11 June 2015

Library Limelights 85

Catharina Engelman Sundberg. The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2012.
It's a bit much, innit? I mean after Barfoot's Exit Lines and Jonasson's The One Hundred YearOld Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Are senior citizens a big literary buzz now? Cunning Seniors in retirement homes with devious escape plans? Somehow, Jonasson spoiled me for the rest of them. That was zany; that really did break all the rules. Seeing the well done, Swedish-produced, eponymous film only reinforced it. Whereas Sundberg approaches from a low-key, ever-so genteel sense of humour, largely with characters as stereotypes. It's ideal for lovers of Brit "cosy" mysteries. And voilĂ , a sequel already appears.

Ringleader Martha wants to bust out of a no-frills, rigidly-confining retirement home and enlists four friends for a caper intended to land them in a state prison where inmates enjoy a far more salubrious lifestyle. Of course Murphy's Law kicks in and the plot has some very good moments, but it's more like events were made up haphazardly as the author went along. Trial and error go on a bit endlessly. Screwball comedy works best with zingy dialogue; the friends' chatter amongst themselves is just too politely demure and cute for me. Yet it's that tone that wins the novel praise. Okay, so I'm lowlife in my mystery/crime preferences. I do try to read around.

When her final moments came, she would walk to the grave, crawl into the coffin and put the lid on herself ... (33-4)

Martha yawned widely, but her thoughts were all confused and she really couldn't think straight. Oh dear, oh dear, how slow and tired she was feeling. Ever since the party it had felt as if she had small clouds of chewing gum clogging up the inside of her head. Of course, the wine and all the pills she took every day didn't mix very well. But what fun they had had! If only they had had time to tidy up and return to their rooms ... Yes, if only they hadn't fallen asleep ... (19)

Not so hot on the trail:
When the three police officers gathered at the station to go through what they had seen, they were exhausted and very dejected. Chief Inspector Petterson folded his hands on the table in front of him.
"As you all know, the paintings and the money have disappeared, and five people have confessed to the crime. Even though we haven't found anything incriminating, the prosecutor will want to have the five suspects remanded in custody. After all, we are talking about paintings to a value of thirty million, and we don't have any other leads."
Strömbeck put his feet up on the desk and stared straight ahead.
"Can you see the headline before you? 'Five pensioners remanded in custody. The police have no other leads.'"
They all sighed, saying they would call it a day and it was high time to go home. Not only did they have a perplexing art robbery to solve but now they were also saddled with five troublesome oldies! (200)

Daniel Silva. The English Girl. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2013.
Ooooooh, this was a good one! Full of crafty spies, sleazy politicians, and assorted oddballs on a wide European-Middle Eastern stage. It seems I caught master espionage agent Daniel Allon in the middle of a series; good to hear there is more before and aft. French kidnappers have taken the British prime minister's clandestine mistress as a hostage. It takes Allon and his backup man, Christopher Keller, to learn what the criminals really want as they chase around France with high-level blessings from London. Daniel, you see, is a storied veteran of the Israeli secret service. Compared in some circles to the James Bond character, Daniel is more introspective and modest, with a wife Chiara whom he adores.

One element I particularly like is the detailed background scenes in Corsica, Jerusalem, London, St Petersburg, and other places. Such verisimilitude helps when some of the logistics seem a bit improbable, like planting support teams and complicated tactics and technology into one foreign venue after another (it's not always clear, but the entire story consumes months, not days). As with all the best mystery novels, just when you think it's over, it's not. I sussed a major plot-changer before it happened but that did not spoil the effect. Good characters, good writing, and my kind of dialogue.

Word: revanchism – basically revenge, but generally applied to a state's policy dedicated to recovering territory lost through military or political strife.

The exchange approaches:
"How are we going to do this?" she asked.
"The usual way," answered Gabriel. "You're going to examine the money, and I'm going to hold a gun to your head. And if you do anything to make me nervous, I'm going to blow your brains out."
"Are you always this charming?"
"Only with girls I really like."
"Where's the money?"
"Under the bed."
"Are you going to get it for me?"
"Not a chance." (189)

Reference to a previous adventure:
"Zizi al-Bakari was killed as the result of an operation initiated by the Americans and their allies in the global war on terror."
"But you were the one who pulled the trigger, weren't you? You killed him in Cannes, in front of Nadia. And then you recruited Nadia to take down Rashid al-Husseini's terrorist network. Brilliant," she said. "Truly brilliant."
"If I was so brilliant, Nadia would still be alive."
"But her death changed the world. It helped to bring democracy to the Arab world."
"And look how well that worked out," Gabriel said glumly. (247)

Change of bosses:
"Who are you?" Keller asked of the unsmiling, bespectacled figure standing in the entrance hall.
"None of your business," replied Navot.
"Strange name. Hebrew, is it?"
Navot frowned. "You must be Keller."
"I must be."
"Where's Gabriel?"
"He and Chiara went to Guildford."
"Because we ate all the fish in the stock pond."
"Who's in charge?"
"The inmates."
Navot smiled. "Not any more." (353-4)

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