Mo Hayder. Wolf. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2014.
Beware, this book has some scary characters who will creep you out. The psychological torture within is not to everyone's taste and I wouldn't recommend it except for the most diehard crime readers. Hayder has a reputation for shocking her fans. That said, this story of a home invasion is superbly developed, fraught with dread. We meet series character police detective Jack Caffery of past books. He is on a separate mission of his own and part of the suspense is when ― or whether ― his search will dovetail with the main story, with help of a dog called Bear. The Walking Man is another repeat character; he serves as a foil to Caffery's internal anxiety.
The family caught in a nightmare trap had only a peripheral involvement in murders of fifteen years ago. Who could be orchestrating their current plight? Potential motives slowly unfold. Are the criminals really who they appear to be? The truth may lie somewhere in their transforming thoughts. If there's a plan, it begins to disintegrate in unpredictable ways. The more we learn, the more Hayder finely balances our sympathy and antipathy among the players. And perhaps Caffery finally resolves his personal quest. If you want the challenge of mind-messing, go for it!
The parallel universe?
Matilda stares at him. All their lives Oliver has been the one with the answers. Whatever the question, he always has an answer. Except now.
She looks around herself, completely bewildered. The kitchen ‒ the place she feels most at home ‒ is a different landscape. Yes, she hung those candy-stripe curtains. She chose the pink range kettle to match. She stocked the painted shelves. There's a jar at the back no-one would ever notice, its lid open to release the smell of cinnamon. All of this is familiar. Yet somehow they've crossed into a different reality.
A door bangs overhead and there's the noise of scuffling on the staircase. Again Matilda strains to lift the table with her back. It gives a tiny way but the effort is too much. She squats, panting. "Oliver? What do we do?" (65-66)
Looking for clues:
"Thank you." The colonel shakes his hand. "Thank you and goodbye. You can find your own way out, I take it."
He turns, using his stick, and makes his awkward, limping way back to the house. His shoulders are hunched, his head lowered, as if it's a fight to hold it up under the force of gravity.
Bear watches him go, her head on one side. Caffrey says nothing. Doesn't move for a while, because he's thinking that it's always the same when he meets older people, all he sees is their fragility. All he can picture in his head is his mother ‒ and wonder where she is, what she is doing. Whether she's alive. And if she is, whether she has ever got over loving Ewan and being left with the other child Jack. The one that, given the choice, she'd have preferred to lose.
"Come on," he tells Bear, when the sound of the slamming door has echoed across the lawn. "Let's go have a look in those trees." (174)
James Lee Burke. Feast Day of Fools. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
Burke is widely acknowledged as a brilliant American author of any genre; it's difficult to describe such illuminating prose. Atmosphere broods over all: here are not the author's familiar Louisiana bayous, but the border country of Texas, never more beautifully painted. The human landscape is something else, a stark contrast ― lost innocents, bankrupt souls, and corrupt predators. Some seek redemption, some seek victims. One might get the idea that the state is populated with nothing but sociopaths. All the major characters are haunted by their pasts. Sheriff Hackberry Holland patrols his county with the grim mettle and instincts of a survivor. His deputy Pam Tibbs provides down-to-earth counterpoint to Holland's unbending principles.
The Feast of Fools was a mediaeval annual church liturgy that became subjected to perverse abuse whereby unthinking adherents would go wild in self-indulgent excess, fully expecting their sins to be forgiven the following day. Forgiveness is seldom sought here; the story is about murders, not so much about who did them but will they be caught. Strange outlaw Jack Collins has appeared before in Burke's Texas novels. Holland also has to deal with Krill the mestizo, Sholokoff the arms dealer, Cody the delusional preacher, Riser the doomed FBI agent, and "La Magdalena" with her own warrior past. The combination of fascinating (often chilling) characters and suspense had me reading way past my bedtime. Feast Day exemplifies Burke at his best.
Samples of environmental consciousness:
• ... the air was dense and sparkling with humidity, coating every surface in sight, clinging to the skin like damp cotton, as though the sunrise were a source not of light but ignition. (93)
• Danny Boy watched the figure draw nearer, the toes of his boots cracking through the shell of baked clay along the streambed, the sky behind him a royal purple, the mesquite and piňon trees on the hillsides alive with birds that only minutes ago had been sleeping. (118)
• The thunder rolling through the hills, the smell of the ozone, the cold tannic odor of the rain and dust, the branches of the mesquite and scrub oak bending almost to the ground all seemed like the pages of a book flipping before his eyes, defining the world and his role in it in a way he had never thought possible. (148)
• The sand in the streambeds was white, the rocky sides of the declivities as sharp as knives, the land rustling with desert greenery and tables with slabs of sedimentary rock that looked like the marbled backs of albino whales. (353)
• The road through the hills was narrow and rock-strewn and dusty, the wind as hot as a blowtorch, smelling of creosote and alkali and dry stone under the layer of blue-black clouds that gave no rain.(428)
One-liner: Jack decided there was nothing wrong with Mexico that a half-dozen hydrogen bombs and a lot of topsoil couldn't cure. (411)
Hackberry Holland had come to believe that age was a separate country you did not try to explain to younger people, primarily because they had already made up their minds about it and any lessons you learned from your life were not the kind many people were interested in hearing about. If age brought gifts, he didn't know what they were. It had brought him neither wisdom nor peace of mind. His level of desire was the same, the lust of his youth glowing hot among the ashes each morning he woke. He could say with a degree of satisfaction that he didn't suffer fools and drove from his company anyone who tried to waste his time, but otherwise his dreams and his waking day were defined by the same values and frame of reference that came with his birthright. (23)
Voice of authority:
"Sheriff, who do you think runs this country?"
"You tell me."
"Lyndon was put into office by Brown and Root. Lyndon is moldering in the grave, but Brown and Root merged with Halliburton and is still alive and well. You think our current president is going to rescind their contracts at almost every United States military base in the world?"
"I wouldn't know."
"Temple Dowling stood up from his chair and removed a strand of cat hair from his sleeve. "My father said you were never a listener." (81-2)