28 August 2015

Library Limelights 90

Robert Wilson. The Hidden Assassins. London: HarperCollins, 2006.
Not an easy read: this is the mother of all intricate plots, based on international terrorism. Wilson was known to me for his exciting West Africa series; this one is also in a series featuring homicide Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón. After a deadly bomb explodes in Seville, Spanish police and intelligence agencies work feverishly to uncover the impending, even greater threat behind it. The aftermath trail, or many trails, plunge into a maze of politics, commerce, and ideology — a brain fitness test for grownups. Therein, some of the best analysis of the Arab mindset I have ever read. Don't get me wrong: the book is not a polemic; the story (the chase) is fascinating as well as timely. Pure credibility.

The appointed judge for the case soon undergoes a dramatic transformation, throwing the investigators temporarily off-kilter, none more so than Falcón who has Moroccan family connections. His ex-wife and his sister are well-drawn peripheral players. Intuitive and conscientious at his job, Falcón pushes his way through internecine rivalries and extremist sympathizers. A more subtle theme illustrates the nature of illusion and denial versus reality and truth. Wilson clearly knows Spain like the back of his hand, and understands the subcultures that manipulate us and the radical groups ‒ of different stripes ‒ that surface to terrorize us. When are "terrorists" ... "freedom fighters"? A very informative, entertaining, amazing novel.

One-liner (from a cynical hooker):
Men always assumed their brains were silent rather than grinding away like sabotaged machinery. (27)

Disaster aftermath:
Falcón sprinted through the hospital. People were running, but there was no panic, no shouting. They had been training for the moment. Orderlies were sprinting with empty trolleys. Nurses ran with boxes of saline. Plasma was on the move. Falcón slammed through endless double doors until he hit the main street and the wall of sound: a cacaphony of sirens as ambulances swung out into the street. ...
At the crossroads bloodstained people stumbled about on their own or were being carried, or walked toward the hospital with handkerchiefs, tissues and kitchen roll held to their foreheads, ears and cheeks. These were the superficially wounded victims, the ones sliced by flying glass and metal, the ones some distance from the epicentre, who would never make it into the top flight of disaster statistics but who might lose the sight in one eye, or their hearing from perforated eardrums, bear facial scars for the rest of their lives, lose the use of a finger or a hand, never walk again without a limp. (48-9)

Bombing victim:
He was desperate. Desperate for revenge. He'd only ever heard tales of the monstrousness of this horrific emotion. He had not been prepared for the way it found every crevice of his body. His organs screamed for it. His bones howled with it. His joints ground with it. His blood seethed with it. It was so intolerable he had to get it out of himself. (380)

Reflection:
Falcón sat back in his chair. He didn't like this intelligence work. Suddenly everything was moving around him at an alarming pace, with great urgency, but in reaction to electronic nods and winks. He could see how people could go mad in this world, where reality came in the form of "information" from "sources," and agents were told to go to hotels and wait for "instructions." It was all too disembodied for his liking. He never thought he'd hear himself say it, but he preferred his world where there was a corpse, pathology, forensics, evidence and face-to-face dialogue. (435)

James Lee Burke. The Glass Rainbow. New York: Pocket Star/Simon & Schuster, 2010.
Evil stalks the steamy bayous of Louisiana and who better to describe the brooding atmosphere than Burke. Iberia parish sheriff's detective Dave Robicheaux is having fatalistic portents of death while his loyal sidekick Clete Purcel seems bent on self-destruction. One might think the entire state is populated with violent psychotics, some fresh out of prison, some hidden beneath cultivated veneers. Investigating the murders of two young girls, Dave finds no obvious motive but runs into tenuous connections from "po' white trash" to the top of the social order.

Only Burke can immerse and submerge us in a rich world where nature alternatively glows and rages, where human temperament is always on the edge of the storm. The forces of good grow weary fighting moral corruption. Will Dave succumb to despair or live on into another book? His daughter Alafair, an incipient author, represents a better vision of life, untouched by the deceptive, shifting shadows. Not the lightest touch in the genre but a thoughtful, complicated story for a rainy night.

Word: coolerate; idiomatic dialect - to cool off. Works for me!

