18 July 2014

Library Limelights 61

Jo Nesbo. Cockroaches. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2013.
I believe this is the last Nesbo to receive a belated English translation; originally published in Norway in 1998, chronologically it is the second novel in the popular Harry Hole series (following The Bat.) Now yours truly can say she has read every one of them. Since Nesbo may have laid Harry to rest, Cockroaches is like a bonus to the detective's often-electrifying career. Norway's ambassador to Thailand is murdered in embarrassing circumstances and instant cover-up is the first diplomatic reaction. Harry gets chosen as a token presence in the investigation―his previous assignment in Australia seems to qualify him for a complicated task. With a mighty effort, he sobers up and flies to Bangkok.

We know Harry's no token and won't stay discreetly in the background as his political superiors instructed. Once on the ground there, he works with the Thai police, meeting a mixture of Norway's ex-pats. What kind of criminal activity instigated the murder? There are plenty of motivations to choose from. An abduction and more killings ensue. Each new revelation points in a different direction as we catch glimpses of city life where crime and corruption seem rampant and alien. Some scenes trigger flashbacks for Harry ― suffering the loss of innocence. He and his new police acquaintance, Liz Crumley, face an adrenalin-thumping climax. It's deliciously complicated. As is Harry, of course.

One- Two-liner: Harry was reminded of an old friend who used to chuckle the same way. He had buried him in Sydney, but he paid Harry regular visits at night. (270)

The diplomatic corps:
"His career ended in a cul-de-sac. He came from some job in Defence, but at some time there were a couple too many 'buts' by his name."
"Buts?"
"Haven't you heard the way Ministry people talk about one another? 'He's a good diplomat, but he drinks, but he likes women too much' and so on. What comes after the 'buts' is a lot more important than what comes before; it determines how far you can get in the department. That's why there are so many sanctimonious mediocrities at the top." (103)

Illegal entry:

He had heard something. That is, he had heard a thousand things, but one sound among the thousand did not belong to the now familiar cacaphony from the streets. And it came from the hall. It was a well-lubricated click. Oil and metal. When the draught told him that someone had opened the door, he thought of Sunthorn, until it struck him that the person who had just entered was trying to be as quiet as possible. Harry held his breath while his brain whirred through his sound archives at a furious pace. A sound expert in Australia had told him that the membrane in your ear can hear the difference in pressure between a million different frequencies. And this had not been the sound of a doorknob being turned but a recently oiled gun being cocked. (228-9)

Denise Mina. Still Midnight. Toronto: McArthur & Company, 2009.
Trial run here. I'd been looking for another Tartan Noir writer (take a leading bow, Ian Rankin). It took a while to warm up to this book, mainly because the pair of criminals we meet right off the bat are incredibly wretched, inept, incompetent goofballs. There's a fair amount of Glaswegian vernacular to surmount as well. Detectives Morrow and Bannerman are not exactly loveable at first, either, but with a little perseverance they all grow on you. A kidnapping/ransom plan goes awry although the arms-length instigator and the police are not aware of it. The hapless intermediary duo has to contend with the wrong victim, an accidental shooting, and a dead body. Several threads skillfully come together as the plot boils up and it's hard to stop reading.

Bannerman is chosen to lead the investigation to the deep resentment of his rival, Alex Morrow, who bests him at every opportunity she can. Her character is thorny and abrasive; she avoids going home to an unpleasant, undefined domestic life. We witness various interactions with an immigrant Muslim family, not a major theme but so well portrayed. The narrative switches between Morrow, the two goofballs, the victim, and the affected family members. Our questions about character mysteries are eventually resolved. The odd love fantasy one young man creates is a master touch from the author. Now I know why Mina is called "the grand dame of Scottish crime fiction."

Morrow muses on police interrogation:
Family myths and fables were more than conscious fibs; they were a form of self-protection, conversational habits, beliefs too embedded to challenge: she loves me, we are happy, he will change. But there was always a tic. It amazed Alex, the craven need of people to tell the truth. During questioning, when inconsistencies started to show in a story, people often broke down, sobbed with the desire to be honest, as if getting caught lying was the very worst that could happen. She'd seen men carving fingernails into the palms of their hands, breaking the skin to relieve the pressure to tell. ... She'd never again trust anyone who began a sentence, "Honestly," or, "To tell the truth." These were flags raised high above a statement, drawing the casual viewer's attention; here be dragons. (36)

The Anwar family:
Omar saw his father looking at his spoiled, lucky children, sensed his bewilderment, his disappointment. They expected new clothes and cars and bedrooms of their own, they wanted shoes and food and holidays and iPods. Sadiqa wanted books and new clothes all the time because she was getting fatter. They didn't want to pray in the night, they didn't want to walk anywhere, they didn't want to work shifts in the smelly wee shop with Johnny Landry telling the same stories over and over about his time in the army. They were private school kids and thought it was humiliating to sit behind a counter, taking shit from alkis and shoplifters and racist fuckwits out in their slippers looking for bottles of ginger and teabags. (219)

Pat dreams:
She was making a face in the picture, puffing up her cheekbones and pouting a little, not tarty, just sweet. Pat reached out to pick up a copy and felt the rough texture of the paper kiss his fingertips, smelled the hot fat as sweet, the daylight glinting on the greasy wall as a sparkle. That she existed made the tawdry present bearable. He folded the paper and tucked it under his arm, smiling, as happy as if it was her arm, and went over to the counter, ordered two egg and bacon rolls and two cans of ginger, handing over the money to the beautifully hungover fat man behind the counter. (147)

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