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.

 

07 April 2016

Library Limelights 106

David Lagercrantz. The Girl in the Spider's Web. Viking/Penguin Canada, 2015.
Wow. Just wow. Worthy indeed of the original Steig Larsson series, with original characters journalist Mikael Blomkvist and hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander. Their complicated lives all but interfere with the goal of exposing an international criminal conspiracy. Blomkvist's magazine is on the brink of extinction and his reputation under ferocious attack. Salander still guards her privacy but a family member may be her newest threat. Scenes alternate among Swedish police levels, American security agents, magazine boss Berger, and a safe place for an autistic eight-year-old boy. And our heroes, of course.

Balder, a reclusive computer programmer working on artificial intelligence, first comes across the secret conspiracy; his son August becomes a murder witness and thus also a target. Subject matter occasionally turns to prime number factorization and elliptical curves (Salander and August understand them; I don't), luckily not distracting whatsoever from the action. Always more than one plot line is racing along, with separate resolutions expected. It makes for many breathless moments, definitely in the hard-to-put-down category. At the beginning the author provides a cast of characters from Larsson's previous novels: welcome and helpful, because there are many. Bravo and tack, Lagercrantz!
One-liners: "Hackers steal and lawyers legitimize the theft." (95)
He got no further, because she pulled him to her and kissed him with a force which emptied his mind. (307)

Theft:
"It's a minor revolution in the industry and I was actually involved in developing it," Brandell said. 
"Congratulations. In that case you must have made a killing." 
"That's just it." 
"Meaning what?" 
"The technology was stolen from us and now Truegames is making billions while we don't get a single öre." 
Blomkvist had heard this line before. He had even spoken to an old lady who claimed that it was actually she who had written the Harry Potter books and that J.K. Rowling had stolen everything by telepathy. (35)

Dangerous allies:
"He had boundless admiration for you." 
"Bullshit." 
"No, Mikael, that's where you're wrong. He loves his power and his money and his villa in Cannes. But more than that, it bugs him that he's not as cool as you. If we're talking cred, he's poor and you're stinking rich. Deep down he wants to be like you, I felt that right away, and yes, I should have realized that that sort of envy can become dangerous. You do know what the campaign against you is all about, don't you? Your uncompromising attitude makes people feel pathetic. Your very existence reminds then just how much they've sold out, and the more you're acclaimed, the punier they themselves appear. When it's like that the only way they can fight back is by dragging you down. The bullshit gives them back a little bit of dignity―at least that's what they imagine." (79)

Salander drops in to Professor Balder's class:
She just sat there slouched over a desk. Eventually, in the midst of a discussion of the moment of singularity in complex mathematical calculation, the point where solution hits infinity, he asked her straight out what she thought of it all. It was mean of him to pick on her. But what had happened? 
The girl looked up and said that, instead of bandying fuzzy concepts about, he should become sceptical when the basis for his calculations fell apart. It was not some sort of real world physical collapse, more a sign that his own mathematics were not up to scratch, and therefore it was sheer populism on his part to mystify singularities in black holes when it was so obvious that the main problem was the absence of a quantum mathematical method for calculating gravity. 
With icy clarity―which set off a buzz in the hall―she then presented a sweeping critique of the singularity theorists he had quoted, and he was incapable of coming up with any answer other than a dismayed: "Who the hell are you?" (117)

Claire Berlinski. Lion Eyes. Thomson Gale, 2007.
Well! Here's a different twist on spy mysteries like no other! First person narrator Claire pulls off a very clever story starring herself. The first half of the book feels like a po-mo romance (and it is). Dedicated Iranian archaeologist Arsalan meets American author Claire online. Exotic settings, Paris and Istanbul. Then reality interjects its shocking self after the funniest dinner party I think I've ever read about or laughed at so much. Claire's friends ― Imram the psychologist, Samantha the gender-confused, Charlene the failed CIA agent, Sally the embassy worker ― provide ongoing hilarity. To say too much would spoil the deft effect. But it does have a kitten and tiny turtles. In real life, Berlinski is also known as a journalist and political author. Don't miss this chance for an "inside" look at international spy machinations.