One-liner: "Their kind wouldn't spit in my mouth if I was dying of thirst in the Sahara." (299)

Colours of stained glass:
"You go to a lot of meetings?"
"Sometimes. Why?"
"I've heard that when alcoholics quit drinking, they develop obsessions that work as a substitute for booze. That's why they go to meetings. No matter how crazy these ideas are, they stay high as a kite on them so they don't have to drink again."
"I was admiring your stained glass."
"It came from a Scottish temple or something." (83)

After an argument with Clete:
"Lighten up, Streak. It's only rock and roll." His eyes were still lit with an alcoholic glaze, his throat ticked in two places by his razor, his cheeks bladed with color.
I gave it up, in the way you give up something with such an enormous sense of sadness rushing through you that it leaves no room for any other emotion. "What are we going to do, Clete?"
"About what?"
"You."
"We all end up in the same place. Some sooner than others. What the hell. We're both standing on third base," he said. (194)

Dave pleads:
"Don't undo a brave and noble deed, Miss Jewel. Don't rob yourself of your own virtue."
I saw her lips form a bitter line; she looked like a person making a choice between two evils and deciding upon the one that hurt her the most, as though her self-injury brought with it a degree of forgiveness. "I got to do my wash," she said.
"Those girls are going to haunt you," I said. "In your sleep. In a crowd. At Mass. In a movie theater. Across the table from you at McDonald's. The dead carry a special kind of passport, and they go anywhere they want." (429-30)

John Verdon. Shut Your Mouth Tight. Crown Publishers/Random House, 2011.
I liked Verdon's hero, retired detective Dave Gurney, in his previous and slightly unusual Thinkof a Number but the further I went into this one made me unhappy. First of all, the crimes – starting with a bride beheaded on her wedding day – and the sadistic scenario behind them became just too bizarre for belief. Made me think the author was stretching for shock value. Secondly, while still exercising his vaunted analytic skills, Dave loses some confidence in his own abilities and domestically acts like an inarticulate dork. Then again, his wife Madeleine is equally poor at communicating, with too many arch smiles and cryptic comments.
link: http://anotherfamdamily.blogspot.com/
"Troubled young women" is one way of describing the subject of this book. Dave takes over where the police left off, reluctantly working with boorish cop Jack Hardwick. Then he's set up for blackmail as part of a sick plot. I persevered to the depressing end, rather doubting I will look for Verdon's next novel. No question he is a good writer with interesting psychological insights. But really (I've mentioned this before), is there a competition for the strangest, most outlandish crime framework?

Word(s): condign reparation - a term meaning punishment should be precisely commensurate with the crime committed. (427)

Hardwick summarized:
"He was the initial officer on the case. The chief investigator. I found him rude, obscene, cynical, jabbing people with the sharp end of a stick whenever he could. Horrible. But almost always right. This may not make much sense to you, but I understand dreadful people like Jack Hardwick. I even trust them. So here we are, Detective Gurney." (43)

Lethargy:
Even the simplest of questions—should he continue weighing alternatives, or return to bed and try to empty his mind, or busy himself physically—had become ensnared in a mental process that conjured an objection to every conclusion. Even the idea of taking an ibuprofen for his aching sciatic nerve met with an unwillingness to go into the bedroom to get the bottle.
He stared out at the asparagus ferns, motionless in the dead morning calm. He felt disconnected, as though his customary attachments to the world had broken. (405)  



21 August 2015

Lost & Found: a guest book

OMG
A "Guest Book" from university days, that followed me from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay to Toronto. 

Bought for fun when my brother and I shared an apartment and a car to get back and forth. 
Who on earth were some of these drunks people?
Do people still do guest books?
Selected abstruse comments, their meaning obscured by the beer scotch years.

In Winnipeg:
"I am the still turning point in the Anglican crisis."
"There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn."
"Garbage à la pointe arretée et pivotée, vive l'existence."
"Friend of the turning point."
" ♫ Life presents a dismal picture ..."

In Thunder Bay (much illegible script):
"Who hid my bottle?"
"Wider sidewalks please."
"Phone those buggers, B - my coat!"
"Great boola boola time!"

In Toronto:
"From i phelta thi."
"More beer."
"Have you got five dollars?"
" ♪ Life presents a dismal picture ..."
"I just don't know if I'm impressed or not."


And hidden in the middle, this:

♫ Those were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end ... ♪

07 August 2015

Library Limelights 89

Daniel Silva. The Heist. New York: HarperCollins, 2014.
Superspy Gabriel Allon is on another mission, this time to recover a stolen, priceless Caravaggio painting. Rigging an intricate trap for the unknown thief includes the support of Italian, British, and Israeli intelligence services, along with his friend Keller from Corsica. And a "civilian" must be co-opted to make the dangerous plan work. Now about to become the head of Israel's intelligence agency, Gabriel also has a lovely wife, Chiara (expecting twins), who herself is no stranger to international intrigue. The chain of villainy reaches up to the thinly-disguised ruler who is destroying Syria; Silva does not spare the pen for the brutal dictatorship.

Mind-stretching as some of the manoeuvres might be, the plot sails along among the art world of fabulous European cities. Steal a famous artwork to find a stolen masterpiece ― that should work, right? Silva's interspersed humour is irresistible. Art lovers will appreciate the details of Gabriel's other life as a restorer of old masters' paintings. Other notable aspects are the complex banking systems employed by fraud artistes. Silva knows how to keep you captive in pure escapism.

