17 February 2015

Library Limelights 77

Michael Connelly. The Burning Room. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014.
Connelly always delivers! Business as usual for Harry Bosch who is still working the Open-Unsolved Unit in Los Angeles. The death of a gunshot victim re-opens a ten-year-old cold case. Little does Harry's team know it will lead them to Oklahoma and back. Or that a former city mayor had his fingers in some shady activity. Harry's new partner, Lucia Soto, is committed to a second case of twenty-year-old arson with his help, while he wonders if she will prove to be a good detective. The action builds well even as we know who the suspects are. It's the gathering of evidence that Harry does so well. He's feeling his age, expecting retirement soon, and missing female companionship. What does Connelly have in future mind for the popular cop?

One-liner: So he lit out, as they say in white-power circles, for open spaces and white faces.

Reviewing a cold case file:
If nothing else, Bosch was confident in himself as an investigator and believed he observed things others did not. He knew this was egotistical, but a healthy ego was a requirement of the job. You had to believe you were smarter, tougher, braver, and more resilient than the unknown person you were looking for. And working cold cases, you had to believe the same thing about the detectives who had worked the case before you. If you didn't, you were lost. It was this sense of the mission that he hoped he could impart to Soto in the final year of his career. (54)

One of the many car rides:
They stopped in West Covina for an early lunch of chili rice and then conversation tapered off as they made the second half of the drive. Bosch's thoughts drifted from the case to the dinner he'd had with Virginia Skinner the night before. The conversation had been good and interesting. The door to romance even cracked open―at least from Bosch's perspective―and it was exciting to think about where it might go. It wasn't just the prospect of being with someone again. Bosch had to admit that his chances at perhaps a final romance in his life were dwindling as time went by. (223)

George MacDonald Fraser. The General Danced at Dawn. 1970. UK: Fontana/Collins Harvill, 1988.
I'd never read any of Fraser's works before (e.g. the Flashman series), and what an unexpected delight, funny as all get out. Drawn from his own military experiences during the mid-twentieth century, Fraser tells tales of a fictitious, immensely entertaining highland regiment at various postings in Egypt and Edinburgh. This is humour at its very best, perfect for describing a battalion and a company largely composed of fierce wee Glasgow lads who excel at the footy and insulting each other. The pages are littered with Scots expressions and triumphs over calamitous behaviour. Characters such as the illiterate McAuslan (the regiment's filthy, walking catastrophe), Wee Wullie (the silent, occasionally sober giant), the pipe-sergeant (who disapproves of wild reels), and the court-martial president (happily learning a new vernacular) are hilarious; we get to know them well. It's great light reading that reaffirmed my inner Scot. I must have more.

Words: Idiomatic, so many, like quaich, cateran, puggled, tattie-bogle, heughing, or "he called me a shilpit wee nyaff, sir" (167); but they don't interrupt the narrative!

One-liner: You might as well talk to the wind that dried your first shirt. (95)

Friday nights:
This was part of the weekly ritual. We would take off our tunics, and the pipers would make preparatory whines, and the Colonel would perch on a table, swinging his game leg which the Japanese had broken for him on the railway, and would say:
"Now, gentlemen, as you know there is Highland dancing as performed when there are ladies present, and there is Highland dancing. We will have Highland dancing. In Valetta in '21 I saw a Strip the Willow performed in eighty-nine seconds, and an Eightsome reel in two minutes twenty-two seconds. These are our targets. All right, pipey." (80)

Later the same night:
"What's up, pipe-sarnt," the Colonel would say, "too slow for you?"
"Slow?" the pipe-sergeant would say. "Fine you know, sir, it's not too slow for me. It's a godless stramash is what it is, and shouldn't be allowed. Look at the unfortunate Mr. Cameron, the condition of him; he doesn't know whether it's Tuesday or breakfast." (82)

The sergeants' mess:
In the ante-room there was only the pipe-sergeant, perched in state at one end of the bar, and keeping a bright eye on the mess waiters to see that they kept their thumbs out of the glasses.
"Guest. Mr. MacNeill," announced Cuddy, and the pipey hopped off his stool and took over.
"Come away ben, Mr. MacNeill," he cried. "Isn't this the pleasure? You'll take a little of the creature? Of course, of course. Barman, where are you? Stand to your kit."
I surveyed the various brands of "the creature" on view behind the bar, and decided that the Colonel was right. You would never have seen the like in an officers' mess. There was the Talisker and Laphroaig and Islay Mist and Glenfiddich and Smith's Ten-year-old ― every Scotch whisky under the sun. How they managed it, in those arid post-war years, I didn't like to think. (129-30)

He was short, pimply, revoltingly dirty, incredibly unseemly, and dense to a degree. Not that he didn't try; he was pathetically eager to please, but it was no good. His stupidity and uncleanliness were a sort of a gift, and combined with his handlessness made him a military disaster. (141)

McAuslan again:
Considering his illiteracy, his foul appearance, his habit of losing his possessions, and his inability to execute all but the simplest orders, Private McAuslan was remarkably seldom in trouble. ... as my platoon sergeant said, "He's just wan o' nature's blunders; he cannae help bein' horrible. It's a gift." (150)

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