Robert Wilson. The Hidden Assassins. London: HarperCollins, 2006.
Not an easy read: this is the mother of all intricate plots, based on international terrorism. Wilson was known to me for his exciting West Africa series; this one is also in a series featuring homicide Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón. After a deadly bomb explodes in Seville, Spanish police and intelligence agencies work feverishly to uncover the impending, even greater threat behind it. The aftermath trail, or many trails, plunge into a maze of politics, commerce, and ideology — a brain fitness test for grownups. Therein, some of the best analysis of the Arab mindset I have ever read. Don't get me wrong: the book is not a polemic; the story (the chase) is fascinating as well as timely. Pure credibility.
The appointed judge for the case soon undergoes a dramatic transformation, throwing the investigators temporarily off-kilter, none more so than Falcón who has Moroccan family connections. His ex-wife and his sister are well-drawn peripheral players. Intuitive and conscientious at his job, Falcón pushes his way through internecine rivalries and extremist sympathizers. A more subtle theme illustrates the nature of illusion and denial versus reality and truth. Wilson clearly knows Spain like the back of his hand, and understands the subcultures that manipulate us and the radical groups ‒ of different stripes ‒ that surface to terrorize us. When are "terrorists" ... "freedom fighters"? A very informative, entertaining, amazing novel.
One-liner (from a cynical hooker):
Men always assumed their brains were silent rather than grinding away like sabotaged machinery. (27)
Falcón sprinted through the hospital. People were running, but there was no panic, no shouting. They had been training for the moment. Orderlies were sprinting with empty trolleys. Nurses ran with boxes of saline. Plasma was on the move. Falcón slammed through endless double doors until he hit the main street and the wall of sound: a cacaphony of sirens as ambulances swung out into the street. ...
At the crossroads bloodstained people stumbled about on their own or were being carried, or walked toward the hospital with handkerchiefs, tissues and kitchen roll held to their foreheads, ears and cheeks. These were the superficially wounded victims, the ones sliced by flying glass and metal, the ones some distance from the epicentre, who would never make it into the top flight of disaster statistics but who might lose the sight in one eye, or their hearing from perforated eardrums, bear facial scars for the rest of their lives, lose the use of a finger or a hand, never walk again without a limp. (48-9)
He was desperate. Desperate for revenge. He'd only ever heard tales of the monstrousness of this horrific emotion. He had not been prepared for the way it found every crevice of his body. His organs screamed for it. His bones howled with it. His joints ground with it. His blood seethed with it. It was so intolerable he had to get it out of himself. (380)
Falcón sat back in his chair. He didn't like this intelligence work. Suddenly everything was moving around him at an alarming pace, with great urgency, but in reaction to electronic nods and winks. He could see how people could go mad in this world, where reality came in the form of "information" from "sources," and agents were told to go to hotels and wait for "instructions." It was all too disembodied for his liking. He never thought he'd hear himself say it, but he preferred his world where there was a corpse, pathology, forensics, evidence and face-to-face dialogue. (435)
James Lee Burke. The Glass Rainbow. New York: Pocket Star/Simon & Schuster, 2010.
Evil stalks the steamy bayous of Louisiana and who better to describe the brooding atmosphere than Burke. Iberia parish sheriff's detective Dave Robicheaux is having fatalistic portents of death while his loyal sidekick Clete Purcel seems bent on self-destruction. One might think the entire state is populated with violent psychotics, some fresh out of prison, some hidden beneath cultivated veneers. Investigating the murders of two young girls, Dave finds no obvious motive but runs into tenuous connections from "po' white trash" to the top of the social order.
Only Burke can immerse and submerge us in a rich world where nature alternatively glows and rages, where human temperament is always on the edge of the storm. The forces of good grow weary fighting moral corruption. Will Dave succumb to despair or live on into another book? His daughter Alafair, an incipient author, represents a better vision of life, untouched by the deceptive, shifting shadows. Not the lightest touch in the genre but a thoughtful, complicated story for a rainy night.
Word: coolerate; idiomatic dialect - to cool off. Works for me!
One-liner: "Their kind wouldn't spit in my mouth if I was dying of thirst in the Sahara." (299)
Colours of stained glass:
"You go to a lot of meetings?"
"I've heard that when alcoholics quit drinking, they develop obsessions that work as a substitute for booze. That's why they go to meetings. No matter how crazy these ideas are, they stay high as a kite on them so they don't have to drink again."
"I was admiring your stained glass."
"It came from a Scottish temple or something." (83)
After an argument with Clete:
"Lighten up, Streak. It's only rock and roll." His eyes were still lit with an alcoholic glaze, his throat ticked in two places by his razor, his cheeks bladed with color.
I gave it up, in the way you give up something with such an enormous sense of sadness rushing through you that it leaves no room for any other emotion. "What are we going to do, Clete?"
"We all end up in the same place. Some sooner than others. What the hell. We're both standing on third base," he said. (194)
"Don't undo a brave and noble deed, Miss Jewel. Don't rob yourself of your own virtue."
I saw her lips form a bitter line; she looked like a person making a choice between two evils and deciding upon the one that hurt her the most, as though her self-injury brought with it a degree of forgiveness. "I got to do my wash," she said.
"Those girls are going to haunt you," I said. "In your sleep. In a crowd. At Mass. In a movie theater. Across the table from you at McDonald's. The dead carry a special kind of passport, and they go anywhere they want." (429-30)
John Verdon. Shut Your Mouth Tight. Crown Publishers/Random House, 2011.
I liked Verdon's hero, retired detective Dave Gurney, in his previous and slightly unusual Thinkof a Number but the further I went into this one made me unhappy. First of all, the crimes – starting with a bride beheaded on her wedding day – and the sadistic scenario behind them became just too bizarre for belief. Made me think the author was stretching for shock value. Secondly, while still exercising his vaunted analytic skills, Dave loses some confidence in his own abilities and domestically acts like an inarticulate dork. Then again, his wife Madeleine is equally poor at communicating, with too many arch smiles and cryptic comments.
"Troubled young women" is one way of describing the subject of this book. Dave takes over where the police left off, reluctantly working with boorish cop Jack Hardwick. Then he's set up for blackmail as part of a sick plot. I persevered to the depressing end, rather doubting I will look for Verdon's next novel. No question he is a good writer with interesting psychological insights. But really (I've mentioned this before), is there a competition for the strangest, most outlandish crime framework?
Word(s): condign reparation - a term meaning punishment should be precisely commensurate with the crime committed. (427)
"He was the initial officer on the case. The chief investigator. I found him rude, obscene, cynical, jabbing people with the sharp end of a stick whenever he could. Horrible. But almost always right. This may not make much sense to you, but I understand dreadful people like Jack Hardwick. I even trust them. So here we are, Detective Gurney." (43)
Even the simplest of questions—should he continue weighing alternatives, or return to bed and try to empty his mind, or busy himself physically—had become ensnared in a mental process that conjured an objection to every conclusion. Even the idea of taking an ibuprofen for his aching sciatic nerve met with an unwillingness to go into the bedroom to get the bottle.
He stared out at the asparagus ferns, motionless in the dead morning calm. He felt disconnected, as though his customary attachments to the world had broken. (405)