30 October 2015

Library Limelights 94

Daniel Silva. The English Spy. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. 2015.
Master spy Gabriel Allon returns in a hunt for the assassin of a British princess. Hopscotching around Europe, not to mention IRA hangouts in Ireland, he assembles his usual gang of experts. The villain is the vicious Eamon Quinn who has a back story with both Allon and his buddy Christopher Keller. We get enough exposition of actions occurring in previous novels to understand the depth of vengeance being waged, with plenty of past and current political machinations a forte of Silva's. A gamut of spies radiating in all directions: Irish, English, Israeli, Iranian, Russian.

The story more or less becomes a cycle of kidnappings and interrogations. It takes place over a month's period while Allon's pregnant wife waits patiently in Jerusalem. The pace makes for compulsive reading, but the changing operational goals can be a bit confusing. The technology used by spies is a huge contribution to their success; for instance, one asks how lost they would be without the CCTV cameras in different cities. Maybe I've overdosed on Silva, but is he becoming formulaic? Veering into overly dramatic prose at times seems over the top.

The new Ireland?
The economic miracle of the 1990s transformed Ireland from one of Europe's poorest countries into one of its richest, but with prosperity came an even greater appetite for narcotics, especially cocaine and Ecstasy. The old crime bosses gave way to a new breed of kingpins who waged bloody wars over turf and market share. Where once Irish mobsters used sawed-off shotguns to enforce their will, the new gangland warriors armed themselves with AK-47s and other heavy weaponry. Bullet-riddled bodies began to appear on the streets of the housing estates. (78)

Jerusalem calling:
Seymour hesitated, then cautiously lifted the receiver to his ear. As usual, the Israeli spymaster didn't bother with an exchange of pleasantries.
"I think we might have found the man you're looking for."
"Who is he?"
"An old friend."
"Of yours or ours?"
"Yours," said the Israeli. "We don't have any friends."
"Can you tell me his name?"
"Not on the phone."
"How soon can you be in London?"
The line went dead. (25)

Safe house discretion:
Two members of the staff had looked after him once before, after an incident in Hyde Park involving the daughter of the American ambassador. He was a gentleman, an artist by nature, a bit on the quiet side, a touch temperamental, but many of his ilk were. They would watch over him, tend to his wounds, and then send him on his way. And not once would they speak his name, for as far as they were concerned he did not exist. He was a man without a past or future. He was a blank page. He was dead. (185)

Karin Fossum. He Who Fears the Wolf. Publishing page missing (1997, translation 2003).
The book, an early Konrad Sejer mystery, arrived in pretty battered condition. My strategy was to read the series in chronological order – well, there are nine more to go; we shall see how I fare. Here, Fossum produces pure psychological drama with a seemingly impossible situation off the top. Errki, a young man of undefined mental illness, around whom local myths have grown, is kidnapped by a rather inept bank robber. Initially, the developing relationship between the two does not promise your usual whodunnit, but Fossum is superb at drawing us in. A bit creepy, her credible mastery of the disturbed mind, but fascinating. Throw in a murder, a young witness, and Sejer's colleagues, and we have a well-constructed short novel. For the time being, I just want to find out if Konrad recognizes his attraction to the lovely doctor Sara.

One-liner: "I'm a wave, I break only once." (187)

Errki and death:
This is how he saw it: he would plummet into the endless universe, on to a path that was his alone, others passing by on the right and the left, beyond his reach, like faint vibrations in the atmosphere, small gusts streaming past. Maybe his mother was hovering around like that, with her arms out to the sides like wings and the light from the stars like crystals in her black hair. Following her would be the dark sound of a flute. (95)

Intellectual flirtation:
"What about you?" he said suddenly. "Aren't you one of those successful and goal-oriented people? Are you rebelling?"
"No," she admitted. "And I can't understand it, because I'm fundamentally full of despair."
"Full of despair?"
"Aren't you?" She gave him a long look. "You can't be an enlightened, intelligent, involved human being on this earth without at the same time being full of despair. It's just not possible."
Am I full of despair? Sejer wondered.
"Besides it's the sterling personalities that do best in this society," she said. "Whole, absolutely confident and consistent people. You know – people with strength of character!"
He couldn't hold back his laughter any longer.
"Here we have room for rebellion, and we're not afraid of trouble. We're not afraid of failure either." She brushed her fringe back from her face. "And I probably couldn't have existed in any community other than this one." (105)

"In Vietnam," Ellman said suddenly, "when the Americans hiked through the bush in the heat of the day, their brains would start to boil under their helmets."
"Boil? Good God." Sejer shook his head.
"They were never the same again."
"They wouldn't have been the same, no matter what. But honestly," he turned to look at the others, "do you really believe that's possible?"
"Of course not."
"You're not a doctor, either, are you?" Sejer said drily and poked at his cap. (205-6)

Philip Margolin. Fugitive. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.
Amanda Jaffe is hired to defend a murder charge against Charlie Marsh, a shady character hiding from U.S. prosecution in the evil dictatorship of West African country Batanga (for a mo there, thought I was channelling Bruce Medway of Robert Wilson redux!). Charlie returns to face the music in Oregon, igniting new murders and reviving an old case against his co-defendant Sally Pope. Despite being hampered by lying witnesses and an over-eager reporter, Amanda uncovers the real killer by studying events at the crime scene, a tricky setting to reproduce. Fugitive is a smooth read (Amanda is a recurring Margolin character) coming from a prolific pro.

Nothing subtle about Sally:
"Let's get this out of the way, okay? My husband is United States Congressman Arnold Pope Jr. and he's in Washington, DC, tonight, saving the country from liberals, abortionists, and criminals like you. Now, if that frightens you so much that you can't get it up, leave. If you're still interested in a roll in the hay, can the questions." (102-3)

No means no:
"No, seriously, how about dinner, tonight? You can pick the restaurant. I'm on an expense account. Make it someplace expensive and romantic."
Kate turned her head for a second and Levy flashed a wolfish grin. The investigator made a note to ask Amanda for hazardous duty pay.
"Thanks, Dennis, but I'm living with someone."
"He doesn't need to know. Tell him it's a business meeting."
"Dennis, let me ask you directly. Are you hitting on me?"
Levy's grin shifted from wolfish to sly. "Maybe."
"By this time next year, I guarantee you I'm going to be famous and rich. You could do a lot worse."
"Dennis, I'm trying to be nice and I'm trying to be clear. I'm in a serious relationship and it's not with you. Furthermore, it won't be, ever. Do you understand what I just said? And while you're thinking about your answer, remember that I carry a gun and I know how to use it." (234)

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