One-Liner: He sat with his knees together and his hands folded in his lap, as though he were waiting on the platform of a country rail station. (258)

Gathering accomplices:
"Far be it for me to complain," said Gabriel, shaking Isherwood's hand, "but your secretary left me on hold for nearly ten minutes before finally putting me through to you."
"Consider yourself lucky."
"When are you going to fire her, Julian?"
"I can't."
"Why not?"
"It's possible I'm still in love with her."
"She's abusive."
"I know," Isherwood smiled. "If only we were sleeping together. Then it would be perfect." (132-3)

The old man:
Narkiss Street lay still and silent beneath their feet, but in the distance came the faint rush of evening traffic along King George. Shamron lowered himself unsteadily into one of the chairs and motioned for Gabriel to sit in the other. Then he removed a packet of Turkish cigarettes and, with enormous concentration, extracted one. Gabriel looked at Shamron's hands, the hands that had nearly squeezed the life out of Adolf Eichmann on a street corner in northern Buenos Aires. It was one of the reasons Shamron had been given the assignment: the unusual size and power of his hands. Now they were liver-spotted and covered with abrasions. Gabriel looked away as they fumbled with the old Zippo lighter. (232)

A Geneva moment:
Bittel slipped on a pair of wraparound dark glasses, which lent a mantis-like quality to his features. He drove well but cautiously, as though he had contraband in the trunk and was trying to avoid contact with the authorities.
"As you might expect," he said after a moment, "your confession has provided hours of interesting listening for our officers and senior ministers."
"It wasn't a confession."
"How would you describe it?"
"I gave you a thorough debriefing about my activities on Swiss soil," said Gabriel. "In exchange, you agreed not to throw me in prison for the rest of my life." (152)

Robert Harris. An Officer and a Spy. [large print] Thorndike Press/Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.
Always a pleasure to find something new from the author of Fatherland, Enigma, Archangel, The Ghost Writer, and more. Here we have a novel reconstructing the events of The Dreyfus Affair ‒ about which I had only the slightest notion beforehand ‒ so it was tempting to Google it at tense moments. But resist I did. The names and basic events in the story are historical; their personal lives and dialogue are Harris's inventions. The fusing creates high drama of "the trial of the century" in the language, manners, and context of Gay Nineties Paris.

Alfred Dreyfus was a junior army officer in France, court-martialed for espionage in 1894. The evidence convicting him was false, and the army concealed its mistake by concocting a major cover-up. Dreyfus spent solitary years in the most inhumane conditions on Devil's Island. Twelve years later he was exonerated thanks to the efforts of Colonel Georges Picquart (the story's narrator) and other allies, including Emile Zola who wrote the iconic public "J'accuse" letter to the French government. Bravo, Robert Harris!

Much to my startlement, Part Two opens with "The Sousse Military Club looks out from behind a screen of dusty palms across an unpaved square, past a modern customs shed to the sea." Sousse, Tunisia, was the site of a brazen, deadly terrorist attack in June this year. Before that, the town was hardly a figure on the world stage except for its marvellous UNESCO World Heritage walled medina. Having spent four days there in 2012, I felt one of those nervous frissons on reading that first sentence. The French army sent Picquart there to shut him up; his "exile" was temporary.

One-liners: "Like Adam, I appear to have been expelled from the garden for an excess of curiosity." (368)
His strange sea-green eyes hold mine, and for a fractional instant I glimpse the shadow, like a fin in the water, of his dull malevolence, and then he nods and moves away. (668)

Picquart's social status:
Bachelors of forty are society's stray cats. We are taken in by households and fed and made a fuss of; in return we are expected to provide amusement, submit with good grace to occasionally intrusive affection ("So when are you going to get married, eh, Georges?"), and always agree to make up the numbers at dinner, however short the notice. (95)

A colleague:
Gribelin is an enigma to me: the epitome of the servile bureaucrat; an animated corpse. He could be any age between forty and sixty and is as thin as a wraith of black smoke, the only colour he wears. Mostly he closets himself alone upstairs in his archive; on the rare occasions he does appear he creeps along close to the wall, dark and silent as a shadow. I could imagine him slipping around the edge of a closed door, or sliding beneath it. (158)

Arranging a secret meeting:
As I seal the envelope, I reflect how easily I am slipping into the clichés of the spying world. It alarms me. I trust no-one. How long before I am raving like Sandherr about degenerates and foreigners? It is a déformation professionelle: all spymasters must go mad in the end. (159)

