26 December 2013

Library Limelights 44

Linwood Barclay. Bad Move. USA: Wheeler Large Print Hardcover, 2004.
Did I notice I'd ordered the large print version? No. Did I love this book? Yes. The plan is to work my way chronologically through Barclay's prolific output. Not that the same characters reappear (at least not yet). But the author is adept at portraying ordinary, decent people whose lives turn upside down. In this case, meet the Walkers, living in a construction zone of suburban housing. Husband and father Zack is just a teeny bit zealous about protecting the safety of his family, at the risk of being called a paranoid control freak by his teenagers. He gives new meaning to the phrase "acting out."

Then he overdoes it with one bad move and all hell breaks loose with largely hilarious consequences, something like watching a pratfall comedy film. A comedy of compounded errors. We follow Zack's train of thought as he bumbles through desperate attempts to remedy the situation, encountering a few murders along the way. Property developers, environmental activists, local councillors, shifty neighbours, all get into the act. Each new character Zack meets, each small incident, fits into the plot in some way, with a perfect ending admirably tying up every loose end. Sorry to see such a satisfactory story end!

The wife gets angry:
The remainder of the day before had not gone well. I expected to make amends with Sarah shortly after I returned with her car. But she took the car out again as soon as I was back with it. She went, it turned out, to the drugstore, and bought a tube of ointment for my burned hand. She pulled into the driveway half an hour after she'd left and found me sitting at the kitchen table, where I had been wondering whether Sarah had left me for good and what that meant in terms of how many hamburgers I should throw onto the barbecue. She pulled the tube out of her purse and nailed me right in the eye. (58)
A neighbour hears about a bad move:
She [Trixie] wasn't a judgmental person. She was open-minded on social issues and tolerant of human frailties. Over earlier cups of coffee, she'd advocated same-sex marriages, defended Bill Clinton's personal behaviour, refused to demonize welfare recipients. And she called things as she saw them.
"God, Zack," she said, shaking her head and reaching for one of the Peek Freans cookies I'd set out on a plate. Sarah'd taught me never to serve right out of the bag. "You're a piece of work. And a control freak. Where do you get off, trying to control everyone else's behavior?"
"Sarah called me an asshole."
Trixie nodded. "Big surprise there." She had a bite of jelly cream. "What do the kids think when you pull a stunt like that?" (79)
Karin Fossum. Don't Look Back. Norwegian edition 1996. Vintage/Random House, 2002.
I'm sure I read some Fossum in the past but went back to an early book to get a grip on Detective Inspector Konrad Sejer who stars in many of her novels. It was so early, TPL sent it in the form of a tattered paperback [not exactly as illustrated]. By the end of the story I still did not have a gelling mental image of Sejer, the sort of slightly nebulous but comfortable feeling one often fastens to a good character. I'm willing to attribute the shortcoming to copious amounts of aspirin, not to Fossum. The story itself, and the mystery, helped keep me going through desperate root canal intervention.

The murder of the most popular girl in a Norwegian village baffles everyone. Sejer and his younger sidekick Skarre interview the entire neighbourhood, slowly uncovering old sufferings and hidden guilt in their private lives. Could any of these local people or their past secrets be related to Annie's death? Or was her death due to a character flaw of her own, inviting death from a still-unknown sinister stranger? Sejer patiently proceeds and delves. He is unlike the darker detective heroes of Scandinavian crime literature; his generally unruffled methodology almost (perversely) hampered my empathy with him. Yet Fossum's works are particularly sympathetic in portraying the social damage of crime upon families.

"What have you been doing?"
"I visited Halvor's grandmother."
"Did you?"
"She served me coffee and lefse, along with all the misery of her old age. I now know what it's like to get old."
"What's it like?"
"A gradual decline. An insidious, almost unnoticeable process that you only discover at sudden, shocking moments."
Skarre sighed like an old man and shook his head anxiously.
"The cell division process decreases, that's what it's all about. It slows down more and more, until the cells practically stop renewing themselves altogether, and everything starts to shrink. In fact, that's the first stage of the decomposition process, and it starts when you're about 25."
"That's tough, all right. That means you're well on your way. I think you're actually looking a little older already." (148)

Loss of a child:

"People often try to imagine what it's like." He stared at Sejer with weary eyes. "They do it with the best of intentions. Try to picture the empty bed and imagine themselves standing there and staring at it. And I did do that often. But the empty bed is only part of it. I got up every morning and went out to the bathroom, and there was his toothbrush under the mirror. The kind that changes colours when it gets warm. The rubber duck on the edge of the bath. His slippers under the bed. I caught myself setting too many places at the table for dinner, I did it for days. There were stuffed animals that he had left in the car. Months later I found a Band-Aid under the sofa." (217)

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