09 January 2014

Library Limelights 46

Two excellent reads in a row! Both happen to involve complex character delineation. I am not a particular fan of psychological suspense novels per se, but these two are so much more.

Lars Kepler. The Hypnotist. [Sweden 2009] Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2011.
Wowser. This is one thriller that lives up to the hype. The pseudonymous husband-and-wife team ranks tops in Nordic writers along with (in my opinion) Mankell, Nesbo, and Adler-Olsen. In short order we meet a badly injured teenager, a reluctant hypnotist, and a self-confident policeman. They need to reconstruct the sequence of a dreadful family crime to determine the perpetrator. That's only the beginning of a complicated plot that ratchets up the anxiety at every turn.

More murders occur, and Detective Joona Linna needs the active participation of psychiatrist Erik Bark whose clinical specialty is hypnotism. How skilled is the hypnotist? What seems at first to be a cut-and-dried solution to the case moves unexpectedly into nightmare proportions. Do victims become perpetrators? The tension becomes unbearable when Bark's own family is affected. Almost everyone involved gets pushed to the brink of breakdown. Suspicions and misunderstandings abound, between husband and wife, parents and children, doctor and patients. No question, this is a masterwork.

Flashback to Erik's healing treatment:
I stood motionless, waiting until they felt ready. As individuals, they had one thing in common: they had each suffered traumatizing abuse of one kind or another, abuse that created such devastation within their psyches that they had concealed what had happened from themselves in order to survive. In some cases, I had a greater command of the facts of their lives than they did. They were each, however, acutely aware that their lives had been decimated by terrible events in the past."The past isn't dead, it isn't even past." I would often quote William Faulkner. I meant that every little thing that happens to people remains with them throughout their lives. (315)
 Gillian Flynn. Sharp Objects. New York: Broadway Paperbacks/Crown Publishing Group/Random House, Inc., 2006.
Do not go here if you have any qualms about obsessive-compulsive disorders or any other perplexing mental aberrations! It's a story of sociopathic damage that humans can inflict on each other. Once into the seemingly innocuous (for a crime novel) beginning — big city newspaper sends girl reporter Camille to her small hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to provide news on child murders there — you will likely find yourself sucked inescapably into a feeling of evil. Camille's own family is bizarre; she finds herself falling into old response patterns. Her childhood friends are narcissistic and cruel. The younger generation promises more of the same in a quartet of barely-teenage girls scarier than any sci-fi monsters.

Don't get me wrong ... Flynn absolutely excels in this genre. You just can't stop reading. We revisit parts of Camille's youth and family life as she and Detective Willis try to grasp the criminal motivation in the current cases. One wants to ask why-why-why do some people do strange things and other people allow them to continue? Or even (ask) is Wind Gap really a representative microcosm of all small towns? Without spoiling key points in the tale, I guessed what appeared to be the climax, only to gasp — yes, out loud — at further revelations, perfectly understated and shocking! At 252 pages you might speed through this in one sitting, perhaps mesmerized by a darker undercurrent of life. Watch for Flynn's Gone Girl and Dark Places as movies in 2014 ...

Scouting the hometown:
Small towns usually cater to one kind of drinker. That kind may vary: There are the honky-tonk towns, which keep their bars on the outskirts, make their patrons feel a little bit outlaw. There are the upscale sippy-drink towns, with bars that overcharge for a gin ricky so the poor people have to drink at home. There are the middle-class strip-mall towns, where beers come with onion blossoms and cutely named sandwiches.
Luckily everyone drinks in Wind Gap, so we can have all those bars and more. We may be small, but we can drink most towns under the table. (82)
An old family friend:
The room I was ushered into was obscenely white with glaring splashes of colour, like a mischievous child had been finger painting. Red throw pillows, yellow-and-blue curtains, a glowing green vase packed with red ceramic flowers. A ludicrous leering black-and-white photo of Jackie, hair overblown, talons curled coyly beneath her chin, hung over the mantelpiece. She was like an overgroomed lapdog. Even in my sickened state I laughed."Darling Camille!" Jackie crossed the room with arms outstretched. She was wearing a satin house robe and diamond earrings like blocks. "You've come to visit. You look horrible, sweetheart. Geri, get us some Bloody Marys, stat!" She howled, literally, at me, then at Geri. I guess it was a laugh. (195)

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