Lars Kepler. The Fire Witness. (Sweden 2011) Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2013.
The Swedish couple of the nom de plume just keeps 'em coming. No false starts here; we are immersed in the tension immediately. In fact, it's a bit breathless and there's a certain blood/gore factor. There are no witnesses to a double murder. A secondary crime takes police precedence and the chase is on. DI Joona Linna returns in his strangest case yet. It's not even his case, being in trouble with his bosses from the last time (The Nightmare). I want to say just when you think it's over, it's not over — but I said that last time! The book is packed with swiftly moving revelations and descriptive corners of Stockholm.
Lacking witnesses and with no suspects in hand, the investigation is called off. Not Joona, of course. His instincts demand a mental replay of how the crimes could have occurred. Maybe one of the youngsters in the home for troubled girls unknowingly has the key to both mysteries. Or are they all demented? There's a hair-raising scene of a deep dive against a dam wall. A psychic becomes involved, and what a final twist that brings. As an anti-climax we get more information about Joona's own hidden past, promising more to come. One notes that the book is written in the present tense. It suits the ambiance. This is prime Kepler!
One-liner — of a genealogical nature:
"According to our statistics," Gunnarson says, keeping his pedagogic tone of voice, "most of the children born in Sweden are born outside marriage ...". (68)
His lungs are screaming for oxygen, but he knows he has just a bit more time. His body has learned to wait. When he was in the navy, he often had to swim twelve kilometers carrying the signal flag. He's left a submarine with an emergency balloon. He's swum beneath the ice of the Gulf of Finland. He can go without oxygen for a few more seconds.
He swims around the car and searches the smooth riverbed. The water pulls him like a strong wind. Shadows from the logs above pass swiftly over the bottom. (158)
Joona slows down, but when he sees the car is empty, he keeps driving. Flora must have gotten out and run toward the tower.Joona parks and races over the raked gravel to the pitch-covered tower, which is standing on a hill not far from the church. He can see the church bell hanging beneath the onion dome behind a railing. Beyond the bell tower, there's a rushing river, its waters black and foamy. The sky is dark and it looks like it will start raining at any moment.
The door to the tower is slightly ajar.
Joona walks the last few feet. He can smell the pitch.
The wide ground-floor section is paneled in dark wood. There's a steep wooden staircase leading to a platform below the bell.
Joona calls out, "Flora?" (409)
David Baldacci. The Hit. New York: Hachette Book Group, 2013.
It's always interesting when you read two esteemed authors back-to-back. Both are known for sparse use of language. I've usually enjoyed Baldacci's characters and plot action, so why did this one fall short for me? Perhaps from the theme, repetitious to the point of redundancy, that dedicated assassins have to be mechanical beings devoid of human emotion. Naturally we expect them to find their inner feelings before the book is over (not giving that away!). "They" are two CIA contract killers with different agendas, at odds with each other. It's not the first time we've met Will Robie, but I'm not sure about his opponent Jessica. The big questions are who is the real traitor, who is right and who is wrong?
I can't put my finger on why the novel didn't wholly capture me. Somehow the characters are not well-defined, or bits of plot don't mesh well. The flow was interrupted on my part by questions of credibility — Would the world's top spy agency really not change its communication frequencies the instant an agent went rogue? Can both our protagonists (or any native-born Americans) really speak Arabic "with none of the accent of a westerner"? In 2013 does Syria have an "increasingly secular government"? Would Canada sanction an active FBI presence in its boundaries?! And the strings of one-sentence paragraphs for emphasis soon becomes tiresome, losing its intended effect. It's a soft climax for Baldacci. Not one of his best, in my opinion; next time I expect he will return to form.
A hunter on the hunt:
You don't care about anyone. You have to be a machine because you have to kill without remorse. And then move on to the next one after quickly forgetting the last. ...
She stared up at the nondescript eight-storey building. It looked like a place where young people just starting out or older people down-sizing might live mixed in with a healthy dose of middle-aged people who had simply never fully realized their goals in life.
It was totally unexceptional.
So that meant it was perfect for Robie.
He could hide in plain sight. (123)