Sara Paretsky. Critical Mass. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2013.
A new Paretsky is always worth waiting for, and this latest is an exceptionally intricate challenge for our heroine and narrator, PI Vic Warshawski. Her longtime friend Lotty is the inadvertent instigator of a search for the great-grandson of a 1930s Austrian physicist. Martin Binder's mother is a junkie and his grandmother is a paranoid harridan, thus little help there. Three generations of two different families come into play here, and four generations of a third. Vic is forced to rely on archival material as well as individual memories ‒ memories forgotten, hidden, elaborated, or distorted. But Vic is not the only one seeking the whereabouts of Martin, budding physics genius. Two different covert elements are after him, ready to kill.
From a drug den in a small town to the headquarters of a leading computer corporation, Vic encounters small-town cops, the most arrogant of businessmen, wartime atomic secrets, and vicious thugs, all protecting their own interests. The story is told from Vic's first-person view but a few flashbacks fill out the back story, increasing the mystery. A deceased Nobel Prizewinner concealed perhaps more than just an illegitimate birth. Some scientific references and description are involved here but not enough to make your head spin off. One conundrum leads to another as Vic desperately tries to unravel the central enigma and the connections among the interested parties. Naturally she gets beat up again (hers is not a job for physical cowards). Paretsky makes Vic and all the others living, breathing characters. Brava, Paretsky!
"If you're really a detective you would have kept an eye out for a tail."
"If you were really Kitty Binder, you'd want to know about your daughter. You wouldn't be lecturing me on the fine points of detection."
"Of course I'm Kitty Binder!" It was hard to make out her expression, but her voice was indignant. "You're violating my privacy, coming in to my home, asking impertinent questions. I have a right to expect you to be professional."
Everyone in America is watching way too many crime shows these days. Juries expect expensive forensic work on routine crimes; clients expect you to treat their affairs as if they worked for the CIA. Not that Kitty Binder was a client yet. (23)
If I was going to be butting heads with drug lords on a regular basis, I'd better start taking target practice every day, and invest in Tasers and automatic pistols as well.
There's no end to the armory I could get by hanging out in the right bars, but I seldom carry the one gun I do own. Having a weapon makes you want to use it, and if you use yours the other person wants to use theirs, and then one of you gets badly hurt or dead, and the one who survives has to spend a lot of time explaining herself to the state's attorney. All of which takes time from more meaningful work, although you could argue that killing a drug dealer constitutes meaningful work. (87)
One of the scientific references:
"An Englishman named Turing wrote a paper last year on computable numbers and how they relate to the Entschiedungsproblem. He's contradicting Professor Hilbert's paradigm, which seemed like heresy." (122)
"He got all excited and said, 'These were supposed to come to me! Why didn't you show them to me before?'
"I told him I'd shown them to him when he was thirteen and he hadn't been interested. Was I supposed to wait on him hand and foot, checking every morning to see if he cared about some stupid old papers?"
Judy pounded the arm of her wheelchair with a feeble fist. "It was always like that with him, me, me, me. Why couldn't he ever see I had needs, too! Even as a baby he was always selfish. It's why I had to give him to my parents, I couldn't cope with someone that selfish."
"Yeah, babies tend to be thoughtless that way," I said, my throat so tight I had trouble getting the words out. (307-308)
Lee Child. Personal. New York: Delacorte Press, 2014.
Who doesn't like the adventures of Jack Reacher? So many of them, so many places where the vagabond ex-military man confronts the evil in human beings. Military and Special Forces have a way of reappearing in his life, and we're never sure about trusting them. A malicious sniper is on the loose, an international threat, his identity uncertain; is Jack, a superb marksman himself, co-opted as the hunter or as bait? He goes to France and England to find out, encountering competition to catch the killer. Typical of Reacher, he's über cool at calculating odds, percentages, and logic while the action plays out like a runaway high-speed train. Testosterone-fuelled, as they say, but not offensively so. Child's output has not been entirely even, in my opinion, but Personal strikes me as a new maturity in style.
Word: architrave (327) "a molded or decorated band framing a panel or an opening, especially a rectangular one, as of a door or window." (Thank you, dictionary.com)
Seattle was dry when I got out of the bus, And warm. And wired, in the sense that coffee was being consumed in prodigious quantities, which made it my kind of town, and in the sense that wifi spots and handheld devices were everywhere, which didn't, and which made old-fashioned street-corner pay phones hard to find. But there was one down by the fish market, so I stood in the salt breeze and the smell of the sea, and I dialled a toll-free number at the Pentagon. Not a number you'll find in the phone book. A number learned by heart long ago. A special line, for emergencies only. You don't always have a quarter in your pocket. (5)
Reacher's philosophy on dead bad guys:
"He had a choice," I said. "He could have spent his days helping old ladies across the street. He could have volunteered in the library. I expect they have a library here. He could have raised funds for Africa, or wherever they need funds these days. He could have done a whole lot of good things. But he didn't. He chose not to. He chose to spend his days extorting money and hurting people. Then finally he opened the wrong door, and what came out at him was his problem, not mine. Plus he was useless. A waste of good food. Too stupid to live." (157-158)
Brit intelligence officer on spying:
"Try to remember, anything that ends up in the state of Maryland goes through the county of Gloucestershire first. And in reverse."
"You must be listening to the whole world."
"So who's bankrolling this thing? Have you figured that out yet?"
"And you're the A team, right? With the big brains? So much better than the rubes at Fort Meade?"
"Normally we do pretty well."
"But not this time, apparently. So now you want to dump it all on us. You want us to keep on communicating with O'Day, so you can listen in while we take all the risks."
"We didn't rule the world by being nice." (215-216)