no response. She had just stared, red-faced and breathing noisily, as thought she were trying her very best not to march across the carpet and slap her daughter. (32)

"Have fun with young Miss Marple," Brigstocke said.
Thorne took his tea and sandwiches and swore loudly enough to provoke disgusted looks from the elderly couple across the aisle when Anna told him there was no change from his tenner. He sugared his tea and lowered his voice and said, "So, what the hell was all that about back there?"
"All what?"
"I told you not to say anything."
"Come on, I couldn't just sit there like a plank," Anna said. "It would have looked really strange."
"I don't care how it would have looked. I was there to question a potentially crucial witness and you were there to observe, that's all. I did not want you chipping in."
"I thought we made a good team."
"We're not any sort of team," Thorne said.
"Whatever." (67)

05 August 2014

Library Limelights 63

Mo Hayder. Wolf. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2014.
Beware, this book has some scary characters who will creep you out. The psychological torture within is not to everyone's taste and I wouldn't recommend it except for the most diehard crime readers. Hayder has a reputation for shocking her fans. That said, this story of a home invasion is superbly developed, fraught with dread. We meet series character police detective Jack Caffery of past books. He is on a separate mission of his own and part of the suspense is when ― or whether ― his search will dovetail with the main story, with help of a dog called Bear. The Walking Man is another repeat character; he serves as a foil to Caffery's internal anxiety.

The family caught in a nightmare trap had only a peripheral involvement in murders of fifteen years ago. Who could be orchestrating their current plight? Potential motives slowly unfold. Are the criminals really who they appear to be? The truth may lie somewhere in their transforming thoughts. If there's a plan, it begins to disintegrate in unpredictable ways. The more we learn, the more Hayder finely balances our sympathy and antipathy among the players. And perhaps Caffery finally resolves his personal quest. If you want the challenge of mind-messing, go for it!

The parallel universe?
Matilda stares at him. All their lives Oliver has been the one with the answers. Whatever the question, he always has an answer. Except now.
She looks around herself, completely bewildered. The kitchen ‒ the place she feels most at home ‒ is a different landscape. Yes, she hung those candy-stripe curtains. She chose the pink range kettle to match. She stocked the painted shelves. There's a jar at the back no-one would ever notice, its lid open to release the smell of cinnamon. All of this is familiar. Yet somehow they've crossed into a different reality.
A door bangs overhead and there's the noise of scuffling on the staircase. Again Matilda strains to lift the table with her back. It gives a tiny way but the effort is too much. She squats, panting. "Oliver? What do we do?" (65-66)

Looking for clues:
"Thank you." The colonel shakes his hand. "Thank you and goodbye. You can find your own way out, I take it."
He turns, using his stick, and makes his awkward, limping way back to the house. His shoulders are hunched, his head lowered, as if it's a fight to hold it up under the force of gravity.
Bear watches him go, her head on one side. Caffrey says nothing. Doesn't move for a while, because he's thinking that it's always the same when he meets older people, all he sees is their fragility. All he can picture in his head is his mother ‒ and wonder where she is, what she is doing. Whether she's alive. And if she is, whether she has ever got over loving Ewan and being left with the other child Jack. The one that, given the choice, she'd have preferred to lose.
"Come on," he tells Bear, when the sound of the slamming door has echoed across the lawn. "Let's go have a look in those trees." (174)

James Lee Burke. Feast Day of Fools. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
Burke is widely acknowledged as a brilliant American author of any genre; it's difficult to describe such illuminating prose. Atmosphere broods over all: here are not the author's familiar Louisiana bayous, but the border country of Texas, never more beautifully painted. The human landscape is something else, a stark contrast ― lost innocents, bankrupt souls, and corrupt predators. Some seek redemption, some seek victims. One might get the idea that the state is populated with nothing but sociopaths. All the major characters are haunted by their pasts. Sheriff Hackberry Holland patrols his county with the grim mettle and instincts of a survivor. His deputy Pam Tibbs provides down-to-earth counterpoint to Holland's unbending principles.

The Feast of Fools was a mediaeval annual church liturgy that became subjected to perverse abuse whereby unthinking adherents would go wild in self-indulgent excess, fully expecting their sins to be forgiven the following day. Forgiveness is seldom sought here; the story is about murders, not so much about who did them but will they be caught. Strange outlaw Jack Collins has appeared before in Burke's Texas novels. Holland also has to deal with Krill the mestizo, Sholokoff the arms dealer, Cody the delusional preacher, Riser the doomed FBI agent, and "La Magdalena" with her own warrior past. The combination of fascinating (often chilling) characters and suspense had me reading way past my bedtime. Feast Day exemplifies Burke at his best.

Samples of environmental consciousness:
• ... the air was dense and sparkling with humidity, coating every surface in sight, clinging to the skin like damp cotton, as though the sunrise were a source not of light but ignition. (93)
• Danny Boy watched the figure draw nearer, the toes of his boots cracking through the shell of baked clay along the streambed, the sky behind him a royal purple, the mesquite and piňon trees on the hillsides alive with birds that only minutes ago had been sleeping. (118)
• The thunder rolling through the hills, the smell of the ozone, the cold tannic odor of the rain and dust, the branches of the mesquite and scrub oak bending almost to the ground all seemed like the pages of a book flipping before his eyes, defining the world and his role in it in a way he had never thought possible. (148)
• The sand in the streambeds was white, the rocky sides of the declivities as sharp as knives, the land rustling with desert greenery and tables with slabs of sedimentary rock that looked like the marbled backs of albino whales. (353)
• The road through the hills was narrow and rock-strewn and dusty, the wind as hot as a blowtorch, smelling of creosote and alkali and dry stone under the layer of blue-black clouds that gave no rain.(428)

One-liner: Jack decided there was nothing wrong with Mexico that a half-dozen hydrogen bombs and a lot of topsoil couldn't cure. (411)

Hackberry Holland had come to believe that age was a separate country you did not try to explain to younger people, primarily because they had already made up their minds about it and any lessons you learned from your life were not the kind many people were interested in hearing about. If age brought gifts, he didn't know what they were. It had brought him neither wisdom nor peace of mind. His level of desire was the same, the lust of his youth glowing hot among the ashes each morning he woke. He could say with a degree of satisfaction that he didn't suffer fools and drove from his company anyone who tried to waste his time, but otherwise his dreams and his waking day were defined by the same values and frame of reference that came with his birthright. (23)

Voice of authority:
"Sheriff, who do you think runs this country?"
"You tell me."
"Lyndon was put into office by Brown and Root. Lyndon is moldering in the grave, but Brown and Root merged with Halliburton and is still alive and well. You think our current president is going to rescind their contracts at almost every United States military base in the world?"
"I wouldn't know."
"Temple Dowling stood up from his chair and removed a strand of cat hair from his sleeve. "My father said you were never a listener." (81-2)