Words:
anhedonic – inability to feel pleasure
gynophobia – abnormal fear of women

One-liner: There are no ointments for disappointments. (290)

Parisian dining:
The restaurants on the Place Dauphine look so inviting, with their belle époque painted storefronts and their outdoor tables. The waiters write the day's menus on chalkboard easels in that careful rounded cursive they teach in French schools, and at lunchtime the tables fill up with plump, well-appointed attorneys and their mistresses. The women wear leather pants and carry small dogs; everyone smokes furiously. The food comes stacked in artful little pyramids: galettes of this and confits of that, all drizzled with a coulis of something-or-other and served in the summer with a cold Sancerre. (17-8)

Diplomatic corpse corps functions:
" ... We just had to repatriate the body of this guy from Baton Rouge who got whacked by a taxi." 
"Oh, no!" 
"Oh, yes! Cab hit him on the sidewalk." She shook her head. "Worst thing was he'd been with his girlfriend that night, and, you know, he shouldn't have had a girlfriend. So he didn't have his wedding ring on. We found it at his hotel when we went to collect his personal effects. We figured we better stuff it on his finger before we packed him up, but by then he's all bloated, and his finger's about ten times the size of the ring. Oh, man, it was horrible ―we had to use pliers." (154)

Nervous hostess greeting:
"Come in, have a seat," I urged again. "How thoughtful of you," I said to Sam, taking the carnations. "Let me take your coat," I said to Lynne. "Who wants wine? We all do, don't we. I'll get us some. It's just about chilled. German. I have a French wine, too, if anyone wants one. Well, of course we do; we're in France. So much good wine here. Not like Istanbul ― that's not a great wine-drinking city! I'll just pour us a few glasses. You must still be so jet-lagged. Air travel is the worst. I'm always a zombie for days after that flight. I can't sleep on planes, ever; I always look at people who seem to be sleeping so soundly in those little seats and wonder―" 
I realized how I sounded, and shut up. (239)

Kyrgyzstan woman seeks Englishman:
I am very kind, have open mind and never lie because I hate when somebody lie. I dislike coldness and onion. This not game for me and I am very serious about marriage in near future. I am ready for my love man make everything only good. I am have very tender character, always sincere, I am like beautiful things, flowers, cook food tasty, very love travel but never be in another country, only can see in TV this, and have dream about someday visit beautiful places in world. I one year ago have finished institute, and now I work in the insurance organization by the bookkeeper. At leisure I am engaged in sports and domestic colors. Like to have rest on nature in company of friends. You are brave, kind, undertaking, like dancing, small-arms-firing, swimming. I dream to meet my big love, for whom I can give all my passion, love, and tenderness. (321)

Sheila Quigley. Bad Moon Rising. UK: Magna Large Print Books, 2005.
Tyne and Wear DI Lorraine Hunt works a serial murder case that might hark back to an old fatal accident and link to a current missing child. As the annual, highly anticipated Houghton Fair is about to begin, young women are being strangled with no clues left behind. It's not a bad story but the writing and characters are not from a polished pen. And I'm not just referring to the liberal usage of colloquial language, combined with questionable investigative procedures, that make the cops appear semi-literate and/or incompetent. Conventional wisdom does not have a serial killer being active several nights in a row.

The town is full of people with handicaps and misery ― Doris, struggling with onset of dementia; Jacko, father of missing child; Josh, the disfigured carny lad; painfully shy Christina; unemployed youth in general; even Lorraine faces a slyly ambitious fellow cop, her mother's illness, and her ambivalence about attractive colleague Luke. Rage is another recurring element that goes overboard at least once. Often the interaction amongst police force members, and other characters' relationships, seems clumsy. The author is popular, has likely improved with age, but doesn't challenge my latent detective brain.

Suspect:
Stella shook her head. 'Sorry.' 
Yeah, yer look it. Lorraine thought, but said, 'Right then, if yer can't help we'll not keep yer any longer and we'll be on our way. But yer know we'll be keeping an eye on yer, don't be in any doubt of that. Isn't that right, Luke?' 
Without waiting for Luke to answer, Lorraine went on, 'Goodbye then. For now.' 
Stella nodded, trying hard not to look too eager to get rid of them. 'I, er, if I do remember anything, or hear anything at all, I'll give yer a ring.' 
'You do that, Stella.' Luke smiled, as they turned away from the door. (239-40)

Rage:
' ... Are yer fucking blind, or what. I'll never forgive yer for this, Doris Musgrove. Yer no longer me mam, d'yer hear me? I no longer own you as mine.' He looked with disgust at Mickey and Robbie, 'And neither of youse two are me friends any more.' (362)

