23 September 2014

Library Limelights 67

Martin Cruz Smith. Tatiana. New York, Simon & Schuster, 2013.
I couldn't wait, could I (after December 6) ... soon Smith's latest novel arrived at my local library. I'd say it's not one of his best in terms of action or drama, but Senior Investigator Arkady Renko of the Moscow police plunges ahead in his cynical way. Even more than usual, he sets his own agenda without, this time, any noticeable hassle from his prosecutor superior. A Russian mafia boss has been executed but Arkady finds more interest in the coincidental suicide of a journalist called Tatiana who fearlessly pursued and exposed fraud on many levels of society. Listening to her stored tapes, he falls in love with a ghost. Did she go out of her way to become a martyr?

The scene shifts to Kaliningrad, "Russia's most corrupt city." Surprises await our weary hero there. A cryptic notebook is the only clue to finding a covert meeting scheduled for the biggest illicit subversion yet of government money. An international translator has already been killed in the process. Arkady's erstwhile adopted son Zhenya might be able to decode the notebook but he has some extortion of his own in mind. His partner, the faithful Sergeant Victor Orlov, is on the job when he's not on the vodka. This is modern Moscow ― modern Russia ― seen through jaded eyes. Or is it jaded Russia seen through modern eyes? Little bloodletting, satisfactory ending. More Renko, please!

One-liner: "Her favourite targets were the former KGB who dwelled like bats in the Kremlin." (20)

A cross-section of society?
The funeral party was similarly mixed. Arkady spotted billionaires who had their arms around the nation's timber and natural gas, lawmakers who were sucking the state treasury dry, boxers who had become thugs, priests as round as beetles, models hobbling on stiletto heels and actors who only played assassins rubbing shoulders with the real thing. (10-11)

The modern army:
"You don't think I would make a good soldier?"
Arkady thought Zhenya would make a good punching bag for soldiers.
"It's not that."
"You were in the army. Your father was a general. I read about him. He was a killer."
"It's a different army now."
"You don't think I can take the hazing?"
It was more than hazing, Arkady thought. It was a system of brutalization at the hands of drunken noncoms and officers. It was daily beatings with fists and chairs, standing naked in freezing weather and the least sign of intelligence stamped out. It was a system that produced soldiers who went AWOL, strung themselves up by their belts or traded their weapons for vodka. (63)

Vintage Renko:
Whenever Arkady visited the university, he could not help but measure his progress in life against the precocious student he had been. What promise! A golden youth, son of an infamous general, he had floated easily to the top. By now, he should have been a deputy minister or, at the very least, a prosecutor, ruler of his own precinct and feasting at the public trough. Somehow, he had wandered. Almost all the cases that came his way were fueled by vodka and capped by a drunken confession. Crimes that displayed planning and intelligence were all too often followed by a phone call from above, with advice to "go easy" or not "make waves." Instead of bending, he pushed back, and so guaranteed his descent from early promise to pariah. (79)

Michael Connolly. The Gods of Guilt. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.
The Lincoln Lawyer is back. Mickey Haller, half-brother of detective Harry Bosch, has a new but unsavoury client who was framed by a complex conspiracy. Mickey is full of guilt from past experiences, and in this case more so because he knew the murder victim. Or he thought he did. Maybe he himself was framed; an attempt to kill him is another mystery to solve. Collaboration with some sinister types is necessary to make a courtroom case that exposes hidden drug activities. It's almost hard to believe the judge accepted some of the defence evidence, but the twisted chain of events finally becomes clear. Written in the first person, Mickey is not the easiest boss for his little team to work with. In fact, he does not start out as the most sympathetic hero but we are cheering for him well before it's over.

Emergency team meeting:
"I can put a guy on the place―twenty-four-seven," Cisco said. "Might be worth it."
"And what money do we use to pay for all of this?" Lorna asked.
"Hold off on the guy, Cisco," I said. "Maybe when we get to trial. For now we'll go with just locks and cameras."
I then leaned forward, elbows on the table.
"It's all one case now," I said again. "And so we need to take it apart and look at all the pieces. Eight years ago I was manipulated. I handled a case and made moves I believed were of my own design. But they weren't, and I'm not going to let that happen again here." (155)

Robert Galbraith. The Silkworm. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014.
Private detective Cormoran Strike is hobbling worse than ever, this time through the literary world of writing, editing, and publishing. I really thought we'd see him in hospital again nursing his aching, damaged stump. Thankfully, business is good due to publicity regarding his previous case (The Cuckoo's Calling). Hired to look for a missing husband, he meets vain and/or rude characters one after another, any of whom may have staged an ultra-gruesome murder; the scene replicates the murder description in the victim's unpublished manuscript.

In following Strike's lead to find the real killer (naturally, there are red herrings), remembering who said what to whom is a good test of the reader's acuity. It's encouraging to see Strike's assistant Robin stepping up to the plate, but she just won't get rid of her pompous, humourless fiancé. Almost, not quite, as captivating as the first book.

Happy hapless birthday:
Lucy appeared with the homemade cake, blazing with thirty-six candles and decorated with what looked like hundreds of Smarties. As Greg turned out the light and everyone began to sing, Strike experienced an almost overwhelming desire to leave. He would ring a cab the instant he could escape the room; in the meantime, he hoisted a smile onto his face and blew out the candles, avoiding the gaze of Marguerite, who was smoldering at him with an unnerving lack of restraint from a nearby chair. It was not his fault that he had been made to play the decorated helpmeet of abandoned women by his well-meaning friends and family. (111-112)

Galbraith's real message:
"You were still friends at this point?" Strike clarified.
"When he started the book we were still―in theory―friends," said Fancourt with a grim smile. "But we writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want lifelong friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels." (397)

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