A former colleague:
Henry is very much at home. We take a table in the corner and he orders a cognac. For want of a better idea I do the same. "Leave us the bottle," Henry tells the waiter. He offers me a cigarette. I refuse. He lights one for himself and suddenly I realise that an odd part of me has actually missed the old devil, just as one occasionally grows fond of something familiar and even ugly. Henry is the army, in a way that I [...] will never be. When soldiers break ranks and want to run away on the battlefield, it is the Henrys of this world who can persuade them to come back and keep fighting. (375)

Shunning:
All keep their backs to me except for Henry, who enters loudly, banging the door, and nods as he passes.
"You have a good colour, Colonel," he says cheerfully. "It must be all that African sunshine!"
"And yours must be all that cognac."
He roars with laughter and goes to sit with the others. (530)




28 July 2015

Library Limelights 88

Peggy Blair. Hungry Ghosts. Toronto: Simon & Schuster, 2015.

How does she do it? ... weaving parallels between Cuba and native reservations in Canada ... often subtle, sometimes surprising? The novel is really two stories. Ricardo Ramirez of the Havana Major Crimes Unit and Charlie Pike of the Rideau Regional Police Force — whom you will remember if you read Blair's The Poisoned Pawn when they collaborated — are each pursuing his own case. The sub-theme of murdered aboriginal women could not be more current. Beyond that, I'm in awe of Blair's informative knowledge of Ojibwa culture and their modern issues (some readers will recognize the similarity to Grassy Narrows Reserve). At the same time, we witness the constant privations of daily living in shabby, impoverished Havana. 

Ramirez is dealing with murdered women whose identities have been disguised. Visited by ghosts of the dead (not too intrusively; they don't speak), he solves some daring vandalism as well as finding a killer. No less compelling is Pike's hunt through the native society he had left years ago. Complicated and clever. Ramirez and Pike do not personally communicate until the last pages. Hungry Ghosts is more than a crime novel, it's a cultural journey. Read it, mystery fans: just read it!

One-liner: "Sometimes I feel like I'm one broken-down truck and a dead dog away from being a country-and-western song." (140)

Hungry ghosts in Cuba:
They drove past a camello. It was on its way in from the countryside, spewing clouds of black exhaust. The buses were made of old bus parts, wagons, and recycled train compartments welded together, the centre portion raised in a hump. They were hot and uncomfortable, and crammed with hundreds of passengers.
Ramirez looked in his side-view mirror at the dead woman. The glass was stained with rust, discoloured from salt air. His cracked rearview mirror had disappeared a week or two earlier, no doubt recycled by the same thief who had discovered that Ramirez's car doors no longer locked. It was almost easier to travel to China than to find a replacement for a Chinese car.
Degrees of impossibility, thought Ramirez. Like the dead woman sitting in the back seat, looking out the window, and the dead man he'd found in the washroom admiring himself. They were impossible too. And yet they seemed so real. (55)

Airborne:
The same youngster who stowed Charlie Pike's baggage clambered into the pilot's seat. It made Pike uncomfortable knowing that the tiny plane would be flown by someone not much older than his battered luggage. But he was uncomfortable flying at the best of times. His father's clan‒the Pikes–came from the water, not the air. Pike was Wolf Clan by his Mohawk mother. Wolves weren't supposed to fly either. (58)

Pike's ghost:
Now his mother wandered, Pike believed, severed from everything important to her. But her soul had been stripped from her bones long before the cancer took her, when Canadian bureaucrats had decided a full-blooded Mohawk woman was white because of the race of a man she'd once married.
"I talked to the clan mothers at Oka. That's where her mother was born. They said the band councils don't represent the Haudenosaunee, only white man's laws. They told me I could put her ashes in The Pines, where the Haudenosaunee used to bury their dead. That's where she is now." (159)

A river runs through the reserve:
"There's mercury in the drinking water?" Jones said. "Oh my God, she's been drinking gallons of tea every day." (323) 

Paula Hawkins. The Girl on the Train. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2014.
How many people go through life clothed in lies, fooling other people and themselves? Just about everyone, judging by the main characters in this fast-moving, fascinating bestseller. Three women and two men: are any of them what they seem? Having inappropriately injected herself into the lives of two different couples, Rachel feels compelled to reconstruct one of her alcoholic blackouts — it might help solve a crime. But her blundering behaviour has no credibility with anyone, including the police. Her ex-husband and his new wife are tired of her harassment, her obsession with losing his love. Their neighbours have been secretly observed by Rachel from a distance; when they enter the picture she begins to realize the folly of her perfect fantasy.

Brilliantly constructed, the narrative passes between Rachel and Megan and Anna. It's unclear who is the unstable one. Or all three? Each struggles with who I am not. As layers of lies and revisionism peel away, anger and fear surge among them. The men in the story are seen only through their eyes. Hawkins has created a masterpiece of self-revelation and suspense.