31 March 2016

Library Limelights 105

John Sandford. Bad Blood. Center Point Large Print/GP Putnam, 2010.
During an upheaval move to new quarters, this book inadvertently became distraction-therapy reading, so whether I retained 50% of it is questionable. Nevertheless, I'd almost forgotten how engaging Sandford can be. The name Virgil Flowers had me picturing a weather-beaten, folksy Senior who solves mysteries by psychological deconstruction. Not at all. The lead character (repeated in a series) is not quite middle-aged, attractive, and irreverent detective for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Murdered corpses are falling like dominoes in a small town, more than local Sheriff Lee Coakley can handle. She works with Virgil to uncover the connections between them; it's very exciting reading when plans to trap the criminals come together. Ultimately it takes a mighty team effort to shut down a widespread conspiracy.

Virgil has a way of engaging the townspeople to spread chosen bits of police news and gather information. He also interviews families of the victims, gradually learning that the World of Spirit Church has isolated itself from what they call the World of Law. Among them are degenerate members practising incest and other forms of sick abuse on women and children. But a mock trial is a well-placed, semi-redeeming device. Virgil and Lee hook up predictably, satisfactorily. Aside from some gruesome descriptions that might have been more edited, Sandford proves again he is a winner.

One-liner: "I'm so goddam horny the crack of dawn ain't safe." (110)

Winter:
Virgil could hear the winds coming up as he went to bed, and then the muffling effect of the snow. 
He thought about God for a while, and the early and traumatic end of expectations. Bobby Tripp "would have been something," his father said, and those expectations were now gone and might never have existed. 
And he thought about the commonality of comfort, stretching back over the centuries and millennia, a guy lying alone in a warm space, listening to a clipper just outside the cave, igloo, hut, teepee, motel, whatever,a long thread reaching all the way back to the apes. (104-5)

Coffee shop schmoozing:
"He told me he didn't know what the hell happened. He came home one day, and she said she was moving on, that she'd filed for divorce that day at the courthouse, and did he want pork chops for dinner, or meat loaf?" 
The woman chipped in: "I talked to her for a minute, downtown, and she said she just got tired of his act. She said she didn't much want to marry him in the first place, and she'd been right." 
"So she just went on down the road," Wood said. 
"You know if he went for the meat loaf?" Virgil asked. 
"More of a pork chop man," Wood said. (113-4)

More winter:

The trip out took half an hour, the countryside not quite flat, but rather a series of broken planes, now a frozen wash of gentle blues and grays with the new snow. Virgil had read once that Grandma Moses was a primitive painter because she thought snow was white. The writer said if you really looked at it, snow was hardly ever white. It mostly was a gentler version of the color of the skyblue, gray, orange in the evenings and mornings, often with purple shadows. When he looked, sure enough, the guy was right, and Grandma Moses had her head up her ass. (117)

John Sandford. Shock Wave. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2011.
I know, I know, two in a row, but I do like Virgil. Moving to Minnesota crossed my mind (only once). Meanwhile, Virgil's next problem is a case of shocking serial bombs directed at PyeMart, a big-box store under construction in Butternut Falls. Who in the small town could possibly be the perpetrator? Or is the mayhem really directed at the corrupt town council members who voted for the new development? Virgil's usual modus operandi seems to be to cultivate the locals, getting them to do half the leg work, so to speak one might say crowd-sourcing at the main street coffee shop. But the clever bomber keeps them all guessing.

There's a (mostly) delightful cast of characters; Virgil works with media-loving sheriff Earl Ahlquist. Let me not forget that Virgil's no-strings relationship with that other sheriff, Lee Coakley (above), carried over. Barlow the ATF guy is back along with a couple more of Virgil's sidekicks. Billionnaire Williard T. Pye of the PyeMart Corporation is predictably arrogant. Despite the bombs, and the technical details that go with them, Shock Wave is much less ugly subject matter than Bad Blood and is a better introduction to the doings of Virgil Flowers.

