The size of the pile of books-in-waiting shifts up and down, producing panic at either extreme: no books, or too many books. Summer is finally settling in hot and humid as I write and the size of the pile is satisfactory indeed.
Ian Rankin. Standing in Another Man's Grave. London: Orion Books, 2012.
When John Rebus is involved, you never want the story to end. Even if the suspense becomes unbearable. Even if Rebus is no longer a "real" policeman. In this tale, Rebus meets Rankin's "new" character Malcolm Fox who was introduced in The Complaints. Fellow fans will also remember Siobhan the detective and Cafferty the mobster. The Lothian and Borders Police Cold Case Unit may be disappearing along with Rebus's job, but his languishing skills are fired up by linking a current murder case to cold case files. The scene of Rebus galvanizing into action, sorting pieces of an emerging puzzle, is totally akin to an obsessed genealogist hot on a trail.
Rebus won't give up, a thorn in the side of the regular police conducting the investigation. Nothing is straightforward about the missing women or their families. The murder jurisdiction stretches from Edinburgh to north of the Black Isle, causing a media sensation. Needless to say, the suspense grows apace with plenty of distractions and guesswork. Meanwhile Fox is cataloguing everything unorthodox about Rebus's methods; an application to re-join the police force hangs in the balance. Long live Rebus; Rankin has left the way open for more.
Drawing lines in the sand:
Fox managed to force out a smile, studying Rebus the way a sceptical employer might an underqualified job candidate. "We've met before, you know."
"Sort of ‒ we were on the same case one time, back in my CID days."
"I don't remember."
Fox shrugged. "Not so surprising really ‒ I don't think you made it to a single briefing."
"Probably too busy doing real work."
"With a mint on your tongue to mask the smell of booze."Rebus gave him a hard stare. "Is that what this is all about ‒ me not giving you the time of day? Did I nick your sweets in the playground and now you need to get your own back?"
"I'm not that petty."
"You sure about that?"
"Quite sure." Fox was rising to his feet. "One more thing," he said. "You know there'll be a physical? If you go ahead with your application, I mean."
"Constitution of an ox," Rebus declared, thumping his chest with a fist.He watched the other man leave, then finished his caramel wafer before heading outside to the smoking zone. (75)
Sylvia Fraser. Berlin Solstice. 1984. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1984.
Sorry, I decided I'm tired of reading about Germany in the Second World War (where do I get these books?!). That's not fair to Fraser who produced such acclaimed novels as The Ancestral Suitcase and the autobiographical My Father's House. Berlin Solstice is no less worthy of such critical praise. Three protagonists — Carmel, Wolf, and Kurt — represent the best of the German people, a small resistance group, and the worst of the Gestapo. Fraser clearly undertook overwhelming historical research, making this a factual catalogue of horror. The details of Nazi atrocities are extremely disturbing.
Åsa Larrson. The Blood Spilt. New York: Bantam Dell/Random House, Inc., 2007.
Larrson's characters inhabit a different world (just checked; yes, I said that earlier); it takes me time to identify with them if I ever do. Our heroine Rebecka Martinsson is damaged from a prior cruel encounter in her northern Swedish home town. She's not a sleuth, more a reluctant observer of community leaders and their often strange behaviour. Returning to the scene of the crime, she meets some familiar figures among the local police. Not to mention a murder or two. Once again, shades of the Old Testament seem to flicker in the background. Or is it mid-summer madness? Whatever the relevance of the parallel aging-wolf allegory, its nuance was lost on me.
The book is populated with truculent hunters, devious Calvinists, and an intellectually disabled young man, all of whom appear under suspicion. Thank goodness for the cheery café owners and detective Anne-Marie who's had her baby since SunStorm. Despite Rebecka's unstable (and sometimes tiresome) thoughts, by the end of the novel I found I do want to find out if and how she survived this particular challenge.
She went up to the cottage door, but suddenly turned and walked a few meters into the forest. The fir trees stood in silence, gazing up toward the stars which were just beginning to appear. Their long blue green velvet coats moved tentatively over the moss.
Rebecka lay down on the ground. The pine trees put their heads together and whispered reassuringly. The last mosquitoes and blackflies of the summer sang a deafening chorus, seeking out whatever parts of her they could reach. She could cope with that. (57)
I'm just not normal, thought Rebecka. I can't cope with being around my work colleagues who are the same age as me, but with an old man and somebody who's retarded I feel as if I can be myself.
"I remember when I was little," she said. "When the adults had lifted the potatoes, you always lit a fire out in the field in the evening. And we were allowed to bake the potatoes that were left behind.
"Charred black on the outside, reasonably well cooked just inside the skin, and raw on the inside. Oh, I remember. And what you looked like when you came in later. Covered in soot and soil from top to toe." (199)