07 February 2015

Library Limelights 76

Louise Penny. A Trick of the Light. UK: Sphere/Little, Brown Book Group, 2011.
Louise Penny writes what I call gentle mysteries. The main characters are observant, thoughtful, and frequently deliver a good punch line. Occasionally the thoughts floating through their heads is distracting. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Québec Sûreté is her popular leading man; Three Pines is the Eastern Townships village locale where many of the books are set. In this case a dead stranger is discovered in the garden of Clara Morrow who is being feted as a brilliant new artist. Clara's recognition has been a long time coming. No suspects at first, but it turns out the murdered woman had history with many of the players in the Québec cultural scene. Gamache and his right-hand man Beauvoir take charge of the investigation.

Penny skillfully weaves into her narrative the themes of chiaroscuro (hence the title), abandonment, and whether people can change. That includes some close attention to the tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous and a sensitive psychological profile of Beauvoir, still deeply affected by a prior police shootout. I did find a few things a bit too convenient ― it seems almost every suspect was once an aspiring artist, and the climax sees a conventional gathering of all concerned. No exciting chase or breathless action here; the murderer rather calmly confesses. Since this one, Penny has written three further books for a legion of fans.

Vernissage:
Very little was expected of an artist at a vernissage. If they were clothed and sober most curators considered themselves fortunate. Gamache stole a glance at Clara, looking panicked and disheveled in a tailored power suit that had experienced a recent failure. The skirt was slightly twisted and the collar was riding high as though she'd tried to scratch the middle of her back. (21)

Gamache comments:
"The only way was to stop drinking. But as I've found out in the last few days, for alcoholics stopping drinking is just the beginning. They have to change. Their perceptions, attitudes. And they have to clean up the mess they left behind. The alcoholic is like a tornado, roaring his way through the lives of others," Gamache quoted. (386)
Peter Robinson. Abattoir Blues. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2014.
Here's DCI Banks again (it's tempting to think of him familiarly as 'Banksy' which he dislikes and besides, he feels it properly belongs to the street artist) in a rather unusual crime story. The title, of course, is a broad hint but the revelations take a while. The seemingly mundane investigation of stolen farm equipment in North Yorkshire turns into a murder investigation. Banks proceeds cautiously; a witness who might tie the two events together is missing. As ever, Robinson keeps up with the very latest trends in both criminal activity and police work. I did find an odd editorial glitch (p. 229) where the name of a prime character is inexplicably transformed into a surname of no relevance whatsoever (just the once).

Team meetings reverberate with collaboration after daily interviews and the following of leads. But still the brains behind illegal operations elude them until mounting evidence and action send them out in different directions. Banks also observes the performance of his team members, with reservations about the rehabilitation of DI Annie Cabot ― is she too protective of a potential suspect? ― while DS Winsome tries to resist the kindred soul she meets, a man on the periphery of the first event. Another winner for Robinson and team Banks.

Word: quidditch ― an imaginary game coined by JK Rowling in a Harry Potter novel; my ignorance is showing! (102)

Two-liner: "Man plans. God laughs." (195)

Annie reflects:
It was rare that Annie felt sentimental about people she really didn't know, and maybe it was a sign that she was leaving behind some of the depression and cynicism that seemed to have invaded her mind since the shooting. That was a good thing; she hadn't liked the person she was turning into. Loneliness was turning her into a moody and sharp-tongued bitch. If she got much worse, she wouldn't be able to find anyone willing to put up with her, let alone love and cherish her. She just hoped that she didn't get so soft she couldn't see the hard truth when it was staring her in the face. Any good copper needs an ounce or two of scepticism, even cynicism. (71)

Banks reflects:
... As for his ex-wife Sandra, she had her new family and her new life. His job had lost her to him. These days, it seemed, it was the job or nothing.
Why did he seem to be letting everyone go? Why didn't he make more of an effort to keep in touch with his friends? Sometimes he felt he had nothing to say, nothing to add to the lively company of a boozy evening in the pub. It wasn't true, though; he always enjoyed himself when he made the effort; it had just got harder to make that effort. (219)


Malcolm Mackay. How A Gunman Says Goodbye. UK: Mantle/Macmillan Publishers Limited, 2013.
How does an author fully capture your attention, writing about basic scum like organized crime? Recent wunderkind in the tartan noir school, Malcolm Mackay hooked me with his first book in a trilogy on the underworld of Glasgow. His unique style is addictive; colleagues and reviewers are amazed at this young man who lives in the Outer Hebrides nowhere near inner city problems. We meet again a cast of characters from The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter as crime bosses and their hit men struggle to maintain their priorities in a covert world.

Once a criminal, always a criminal? Snared in their own devices, it becomes almost impossible to leave the game. One piece of business unleashes a chain reaction that races to the last page. The frustrated but relentless police adversary, DI Fisher, muses on his long career that ironically parallels that of the older gunman. It's difficult not to become absorbed in their lives and decisions, particularly Calum and Frank, men in the vortex. You can count on the third book here soon!

One-liner: Very few get to pick the door they leave by. (75)

Calum:
You have to believe that they're all out to get you, because they are. Be paranoid about everything and everyone. See a story in the papers that says the police aren't looking for anyone. Assume it's a lie. Assume that the story was written with you in mind. Takes a little bit of egomania to believe you're the centrepiece of other people's thoughts. How else to avoid detection? Paranoia works. (144)

Frank:
Jamieson's tapping the desk with his forefinger; he does that whenever he's thinking. Presumably does it when he's nervous too, although he usually makes a point of keeping his nerves to himself. He's looking at Frank, then sideways at Young.
"John, could you leave us for a few minutes."
Young doesn't say anything, but Frank can see out of the corner of his eye that he's already halfway to his feet. Young would have expected this. Jamieson doesn't want anyone else around when he makes the difficult speech about how much they've appreciated everything Frank's done for them. How much they'll miss having him around. If there's anything they can do for him, he need only ask. All the usual shit people tell you as they push you off a cliff. (199)

Fisher:

So little of what he does matters any more. You round up some moron with a gun who thinks he's a gangster, and you chuck him in jail for ten years. Within a fortnight three other morons have taken his place. You arrest the attention-seekers, the ones who think they're celebrities and live accordingly. All the while, the people who matter stay hidden away. Safe. Then you get the chance. The once-in-a-decade opportunity to bring down an entire organization that matters. This might just be it. (270)

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