One-liner: "They got morning news cycles on TV, and they are gonna be on you like Holy on the Pope." (218)
Two-liner: "You take a close look at postal workers. They're supposed to be crazier than an outhouse mouse."(71)

Meeting the locals:
"You in the Guard, too?" asked Virgil. 
She nodded. "Yeah, I did a tour with a Black Hawk unit. I was a crew chief and door gunner.""I did some time in the army, but I was a cop, and never had much to do with bombs, " Virgil said. They traded a few war stories, and then Mack nodded toward the road. "Here comes the VIP convoy. That'd be the sheriff in front, and that big black Tahoe is the ATF, and I don't know who-all behind that. They've been having a meeting at the courthouse." 
"Good thing I'm late," Virgil said. "I might've had to go to it. ... You got media?" 
"Yeah, and there they are," O'Hara said. "Right behind the convoy. Tell you what, and don't mention I said it, but you don't want to be standing between the sheriff and a TV camera, unless you want cleat marks up your ass." (18)

Pye and his efficient assistant:
Pye came through and said, curtly, "Thank you. And thank the good Lord that I wasn't in that car. That would have totally screwed up my whole happy hour."Virgil told him what he knew, which wasn't much. "Barlow can probably tell you about a detonator, but you can see ... they were trying to kill you, man.""No kidding." Pye raked his lower lip with his upper teeth a few times, looking thoughtfully out at the blast zone, then said to his assistant, "Pye spoke to Flowers for a minute, getting the lay of the land, then resolved to hunt down this monster no matter what it took." 
She took it down in shorthand, and Virgil asked, "Are you writing a book?" 
"I take down everything Mr. Pye says," the woman answered. 
"Is that possible?" Virgil asked. 
"Barely," she said. 
"She damned well better get it all," Pye said. "I pay her enough." 
"Barely," she said. (66)

Motivation:
Virgil went in and lay on the couch, his feet up on one arm. Lot of stuff going on. Had to think about it. After five minutes he hadn't thought of anything, so he called Davenport and told him what was going on. Davenport summarized it: "So you cleaned up the town, but you don't have the bomber." 
"Not yet." 
"Well, let me know when you do. I gotta go." 
"Why'd he try to kill me? That's what I want to know. If he'd killed me, he would have gotten a whole storm of cops in here." 
"Maybe he was making a point of some kind, about resistance," Davenport said. "Or maybe he wanted a whole storm of cops in there." (277-8)

Jonathan Kellerman. True Detectives. Random House Large Print, 2009.
Brothers Moses Reed and Aaron Fox join forces, reluctantly, to investigate the disappearance of a college student. Moses/Moe is with LA police and Aaron is a private eye; the brothers could hardly be more different from each other birth order conflict provides the best tension in the book. Otherwise the story oddly lacks excitement except for two climactic confrontations, mainly settling for endless speculation about suspects and crime reconstruction, especially when murder enters the picture. Attempts at levity often reflect in-jokes among the LA film industry, but then again, one of the themes revolves around Hollyweird Star Power.

Alternating between the two brothers' points of view, there's something awkward and non-compelling about the plotting. The official police statement near the end by a suspect seems truly out of character. Psychoanalyzing is to be expected from the expertise of this very popular author, yet most characters are not fully developed. And puh-leeze, stop with the bold being used for italics and individuals' unspoken thoughts! Is this a thing now? Or something to do with large print books? Very disruptive. Overall not one of Kellerman's better efforts.

One-liner: Half an hour in this place and Aaron felt ready to molt his skin. (39)
Two-liner: "Negative space, young man. The less we have, the richer we are." (279)

Subcontracting:
Still gorgeous at forty-one, the mop of black hair glossy and carefully layered, the flawless ivory skin allowing her to pass for late twenties, Liana had the charisma and talent to be a movie star. After fifteen years of failure, she'd settled for the anonymity and respectable income of commercial voice-overs. 
Freelancing for Aaron supplemented her retirement fund. 
They'd begun as lovers, continued as friends and occasional business associates. Once-in-a-while booty-bumps did no damage; Aaron was proud of his ability to maintain complex relationships. 
The exception being Moe ... (76)

Fraternal sparring:
"You learned nothing from me, that's your problem." 
Moe felt his face turn to oak. "Didn't. Know. I. Had. A. Problem." 
Aaron mimed a bell-press. "Mr. Reed? FedEx delivery. Carton full of insight being delivered to your door."
Moe groped for his car key. 
"You are an utter and complete baby," said Aaron. "Talk about arrested development and dogmatic dysfunctional syndrome." 
"Now you're a shrink?" (162)

26 March 2016

Lost & Found: Sewing


Came across these in the moving and culling process. OMG are Butterick, McCall, and Vogue still selling patterns?! Are people still sewing?