One-liners:
.. the job itself is utterly beneath me, but then I seem to have become beneath me over the past year or two. (251)
I didn't want him to leave his wife; I just wanted him to want to leave her. (286)

Megan:
All those plans I had ‒ photography courses and cookery classes ‒ when it comes down to it, they feel a bit pointless, as if I'm playing at real life instead of actually living it. I need to find something that I must do, something undeniable. I can't do this, I can't just be a wife. I don't understand how anyone does it ‒ there is literally nothing to do but wait. Wait for a man to come home and love you. Either that, or look around for something to distract you. (31)

Rachel:
Maybe it was then. Maybe that was the moment when things started to go wrong, the moment when I imagined us no longer as a couple, but a family; and after that, once I had that picture in my head, just the two of us could never be enough. (58)

Megan:
I don't remember when I started believing it could be more, that we should be more, that we were right for each other. But the moment I did, I could feel him start to pull away. (286)

Rachel:
Sometimes I wonder if I've done or said terrible things, and I can't remember. And if ... if someone tells me something I've done, it doesn't even feel like me. It doesn't feel like it was me who was doing that thing. And it's so hard to feel responsible for something you don't remember. So I never feel bad enough. I feel bad, but the thing that I've done ‒ it's removed from me. It's like it doesn't belong to me. (190)

Anna:
"Let's not get the police involved unless we really need to."
I think we really do need to. I can't stop thinking about that smile she gave us, that sneer. It was almost triumphant. We need to get away from here. We need to get away from her. (143)

21 July 2015

Redhead Nation


At last. Herewith a post that actually smacks of famdamily as the mis-named title of this blog might suggest. A post that needs posting because I newly hear of dire threats, bullying, and slander against my special tribe.

What was that "Kick a Ginger Day" wickedness? Now we have to publicly unite to defend and demonstrate? We MUST keep speaking up!

Truthfully, I can't say I was subjected to such discrimination myself. Except that one time in the teenage years when a new friend fresh from Germany informed me that Europeans think anyone with red hair is an imbecile. Or as some might say these days, intellectually-challenged. Firmly planted as I was in an extended family of red hair, the comment did not sit well. 

Sure, we all ‒ siblings and cousins ‒ got the jokes ("Liar, liar, hair on fire!") but none of today's evil crap. It's not inconsequential that certain childhood heroes like Maggie Muggins and Anne of Green Gables had bright red hair. Obviously they were not my heroes alone. Some of the world's finest specimens throughout history had shades of red.

Never mind the illustrious personages like Queen Elizabeth I and her dad, or Churchill, Van Gogh, Woollie Willie Nelson, and Carol Burnett - Moira Shearer was my idol.

As the UK prefers to call it, Ginger Nation now has a calendar of events that includes several countries and regions climbing onto the redhead bandwagon. Québec even! Isn't that a corker? They are going to flaunt it. They own it. YES!!


Only personal downside: Oh the agonizing over the freckles. And supposedly few with red hair find it turning grey with age (good). Which may be why, these days, I never get offered a seat in a crowded subway car (bad).

Breaking news: The U.S. gets with it. Good one, San Francisco -  http://adobochronicles.com/2015/07/01/san-francisco-to-host-ginger-pride-in-2016/



http://www.amazon.ca/The-Redhead-Handbook-Comprehensive-Guide/dp/1587860112
For the next generation of ginger nobs ― the nephews, nieces, and grand-kiddies galore ― soon there will be an international Redhead Day. Work at it! Get Prince Harry on board.




11 July 2015

Library Limelights 87

Sam Wiebe. Last of the Independents. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2014.
The further I read, the more I was impressed. Here's a refreshing voice in the line of hard-boiled investigators with soft hearts. Someone deemed this debut as "Vancouver noir." Not a debut for writer Wiebe, but a new genre for him, introducing Michael Drayton, P.I. The detective is handling two missing persons cases among more mundane, boring matters. He works on the shoestring beloved by creators of such characters, his makeshift office peopled with slightly resentful student Katherine and games whiz Ben. Ben's young sister Cynthia is one of the missing.

More recently, Django James is a boy who disappeared together with his father's car. It's soon apparent that Drayton cares more for his clients than he wants to show. And his temper flares high in the presence of criminal scumbags. His hunt for the boy sometimes involves his nemesis, police constable Gavin Fisk. The two men have history regarding one attractive woman ― that's not the only side facet to the story as Drayton meets (and falls for) someone new. Wiebe has a natural, engaging style with easy humour. This reader hopes Drayton will surface again and again.

