Linwood Barclay. Fear the Worst. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2009.
I loved this book! Now I know why Barclay is so popular. It has all the great ingredients for me: succinct characterization, revealing dialogue, flawless pacing, unexpected plot manoeuvres, and humour. Tim Blake is a divorced car salesman whose life is on the dreary side until his teenaged daughter Sydney disappears. Feeling the police are ignoring him, Tim becomes the amateur detective; events unfold and accelerate as he meets one eccentric after another. His ex-wife, his boss, his co-worker, the ex-wife's boyfriend, Syd's friend Patty, Patty's mother, Syd's alleged employers, more ... and it gets yet more complicated.
Is someone lying to him? Why does Patty disappear? Dead bodies happen. The cops go after Tim. At times hilarious, occasionally horrific, the surprises keep coming. The obliviousness among today's youth population is perfectly portrayed. On checking Barclay's oeuvre, it seems he often specializes in missing persons mysteries. If the others are half as good as this, gonna order me another one asap!
Patty fleetingly thinks of selling cars:
I said, "So you're into cars now."
Patty shrugged. "I guess not. And I guess I'd have to get a bit of a makeover. The whole crack-whore thing I've got going on might put off Mr. and Mrs. Upstanding when they come in for a minivan to take their tiny Republicans to the mall."
"It might," I said. Patty usually had a job, but it was rarely the same one she'd had a couple of months ago. She'd worked a lot of retail, usually in trendy clothing outlets frequented by similarly dressed clientele. Only six months ago, she'd been working at a sports footwear store in Stratford. Now she had something in an accessories shop where she sold cheap jewelry, hair bands, and scarves.
"Can I tell you something, honestly?" She was moving her jaw around, like she was chewing gum, but there was no gum.
"I'd expect nothing less, Patty."
"The whole thing about putting DVD players in vans, is that, like, evidence of the fucking collapse of civilization or what? Are they thinking, like, little kids aren't getting enough of a chance to watch TV, that they've got to put them in their cars, too?"
You see what I mean? She had her moments. (66)
We were standing in the kitchen, having a drink of water.
"That thing you said, about DVD players in vans being a sign of the end of civilization?" I said.
"You might be on to something."
She smiled. An honest, genuine smile. It reminded me a little of Sydney's. I fought not to let the thought ruin this moment Patty and I were sharing.
She said, seemingly out of nowhere, but maybe not, "My dad was an asshole."
I didn't ask. (176-177)
Zygmunt Miloszewski. A Grain of Truth. Poland: Wydawnictwo W.A.B., 2011. UK: Bitter Lemon Press, 2012.
Genealogy alert: the story opens with a hired genealogist slogging away in a dusty archive; he has his moments later on. Prosecutor Teo Szacki is back for a second adventure, something of a sea change, starting his new life in the picturesque town of Sandomierz. The grubby confines of Warsaw and his broken marriage have been left behind for the most part. Teo's loneliness in his new situation makes him vacillate between enchantment and impatience with the town and its people. I would have liked to see a map of Sandomierz included, since the locations figure quite prominently. And because now I want to go there.
Leading the investigation into some high-profile murders, Teo slowly becomes accustomed to his work companions of well-painted and decidedly different temperaments: his cake-making boss Miszczyk, the emaciated Wilczur, the freckled Sobieraj, and so on. Who had a motive for spectacularly knocking off [gore alert] a couple of model citizens? More pointedly, who is telling the most lies? Brief italicized interjections by the killer are not a device I particularly admire; really, they could have been omitted without affecting the story. This is a tale strewn with red herrings, tangled history, and Teo's trademark cynicism. The climactic resolution was not altogether satisfying, a bit lame it seemed to me, but our hero's slow emergence from depression countered the effect. Personal threads are left dangling for the prosecutor's next adventure.
A crime scene discovered:
Sobieraj took one look around the room and burst into tears. When Szacki went up to comfort her and put a friendly hand on her shoulder, she threw herself round his neck and hugged him tightly. He could feel her whole body shaking with sobs; over her shoulder he kept an eye on Miszczyk, hoping she wouldn't faint, firstly because he didn't want to catch her one-hundred-kilo body, and secondly because he was afraid she would fall through the rotting ceiling. But not a single maternal muscle twitched on his over-endowed boss's face; she cast an eye over the crime scene and fixed her gaze on Szacki. She raised an eyebrow enquiringly. (162)
A surprise dinner encounter:
He turned around and was struck dumb. At the next table sat his former boss, head of the Warsaw City Centre District Prosecution Office, whom he had always thought of as the least attractive woman on earth. Well, a single glance after months apart confirmed his conviction that he'd always been right. Her grey face was just as grey, her brown strings of slightly wavy hair were just as brown, and rather than softening the dispiriting impression, swapping her grey office jacket for a red sweater only reinforced it. Janina Chorko looked like a woman who has sent a request to a charity that makes wishes come true for the terminally ill, and been dressed in something cheerful for her last hours. What a ghastly effect. (352)
And being invited to join her and her handsome husband:
But Prosecutor Teodor Szacki was standing on the spot, not even trying to hide his amazement. It wasn't possible ‒ he had worked with this woman for twelve years, always assuming she was an embittered spinster, who made discreet, embarrassing passes at him to boot. For twelve years he had felt bad about rejecting them, for twelve years he had regularly drunk her health, thinking the world was unfair, and that somewhere there must be someone, maybe not top class, but at least with both arms and legs, who would show her some mercy, bestow on her if not love, then at least a little sympathy, and would bring just a teeny bit of light into her grey-and-brown existence.
Evidently, he had worried in vain. Evidently, there are legends in which there isn't a grain of truth. In which everything is a lie from start to finish. (353-4)