Could I throw them out? Or do they "give me joy"? The sewing machine itself went the way of a yard sale in a prior downsizing. Use it or lose it.


But oh yes, so long ago, the happiness of fabric stores -- colour and design -- the dizzying array of trims -- pins pins pins -- the challenge of shoulder seams -- bright faces, a new dress!



We rise again in the faces of our children ... some famdamily joy lives on.

20 March 2016

Library Limelights 104

Muhsin Al-Ramli. Dates on My Fingers. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2009 (English translation 2014).
Too bad the (insensitive) TPL sticker went right over the author's name on the cover. Al-Ramli is an Iraqi emigré, a leading figure in modern Arabic literature. Dates is the poignant story of Saleem, a young man who left repressive times in his home country to live in Madrid. There, years later, he discovers his father Noah alive and flourishing. To Saleem's stunned surprise, Noah has become the opposite of the quiet, dutiful, family man he once was. In fact, Noah is successfully running a nightclub and waiting for an opportunity to avenge the family honour, a promise sworn to his father Mutlaq. Because years ago Noah had brutally escalated a street brawl, the family had been shamed and isolated. Saleem recalls past memories as he struggles with this new version of his father.

Mutlaq's anti-government hatred was the basis for creating a new village; his extended family followed his fundamentalist teachings. Ironically, his leadership became mini-dictatorial. His son Noah seemed in complete thrall but grandson Saleem began to question arbitrary power. Here is a glimpse into rural Muslim life that has but one chair in the entire village but also contains every human emotion, including the tenderness of young love. Narrator Saleem circles around further dreadful events exacerbated by the old man's stubborn tyranny, all this against the regime change in Iraq. The father-son reunion in Madrid looks for resolution between the old ways and modern thinking. Thoughtful, sad, sometimes funny: riveting for anyone interested in understanding other cultures.

One-liner: There, after we had splashed cold water on his face and sliced an onion under his nostrils, he revived a little and ordered the men huddled in a circle around him not to bury the corpses this time until they had been avenged. (111)

Mutlaq:
Mutlaq proclaimed: "O people of Mutlaq, be united as one! Show each other compassion, care for each other, and tend to your woman and your flocks. Watch out for the hypocrites in the government: do not believe them, do not make friends with them, and do not allow any marriage ties with them. Build your world here according to what God wants and what you want. Do not ask the government for any documents or alms or property. As for the fuel and the medicine you need, barter for it with the people of Subh, but do not engage them in conversation, and do not ask them about anything at all. 
"Never forget your vengeance!" (He looked at my father as he said this.) (12-13)

Noah:
His former image was firmly established within my inner world: my memory, the apartment, these black-and-white pictures, and blood relations. But now I see that he does not belong to it. At the same time, I can't exactly consider him part of my outside world. 
His friends here were not like my friends. His work was not like mine, nor his behavior. Indeed, he did not resemble himself. His women did not resemble my women. Or at least, they did not resemble those I had met, since I didn't have women for the most partor at all. (41)

Village spirit:
Our most joyous moment was the Friday prayers, when we would all gather together, young and old, the males forming the front rows with the women in rows behind them. We would wear our best clothes and put on perfume. In the spring, we would spread our prayer mats on the pebbles and sand outside the mosque, and Grandfather would stand in front of us, using the external stairs as an elevated platform to preach to us. We felt our complete unity, our brotherhood, the purity of our spirits, and our closeness both to the sky and to God. (107-108)

A brief trip:
Barcelona also has a spirituality, inspiring its visitors with the extent of its varied, uninterrupted history. It takes you in and recognizes you as family in some way, by the strength of its life, its greatness, its sweetness, and its festivity. I wonder what my father likes in Barcelona. (157)

Perri O'Shaughnessy. Dreams of the Dead. New York: Gale/Thorndike Press (large print), 2011.
Another old friend, lawyer Nina Riley in South Lake Tahoe: it's been too long! Nina always has interesting clients and her assistant Sandy keeps the office lively. A local ski resort owner brings her a civil case with a strange twist; whether he and his family can expect proceeds from the sale of the resort depends on whether his son is dead. Two years earlier the son had killed Nina's husband and committed other offences, then disappeared. Now it seems he is in Brazil (no extradition) demanding his share of the proposed sale. The legalities become more and more complicated; there are plenty of suspects for whomever could be manipulating the resort sale and for the two murders that occur.