One-liner ― on being subjected to offensively bad music:
"Put a fucking bullet in me," said Fisk. (260)

Jocks engage:
Gavin Fisk had said he'd be down in a minute. Seventeen minutes later he strolled out of the elevator, a hockey bag slung over his shoulder. A tall, muscular white man with a stubble-dotted head, wearing grey sweats and a shirt that said POLICE: THE WORLD'S LARGEST STREET GANG.
He grinned and grabbed my hand in an alpha-male handshake. I upped the torque of my own grip. Rule one for dealing with people like Gavin Fisk: never show weakness and never back down. Otherwise you'll spend every morning handing over your lunch money. (40)

Interview fail:
Lisa was about my age, pear shaped, with a face buried under bronzer and red lipstick.
"You get the hell out of here," she said to me. "He's not talking to you. Ever. Understand?"
"He said you were the one who dealt with Szabo."
"You're a police officer?"
"Private detective working for ―"
"I don't care," she said. "Get out or I call the real police."
I nodded and walked to the door to wait for her to buzz me out. Propping the door open, I turned back to hurl some scathing putdown at them. I started to point out that between the two of them they only had one pair of eyebrows, but it was too much of a mouthful. I drove home alternating between coming up with better insults and telling myself I was the bigger man for holding my tongue. (72)

Drayton's grandmother and Thanksgiving:

Family-wise I think of myself as alone except for her, though she has a sister with three children and six sullen, Nintendo-addicted grandchildren. I view them as acquaintances, conventioneers who I put out for and put up with for one afternoon every year, plying them with mashed potatoes and gewurtztraminer and sending them on their way so that the other 364.25 days can be free of relatives. For their part, I'm sure they feel equally obligated to descend from their comfortable homes once a year to check in on the Widow Kessler and her peculiar grandson. What does he do again? Some kind of security guard or something. Oh, right. There any money in that? (132-133)

Jussi Adler-Olsen. The Marco Effect. New York: Dutton/Penguin, 2014.
Copenhagen's police department Q is going full tilt in a more complicated story than ever. An unsolved disappearance of four years ago reverberates into current criminal activities and the hunt for Marco, a missing boy who can expose them all. Marco has one miraculous escape after another. Detective Carl Mørck is in danger of being eclipsed by his eager assistants Assad and Rose while his suddenly stalled love life distracts him. He and we learn more tantalizing bits about Assad, whose malapropisms and love of camel metaphors drives Carl mad. A financial boondoggle in Africa, boy soldiers, corrupt government officials, immigrant gangs, and child labour are all part of the byzantine plot, almost veering into disbelief in some scenarios. It's all about the money, what else. Another great winner for Adler-Olsen.

One-liner It was high time he quelled his emotional hangover and reminded this cheeky shrew whose door had a shiny brass plate on it and whose didn't. (133)

Mørck admits his educational gap:
"Technologically illiterate? Don't know the expression. What the devil does it mean?"
"Someone dysfunctional in matters electronic. A person who's unable to operate devices that have more than one handle or button. Thick as a half-wit when it comes to understanding a manual, switching from a dial telephone to a mobile or from sink to dishwasher. You know the type?"
Assad nodded attentively. No doubt it was he who'd coined the expression in the first place. (132)

A very tight spot:
If they shut the door on him he would suffocate and never be found until the house was again inhabited.
Marco pressed his lips together. And when that time came they would find him because of the smell. His smell.
They would find a dead boy no one knew. Suffocated and decomposed. A boy with no distinguishing marks and no identity papers.
His heart was beating so fast that his breathing could hardly keep up in his upright fetal position and he began to sweat. (173)

Eric Rill. Pinnacle of Deceit. Toronto: Georgetown Publications, 2003.
Like Wiebe, Rill is a Canadian author but with less ease in the crime/thriller genre. Four boys meet and bond in an orphanage which they keep secret, but their young experience was not a fully developed story line. Anthony Marshall becomes the bullying, mega-wealthy owner of the Pinnacle hotel chain; Gerald Pratt becomes his passive right hand man; Ricardo Sanchez becomes a notorious Mexican drug lord; and Harmon Baker becomes president of the USA. Sounding over the top? Authors never seem to run out of corruption-among-the-privileged themes. A lesser theme among the threads is parental neglect, abuse, or absence, and the resulting character effects.

Despite their incredible power and resources, the four lives go off the rails when blackmail arises over more recent events, and the killing begins. Wives, grown children, and employees all scramble to protect themselves or each other. Pinnacle starts out with a rather pedestrian style and too many names to remember. Then the non-stop action picks up ... so much so that I suspect a film script and camera angles have already been figured. Rill carries it off with the right touch and realistic details of the hotel industry and other backgrounds. I didn't like the abrupt ending, though. His next in the genre, The innocent Traitor, may be more polished.

