20 February 2014

Library Limelights 50

Lars Kepler. The Nightmare. USA: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2010.
From the Swedish married team who wrote the acclaimed The Hypnotist, their next venture is another well-crafted thriller with Stockholm detective inspector Joona Linna. A terrifying hunt to kill two people for unknown reasons sets this tale on the road to international intrigue — peace activists, arms smuggling, renowned violinists, drama on the Baltic Sea. "Kepler" often only hints at the psychological subtext in his characters; readers are expected to draw the connections. And yet action sequences are portrayed in detailed sequence, sometimes from every perspective, requiring your utmost attention.

Just when you think it's over, it's not over. A sadistic killer in his twisted pursuit of wealth targets not only his victims but knows how to bring their worst nightmares to life. Joona is a dogged investigator on the slimmest of evidence, despite his occasional blinding migraines. Only the slightest clues refer to Joona's own mysterious background, predictable material for future novels. Lars Kepler is at the top of the game.

Axel can't sleep:
Axel's sleep is stiff and heavy, his jaw clenched. He's held the girl very tightly. He sucks in air like a drowning man. He's sweating and his heart is pounding from fear. He turns on the lamp on the nightstand. Beverly sleeps as relaxed as a child, mouth open and a little sheen on her forehead. Axel starts to think about Carl Palmcrona again. The last time they'd met, they mingled with the nobility at a meeting in Riddarhuset. Palmcrona had been drunk and aggressive. He'd gone on and on about the UN weapons embargoes and finished his tirade with those strange words: If everything goes to hell, I'll pull an Algernon so I won't reap my nightmare. (179)
Desperately she treads water and swirls around just keeping herself from wild screams. Finally she spots Bjorn's bobbing head, barely above the surface of the water, about fifty meters ahead. Penelope starts to swim again, but she's not sure she'll ever make it to the other island.
The shoes around her neck hinder her strokes and she tries to get rid of them, but the laces tangle in her crucifix. Then the thin chain of the crucifix snaps and everything sinks to the bottom of the sea.
She swims onward, feeling her heart pound in her chest. It takes a moment or so to realize she can see Bjorn staggering up onto land. He's looking back for her when he should be finding cover. (222)
Joona observes:
A girl holding a violin stands on the marble patio. She looks about fifteen years old. Her hair is extremely short, and he can see some drawings she's inked on her arms. Axel Riessen is with her, nodding and listening carefully as she drags the bow across the strings. Her movements look awkward, as if she's holding the instrument for the very first time. Perhaps this is Axel's daughter, or even his grandchild, because he watches her with such a gentle, curious expression.
The bow crosses the strings at the wrong angle and elicits a hissing, whining sound.
"It's not in tune," the girl says as an excuse for the terrible noise.
She smiles and, with care, she hands the instrument back to Axel.
"Playing the violin means listening," Axel says in a calm, friendly fashion. "The music is already inside you. You just release it into the world." (321)
Carolyn Abraham. The Juggler's Children, A Journey into Family, Legend and the Genes That Bind Us. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2013.
Abraham was born into a mixed-race family that revealed even more mixtures than she could ever imagine when she began the journey into their history. What a smorgasbord of cultures, colours, and contrasts she unravelled — a Jamaican sea captain, a Chinese fugitive, Southeast Asian hill tribes, and African possibilities! Two simple charts assist in following names and relationships of four grandparents around whom the searches revolve. Along the ancestral trail we are treated to descriptions of related global and historical interest — the Nilgiri Hills of India, the lovely coastal Kerala, Jamaican plantation life and slaveery, the spice trade, "railway colonies," emigration from southern China ... and much more.

The author was an early adherent of genetic testing as applied to genealogy and as it expanded in the twenty-first century. Should any family historian feel reluctant to have a go, the book is a persuasive eye-opener to the role DNA can play in tracking ancestors, especially in determining a region for an elusive individual ancestor. DNA testing and results are the prominent feature in the story although Abraham also pursued traditional genealogical sources such as religious records, probates, land, and estate records. Those sources are sometimes cavalierly referred to as "old-fashioned" (63, 168, 239) which may be the only off-note. Her contacts and correspondence grew, as any family historian will recognize, and it's remarkable how widespread they became; DNA matches turned up in unexpected places.

Abraham's graceful, winning style engages the reader in comprehending the explanations and analyses of DNA results. Suspense is well built as we wait for her father's Y-DNA tests. The caution is that even "perfect" DNA matches between living individuals cannot determine a specific time frame or identity of a distant mutual ancestor. Don't miss a fascinating personal trek through haplogroups and haplotypes.

First impressions of India:
But illness was only part of it. Even then I knew I couldn't fault an entire subcontinent for Delhi belly and bad side effects. The emotional pain of the trip stemmed from having high hopes of feeling like some prodigal daughter, a wayward soul returned from the diaspora, only to feel nothing at all—nothing familiar, nothing to recall the Sunday afternoon chronicles of my grandmother. I wanted to love India. Why didn't I love it? (90)
On approaching relatives for DNA samples (swabs):
I took that as my cue and began fumbling to explain how DNA can also connect a person to long-lost relatives they didn't know they had. I started by comparing DNA to a record that shows how all modern humans descend from Africans; I was partway through when I decided to back up and talk about how DNA made us all human in the first place. But instantly that seemed too abstract and too long a story. It was ridiculous, really, to be nattering on about primordial ooze and single-celled organisms while nestled on a plush sofa with a glass of wine. Just how informed do people have to be to give their informed consent? I wondered. (171)

My favourite one-liner:
" ... as Confucius said, a man who stands on a hill with his mouth open will wait a long time for roast duck to drop in." (332) 

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