No idle moments as the plot moves briskly even while Nina tries to reconcile her dwindling relationship with the father of her son Bob. Naturally, Nina's former lover Paul Van Waggoner gets involved up to his neck. What I didn't like were the infrequent inserts, indicated by change in font, where different voices are represented or at times, apparently, the novel Sandy is writing. The lack of continuity among them makes for confusion the device just doesn't work. Otherwise, please carry on, O'Shaughnessy girls!

One-Liner: For the millionth time, Nina wondered why every single damn legal problem had to be complicated by some sort of insane deadline. (47)

Loss:
Ronnie's eyes turned inward. "I'm alone and I can't believe it. Where is she? It's fresh agony every single morning, you know? I'm dreaming of her and wondering if she's dreaming of me."Paul nodded. 
"You can't describe that kind of emptiness with words, you can only experience it. It's black and invisible, like a poison settling over the room. I realize she's gone. She is gone, not beside me. It's me and my cold feet and bleedin' heart." 
"I'm sorry for your loss." Paul didn't make the statement automatically. He made it feeling the clenching of his own heart. How tremendous and cataclysmic it would be, permanently losing the woman you loved. (258-9)

Unsteady:
Nina wondered why she could never quite get her footing, never have peace in her life. In her balancing act she was constantly shifting weight, never standing still. Perhaps there was no such thing as balance in these terms, not even moments of balance. Maybe humans were all in a log-rolling game on a dangerous river. (340)

Macho warmup:
Brinkman drank his beer, watching Paul reflectively. Finally he said, "For what it's worth, I know why you're here. You want me to promise to lay off her." 
"You got that right, buddy." Paul finished the last bit of crust and drank down the liquor in a gulp. 
Eric chuckled, running a hand through a haircut Paul found revoltingly fashionable. 
"So you find me humorous," Paul said. 
"I find you a belligerent fool, that's what I find." 
"You're the one going to an anonymous bar to get drunk after she walks out on us." 
"I happen to be friends with Bev." Eric indicated the manager who had taken over from the frizzy-haired girl at the bar a short woman in a tight T-shirt that showed off her amplitude, wearing high heels that forced her to lurch from table to table. (486-7)

 Stephen J. Cannell. White Sister. USA: Center Point Large Print/St. Martin's Press, 2006.
Cannell's hero, detective Shane Scully, seems to be the (DeMille's) John Corey of the LAPD ― wisecracking his way through the impoverished and ugly underbelly of Los Angeles. It's good you know what LAPD means because the author (like Connelly) employs LA cop-talk acronyms: PAB, FOI, UC, SHU, MCJ, RTO, FTR, and the like. On his way home one evening, Scully slightly injures a homeless man with his car; John Bodine, or Long Gone John as he's known, keeps reappearing to provide entertainment. But Scully is wholly focused on the police search for, and then hospitalization, of his wife Alexa who heads the detective division.

The hip hop music industry is in a secret war worth millions to some ruthless characters, but motivation and appropriate villains for some murders are difficult to pin down. Lots of gangsta rap to grow your slang language skills. We also get details of brain surgery and the bail bond system. Lively and fast-paced, just the thing for mental therapy in between rounds of packing and moving.

One-liners:
Homeless men in tattered coats swung bloodshot eyes in our direction, tracking us like government radar. (5)
"I hate that guy worse than country music." (317)

LAPD Chief's POV:
"She's not dying," I said, my voice rising in anger. 
"I think she is, and if she's gone, then what they're saying about her on TV can't hurt her. I'm betting in the end this won't stick to you." 
"I thought you cared about her. You're just like the other guy." 
"I do care about her," Tony said softly. "In fact, I love Alexa like a daughter. But there are things you don't know about, and they demand this course of action." (219-220)