A boss you want to kill:
Dolly arrived with full coffee and tea service on a silver tray.
"He's not staying," Marshall informed her. "I need you to send this fax to our bank down in Nassau." Turning back to Pratt, with a smirk on his face, Marshall said, "You know, your kid is one of the smartest I've seen in the business. How in the hell did he come from your sperm? Ever think that Maryanne was banging someone else while you were away on one of your trips?"
"Anthony, I want to speak to you," Pratt said, his face reddening.
"So, speak," Marshall said, picking up a memo from his in-box.
"I mean alone."
"Not one of your 'I feel sorry for myself' dissertations. I'm too busy for that bullshit," Marshall growled. "If you want to chat, why don't you go see your shrink?" (54-5)

A private party:
The press, twenty-five in all not counting the photographers, had landed on the helicopter pad on the north side of the farm and had been bused over moments before. The president's staff members had arrived in their own helicopter. Everyone was here — except the man they had come to see.
A tiny speck approached from the west, emitting a whirling sound that was getting louder by the second. The guests pushed and shoved, trying to get a better view. The noise became deafening as the speck turned into a recognizable shape. Marine One, the president's helicopter, blasted the people below with hot air as it hovered overhead. Finally, the chopper dropped listlessly to the ground, its rotors gradually changing from one whirling cutter into separate, distinguishable blades. Moments later, the door opened. (108)

Under pressure:
"Should we go back to New York?" Caroline asked, pouring herself a shot of Absolut from the bar.
"No. And Caroline, that's it with the booze," Dolan said, taking the glass from Caroline's trembling hand. "You're going to jeopardize both our lives."
"I'll try," Caroline said, tears beginning to well up in her eyes.
"You won't try. You, my friend, are going cold turkey. If not, I'm history," Dolan declared. "This is what they call tough love."
"Shit, Buddy! I can't just give it up. It's not like going on a diet. I'll cut way back. I promise."
"Look, Caroline. I'm sure it's not going to be easy. In fact, it will be a miserable experience. But in a few weeks you'll be a much happier person," Dolan said, reaching out to touch her arm. "I'll help you in any way I can." (194)

30 June 2015

Library Limelights 86

Jo Nesbø. The Son. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.
Nesbø hasn't failed his fans yet, even though this is a stand-alone novel without Harry Hole. Your reviewer finished it nicely on time to avoid stuffing it, a heavy hardcover, into my flight carry-on. It's about a young man, Sonny, bent on rehabilitation after leaving prison where he had chosen to be wrongfully incarcerated. His self-redemptive action plan throws the city of Oslo into an uproar. Police partners Simon and Kari do their best to follow and find Sonny on his murderous spree.

Nevertheless Sonny is one of those misguided but rather naive characters who elicits sympathy. If this was a film, the audience would cheer every time he eliminates another scumbag. An experienced social worker falls under his spell (oh yes, subplots). The interplay between Simon and Kari is great, even though Simon keeps the worry to himself about his wife's health. Ultimately, we wonder if Simon will find the treacherous mole who caused Sonny's problems or be forced to make a trade-off. Totally compelling with a long line of interesting characters, not to mention Nesbø's perfect pacing, tension, and surprises. I'm not the only one who suspects The Son might be the start of a new series.

Hostel interview, next of kin:
"So that your parents, friends or girlfriend can get in touch with you, for example."
He smiled ruefully. "I've none of those."
Martha Lian had heard this reply many times before. So many times it no longer made an impression on her. Her therapist called it compassion fatigue and had explained that it affected most people in the profession at some point. What worried Martha was that it didn't seem to get any better. Of course she understood that there is a limit to how cynical a person who worries about their own cynicism can be, but she had always been fuelled by empathy. Compassion. Love. And she was close to running on empty. So she was startled when she heard the words I've none of those touch something, like a needle causing an atrophied muscle to twitch. (82)

The cleaning lady, his confidante:
Simon leaned his head against the neck rest. "If you knew you were carrying the devil's son, would you still give birth to him, Sissel?"
"We've had this conversation before, Simon."
"I know, but what did you say?"
She sent him a reproachful look. "I said that nature sadly doesn't give the poor mother any choice, Simon. Or the father, for that matter."
"I thought Mr. Thou abandoned you?"
"I'm talking about you, Simon."
Simon closed his eyes again. He nodded slowly. "So we're slaves to love. And who we're given to love, that's a lottery too. Is that what you're saying?"
"It's brutal, but that's how it is," Sissel declared. (283)

Loyalty or betrayal?
Kari cleared her throat. She had planned what she had to say with all sorts of reservations and assurances that she hadn't come to tell tales, only ensure the quality of their work. But now, as she sat here with Parr, who seemed so relaxed and welcoming, who had even admitted he was goofing off, it felt more natural to get straight to the point.
"Simon is on a mission of his own," she said. (356)


Jo Nesbø. Blood on Snow. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2015.
Nesbø overkill, I know. But whaddaya do when two Nesbø books become available about the same time? Would that all favourite authors were thus prolific! Blood on Snow is a short novel, two hundred pages. It represents a slight change in style, making me think of the unique novels by Malcom Mackay. Because here the anti-hero is also a "fixer," a contract killer. An unlikely profession for Olav, the closet romantic, whose propensity for re-writing his life stories is all in his head. He loves Maria, he also loves Corina, but he lacks knowledge of love. His newest assignment to kill his boss's wife deeply shakes his self-image. Playing off Oslo's two criminal gang leaders against each other becomes his only way to survive. Something different and a must for Nesbø fans!

