Mark Billingham. Rush of Blood. London, UK: Little, Brown, 2012.
It's possibly the first Billingham novel I've read (after all, my Limelights don't go back very far) but won't be the last. Here is the mystery lover's example of a can't-put-it-down book. The author sets it up perfectly: three English couples meet on a Florida vacation and share good times. They decide to expand the friendship after returning home, still faintly haunted by a peripheral, unsolved crime that occurred during their holiday. Could one of them have been the perpetrator? The six characters are unveiled in their own words and through each others' eyes; sexual tensions among them are ever so subtle. Then the same type of crime occurs in the U.K. A novice British policewoman looks for connections while a veteran Sarasota detective agonizes with the first victim's family.
The author is a master of pacing and scene switching. Intertwining the detective work of two different countries is a great device. Someone, or maybe several suspects, are lying to the police. Billingham faultlessly builds the suspense, keeping the reader compulsively guessing. Inserting the occasional thoughts of the perpetrator adds tantalizing insight without revealing identity. In the end, do we comprehend the meaning of "balance" in the motivation?
The first goodbye:
There are hugs between the three women, and between the women and men. Barry and Dave shake hands, then are pulled into an embrace by Ed, who tells them they need to relax and get in touch with their feminine sides.
"Or latent homosexuality," he says, winking at Dave.
They start to separate, then, as the goodnights drag on, they drift back together and talk briefly about plans for the following day. There is some suggestion of seeing each other the next morning, grabbing a final hour or so by the pool, though nothing definite is arranged. Each couple has a hire car to return and some are planning to set off for Tampa airport earlier than others, but there is general agreement that they will all see each other in the departure lounge before the flight home.
"Definitely," Angie says. "Don't forget we need to swap those email addresses." (119)
The confident perp muses:
I know they talk to each other, police force to police force or whatever, and these days, with the internet and everything, the connection was likely to get made very bloody quickly.
I'm not denying I was lucky because I was stupidly lucky. The people I needed to behave in particular ways behaved in exactly the ways I thought they would, said the right thing. Said the wrong thing. Of course, luckiest of all, there'd been so many of us out there enjoying the Florida sunshine to begin with. Let's hear it for the crappy British weather. (283-4)
Miriam Toews. All My Puny Sorrows. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2014.
This book shot to the top of Maclean's bestseller list a moment after it was published. I anticipate a new Toews books so much I'm almost afraid to begin reading because I know it will end and I don't want it to. It's obvious I am not the only one who is captivated by Toews' ability to suck you immediately into a world that is half-comedy, half-tragedy, resonating truly everywhere in the details. Yolandi (Yoli) and Elfrieda (Elf) are the Von Riesen sisters; one is musically gifted; the other is the narrator. This is basically about family relationships, a family that typically only Toews can bring to life, a flawed family you want to wrap in your arms. The scenes shift between Winnipeg and Toronto.
Toews draws on her Mennonite heritage, familiar from her previous books, although I'd say there's a harder edge here. In their childhood, "the alpha Mennonite" who comes calling does not deflect the free-spirited sisters from their irreverent ways. Readers who have depression in their family will feel the weight of Elf's struggles with suicide; some of it will break your heart. And yet, cobbling together support and comfort, Yoli's reminiscences (and their wayward mother) often verge on the hysterically funny. Bizarre, bitter-sweet, and very much alive ... Toews' expressive command of her characters is superb.
The elders come to call because Elf wants to go to university:
Public enemy number one for these men was a girl with a book.
She'll get ideas, said one of them to my father in our living room, to which he had no response but to nod in agreement and look longingly towards the kitchen where my mother was staked out snapping her dish towel at houseflies and pounding baby veal into schnitzel. I sat silently beside my father on the itchy davenport absorbing their "perfume of contempt" as my mother described it. I heard my mother call my name. I went into the kitchen and found her sitting on the counter, swinging her legs and chugging apple juice straight from the plastic jug. (12-13)
Elf casually mentioned that while she was in Europe she might as well go to Russia to explore her roots and my father almost stopped breathing. You will not! he said. Yeah, I might, said Elf. Why not?
My grandparents originally came from a tiny Mennonite village in Siberia in 1917, the year of the Bolshevik revolution. Terrible things happened to them there in the land of blood. Any hint of the place, the slightest mention of anything Russian, and my parents would start clawing the air. (18)
My mother says ah, okay, but still ... I wonder about you carrying that sorrow around with you, where it came from ... and I finally understood what she needs to hear and that she's talking about not just me but Elf too and I tell her that my sorrow was not created by her, that my childhood was a joyful thing, an island in the sun, that her mothering is impeccable, that she is not to blame. (146)
Considering options to help her sister:
I closed my eyes and tried to think. What is love? How do I love her? I was gripping the steering wheel the way my father used to, like he was towing a newly discovered planet behind him, one that held the secrets to the universe. (152)
Elf plays Mary in the children's church nativity pageant:
Elf was well aware of her responsibilities, of being demure and tender and mild even though she'd been unconventionally impregnated by an invisible force and was now expected to raise the Messiah and all on a carpenter's salary. I was six. I was supposed to be a shepherd, relegated to some back row where all us younger kids would stand with dishtowels on our heads or angel wings gaffed to our backs. (299)