Long Gone John's complaint:
He looked at me and shook his head. Then he started right in. "In California, ain't no originals. Out here, everybody so busy bein' original, they all be 'zackly the same." 
I grabbed his wheelchair and pushed him out of the ER. Once we were outside, I stood him up. 
"Don't be yank-slammin' me around. Lookit this what you done." He pulled up the sweatshirt to reveal a pound of tape and gauze wrapped around his chest, stomach, and abdomen. "This here tape an' shit's all that's holding my dick on. So don't be pushin' and shovin'." 
I got him out to Chooch's jeep. 
"Where you gonna dump me now?" he said. 
"I'll make you a deal," I said. "If you shut up, you can sleep in the back. I'll sleep in the front." (220-1)

06 March 2016

Library Limelights 103

Denise Mina. Blood Salt Water. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2015.
Mina has the uncanny ability to portray disturbed individuals as a vital component of the human race. Or maybe their struggles to express themselves become intuitive with us through her guidance. Although that's not what the story is "about." In the west coast Scottish town of Helensburgh, drama is unfolding that stretches from London to South America. Glasgow detective Alex Morrow of previous Mina novels cautiously works her way through a missing persons case in which she is being monitored by the highest level of Police Scotland for their own purposes. Her capacity for suffering fools and upper middle-class attitudes has not improved and her regard for her criminal brother Danny is still deeply ambivalent, yet she conceals a well of compassion for the unfortunates amongst us.

Identifying a dead body plunges Morrow further into connecting an extensive money-laundering enterprise to the picture-perfect town. She does not inevitably meet every character the reader meets: Tommy the thug, Murray the single father, and Susan Grierson, recently returned to her roots. She does interview Robin, live-in boyfriend of Roxanna the Spanish woman; Cole the stoned ex-con; Boyd the chef; and Delahunt the lawyer, among others. But it's Iain Fraser who dominates the entire mood of the book for me. Beautifully constructed and written, never a misplaced word! Brava, Mina, I am so in tune.

One-liners:
Morrow felt herself go very stiff, as if a spider, too big to swat, was running across her back (41)
She found that anger was just fear with its makeup on ... (49)

Small town:
"So," she said vaguely, "d'you have a job for me?" 
Very American. Forthright and unembarrassed. Quite unattractive. 
"You can't need the money?" He looked at the teenage waitresses on the floor and dropped his voice to a murmur. "Miss Grierson, the money I pay is crap." 
She smiled. "Call me Susan, please. No, but I need to do something. I can't bear the thought of working in a charity shop. The people in them are all my age. I like a mix." 
Boyd grinned at her: every second shop in the town was a charity shop. They were staffed by retired people volunteering for a few hours a week. Most of their stock came from post-mortem house clearances and the ring of old folk's homes that circled the town, ornaments and personal effects the families didn't want back, after. 
He leaned in and whispered, "It's the half-dead selling the knick-knacks of the dead to the almost dead." 
They both tittered, she with shock at his maliciousness, he with discomfort. He'd said it often but he wished he hadn't said it now. (16)

Power meeting:
Morrow sat with her back against the wall, calm observer in a blizzard of clammy panic. Three of the most highly-paid, powerful men in Police Scotland had been called in. Heavy personnel. As if to justify their places, each took turns monologuing about mistakes others should avoid, things they should be afraid of. A day's wages from each of them would have paid to keep one of the rural stations they were shutting open for a week. The power differential between Morrow and the rest of the room was so steep she felt she could be sitting in her pants and no one would notice. Most DIs would give half their pensions to be here. (39)

Small town blues:

While he was away, at university, on his travels, he'd cast himself unhappy in Helensburgh, trapped by the oppressive propriety of his home life, the coldness of his father. The dry Sunday School days, crayoned pictures of Jesus, the smog of family history and the weight of expectation. They were the good Frasers, the righteous elect. His mother thought that everything that went her way was part of God's plan. Everything else was the work of Catholics and Anglicans. (93-4)

 Lionel Shriver. Game Control. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.
Shriver has embraced many subjects in her writings, none more fiercely entertaining than this: population control. Sounds dull? Uh-uh. Actually first published in 1994, a trio of experienced demographers and NGO aid workers in Nairobi, Kenya, face off over different waysnatural or contrivedto slow the world's alarming human growth rate. AIDS was still in ascendance then; Ebola was scarcely on anyone's radar outside of Africa. Eleanor slogs away dispensing contraception education. Calvin thinks a designer virus is the answer to mankind's wilful ignorance and brutishness. Wallace is content to give up, believing the projected hordes and ecological environments will adapt to future crowding. Superior minds will somehow save the day.