Self-assessment:
Anyway. To sum up, let's put it like this: I'm no good at driving slowly, I'm way too soft, I fall in love far too easily, I lose my head when I get angry, and I'm bad at math. I've read a bit, but I don't really know much, and certainly nothing anyone would find useful. And stalactites grow faster than I can write.
So what on earth can a man like Daniel Hoffman use someone like me for?
The answer is ‒ as you might have worked out already ‒ as a fixer.
I don't have to drive, and I mostly kill the sort of men who deserve it, and the numbers aren't exactly hard to keep track of. Not right now, anyway. (13)

Reading books:
"Sometimes the story I get into my head is completely different. So I sort of end up getting two stories for the price of one."
She laughed. A loud, bubbly laugh. Her eyes twinkled in the semi-darkness. I laughed too. It wasn't the first time I had told someone I was dyslexic. But it was the first time anyone had continued to ask questions. And the first time I had tried to explain it to someone who wasn't my mum or a teacher. Her hand slid off my arm. Sort of unnoticed. I'd been waiting for it. She was slipping away from me. But her hand slid into mine instead. And squeezed it. "You really are funny, Olav. And kind." (82-83)

Fever:
This time the Volvo started at once.
I knew where I was going, but it was as if the streets had lost their shape and direction, becoming gently swaying tentacles of a lion's mane jellyfish that I had to keep swerving to follow. It was hard to see where you were in this rubber city where nothing wanted to stay as it was. I saw a red light and braked. Tried to get my bearings. I must have nodded off, because I jumped when the lights changed and a car behind blew its horn. I put my foot down. Where was this, was I still in Oslo? (190)

Martha Grimes. The Black Cat. New York: Viking/Penguin, 2010.
A change of pace from the above; Grimes is an author I haven't visited for a long time. Therefore I am not up on police superintendent Richard Jury's background or prior cases in a long series, some of which are referred to here. His odd relationships with Melrose Plant and Harry Johnson are leavened with much-appreciated humour. His relationships with several women are less transparent! The mystery concerning the deaths of three unrelated call girls flows smoothly from the pen of an expert. Interjecting a live black cat (or three of them) into The Black Cat pub seemed dubious at first ― who needs invented cutesy dialogue between Morris the cat and Mungo the dog? ― but eventually the purpose of the device is revealed. Clever Grimes.

Hospital, intensive care:
Jury sat for a few minutes watching her before he rose and walked round the room, back and forth, stopping to look at her. An effigy was what she reminded him of. The incomparable, commanding, relentless detective inspector Lu Aguilar, still as stone and helpless. What he felt now was that he would never be able to understand his feelings for her, what they had been. Or hers for him. That part of his mind would be still as stone and helpless, too. (107)

Underling Wiggins:
Boss. Wiggins had started this more edgy form of address. He was also rendering more opinions than usual. He frowned more. He contemplated more. "I hope you're not losing your common touch, Wiggins."
There it was. Wiggins frowned. "What do you mean?"
"That you're sounding more coplike. More Prime Suspect."
"She's a woman. Helen Mirren."
"I'm aware Helen Mirren is a woman. Her team calls her 'guv' and 'boss.'"
"But that's what we do, guv. There something wrong with that?"
"No. Not at all. Except you're sounding more like you're on our side."
Wiggins' frown deepened. "But ... whose side would I be on if not ours?"
"The other side. The poor bloody public's that's got to put up with us. As I said, you could be losing the common touch." (131-2)

A nine-year-old rakes Jury over the coals:
She sighed and shook her head, fielding one more disappointment. "Then why hasn't he found Morris? If he works for Scotland Yard, he ought to be able to find a cat. How does he keep his job?"
With as much condescension as he could muster, Melrose said, "He has missing people to look out for; he can't just―"
"But if he can't find a cat, how can he ever find a person? Finding people's a lot harder."
"I beg your pardon. It is much harder to find a cat than a person. A cat is much smaller and can get into places a person can't."
"A cat can't read street signs so it's harder for her to know where she is."
"Don't be silly, cats find things by instinct; they don't have to read." What point was being made? He'd forgotten. He rustled his paper and gave it a snap. (209-10)