The protagonists are fictional but the statistics are not, emphasis depending on the project that seeks funding. It's a scathing and crazy-ass satire of science, but also "a deliciously wicked story" in the author's own words.* Eleanor the humanist and Calvin the sociopath, in a shaky relationship shadowed by his former African lover, fence each other with arguments even as his lab and calculations work to produce a selective killer. It's also an absorbing portrait of Kenya and Africa in general. Shriver is brilliant, no question. One- or two-line quotes may be best to illustrate some of the gravity and lunacy.
* The 2007 edition has an appendix of author's comments.

Eleanor:
Oh, he'd lost some hair, which lengthened his forehead and made him look more intelligent; and the weather had leathered him, for here he was seamless and by the time she met him he had already slipped into that indeterminate somewhere between thirty-five and sixty that certain men seem able to maintain until they're ninety-two and of which women, who have no such timeless equivalent, are understandably jealous. (29) 
Trying to avert the world's population from doubling in sixty years by supervising seminars of twenty-five on "Adolescent Empowerment," Eleanor felt much as any scientist might if, concerned about the rising sea level from polar melting, he spent his days at the shore spooning the ocean into a paper cup. (153-4)

Calvin:
"You should hear Wallace Threadgill gibber about hybrid crops and the exciting future of intensive agriculture: multiple storeys of artificially lit fields like high-rise car-parks. How likely is that, in a country where just a dial tone is an act of God?" (25) 
"No, we will be fruitful and multiply ourselves into an open sewer. Whether ten people can eke out a few years in eight feet square is not the question." (38)Calvin's reputation was as biodegradable as egg-carton styrofoam. (275)

Wallace:
He set up camp on a stool by the fire, scanning the gnoshing, tittering, tinselly crowd as they tried to numb their agony with spirit of the wrong sort. (43) 
"I lost my livelihood but I inherited the earth." (53)

 Nelson DeMille. Radiant Angel. New York: Grand Central Publishing/Hachette, 2015.
John Corey saved New York City from disaster in the last book and now he does it again in predictable fashion. Demoted to following suspicious members of the UN's diplomatic corps, he injects himself into a secret, cataclysmic Russian plot. Yet Corey has lost some of his edge, personally and professionally. His latest partner on watch, Tess Faraday, sticks to him like superglue. The first sixty pages go by, filling space, before anything happens. Eventually, boats, bombs, and bloodbath are involved. While the message seems to be think Cold War again, most of the evil characters are caricatures and some of the action defies credibility. Russians or Islamic terrorists, which are the worst threat?

As Corey's life seems to be in flux, maybe it's DeMille wondering what to do with his star character. He's not as amusing somehow, in the ominous absence of his FBI wife Kate. And you can only prevent Word War Three so many times. The motivations spurring different individuals to assist him are often fuzzy. It's typical large-scale adventure, desperate times, but not one of DeMille's best. Definitely useful, though, for learning fuck you in Russian.

One-liners:
The Manhattan Project was coming home. (120)
Apparently whoever was running this operation in Washington was trying to play it down the middle; stay calm and carry on, but be prepared to kiss your asses good-bye. (270)

Gunmanship:
"Remember," I continued helpfully, "anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice. Ammo is cheap. And if your shooting stance is good, you're probably not moving fast enough." 
Tess nodded, then glanced at me. 
I went on, "When approaching a suspect, watch their hands. Hands kill. In God we trust. Everyone else, keep your hands where I can see them. Be polite. Be professional. But have a plan to kill everyone you meet." 
Tess again glanced at me, probably wondering how anyone so clever got plugged three times. I wonder about that myself. Shit happens. (28)

Domination:
Petrov had always said, "Believe in yourself and believe in the cause of a new Russian Empire. The Islamists believe in their god, and that makes them dangerous, but not always competent. The Americans believe in their superiority, but they have no goal other than to remain at the top. And both sides are obsessed with the other, so when all is said and done it will be Russia that will stand on the corpses of Islam and the West. History is on our side." 
And, thought Gorsky, Colonel Petrov had no goal other than to please his father, and to be promoted to his father's rank of general. As for the new Russian Empire, Gorsky didn't know how much Petrov believed in that, but Colonel Petrov believed in himself, and that made working with him easier than working with a man who believed in a cause or a god. (110)