06 January 2016

Library Limelights 98

John Marsh. House of Echoes. 1956. reprint UK: Dales Large Print Books, 1997.
It's my fate lately to be reading fillers, waiting for newer material on long waiting lists at TPL. (I chose this one thinking the page count would nicely fit the last gap before leaving the country. Instead I read it in two days or so ― doesn't say much for my calculations — therefore it was back to all those magazines I've been ignoring.) House of Echoes is an oldie: Protagonist Harry Ashley is a ne'er-do-well whose bad luck lands him in Heronsmere, the quintessentially strange Brit country house. There he embarks on his second mistake as a cad with women. Eventually the police are onto him and he pays for a prior mistake with some jail time.

Starting off anew, he becomes a successful businessman as Charles Sommers and finds love. Can a leopard really change its spots? He's hiding more than one secret that could undo him. I can't elaborate too much without being a spoiler, but astute readers can solve the hidden mystery miles before the end. This published version of House of Echoes is another book rife with typos. The most egregious was describing someone with a hair lip! Apparently the author was writing crime fiction from the 1930s to the 1960s.

The solicitor:
My father had dealt with the firm since boyhood, thought I had met Mr. Meecham only once, just after I left school.
"You've come about your father's will, eh?" He opened his mouth reluctantly, as if he liked the taste of the words and was loath to let them go. His cheeks worked rhythmically as he spoke as if he was chewing each syllable over before releasing it. "He thought a great deal about you, your father did, eh?"
"I suppose so," I said rather sullenly.
I hated him for his patronizing manner. He knew I'd been to gaol. It would please him to think I'd had to come nearly two hundred miles to see him, that until he chose to tell me I would be in ignorance of just what my father had left me. (96-7)

Then the house lay before us, remote, forgotten, against its dark background of leafless trees. The cold December light showed up the gaunt, lonely building, its windows almost obscured by ivy, the high grass frowning up to the door and the ground floor windows. A chimney had collapsed in a gale and the debris lay heaped on the terrace. I could see that several slates had been displaced in the fall and I could well imagine the havoc damp would have wrought indoors.
The house looked bedraggled and dirty. It was a slut of a house. (184)

Carole Corbeil. Voice-Over. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing Co. Limited, 1992.
Wondering how I missed this way-back-when; highly recommended. This was Canadian writer Corbeil's first novel, co-winning the Toronto Book Award in 1993. Sadly, she died in 2000 after penning a second novel, In the Wings. From the 1950s to the 1990s, Voice-Over is a portrait of a family dealing with life and love in both Qu├ębecois and Anglo milieus. Sisters Claudine and Janine move from Montreal to Toronto for different reasons. Les deux solitudes are more evident in their parents' generation. Mother Odette remarries a controlling Anglo, sacrificing personal freedom for financial security, and paranoid about being accepted in his society.

Altogether three anguished women are trying to shed unwarranted childhood guilt and find their own identities. Perspective shifts among them. "Si vous saviez comment je vous aime" (if you knew how much I love you) is oft-repeated among their various relationships. The cultural divide is but a minor element in the total family immersion. Corbeil was also a practising artist and created the striking cover illustration.

Maternal hangup:
But she must never look vain, like her mother, who could not walk by a shop window, a toaster, a kettle, a mirror, the chrome of a car without twisting herself to sneak a look, who sat at kitchen tables facing the windows so she could see herself talking, who took her compact out in restaurants before dinner, in between courses, after dinner, furtively looking for food between her teeth, who looked at herself in three-way mirrors, lost, in a trance when she took the girls shopping.
No, Claudine can't admit that she wants, with all her body and soul, to look into that mirrored column and assess just how awful she looks, as Anne so kindly put it. (19)

They've come to the moment when they have to cut off. And both of them are juggling with who's going to hang up first.
"I'll bring Chinese food. We'll come tomorrow. Okay?"
"Okay. Jim hates Chinese food."
"Okay, bye."
"Mange tes carottes," Janine says.
"Toi aussi."
They laugh. It's their code from when they were little girls. The idea was that they'd send this "mange tes carottes" message to each other if they were ever kidnapped. It would mean I'm all right but call the police. (107)

What would Walter make of all this? He always called throngs of people "the great unwashed." He always said, looking down from the height of his wealth at men and women walking the streets of Montreal, "Look at that. That has the vote." (117)

Blended families:
What they'd had, Walter and her, was a courtship and a three-week honeymoon, and that was all. When they returned from their honeymoon, they'd walked into a hormonal war zone with four teenagers riding around them like a posse, circling their intimacy and crushing it dead. (149)

John Lescroart. Damage. New York: New American Library/Penguin, 2011.
Further adventures of Wes Farrell (newly installed as San Francisco DA), Abe Glitsky (Homicide Chief), and their colleagues in the Bay area. The story precedes The Keeper but as with all Lescroart it is a stand-alone novel. Damage is right! ― the dire effects of one powerful family's influence and manipulation, the Curtlee family, whose psychotic son leaves no evidence at his killings for the justice system to stop him. Just released from prison on a technicality, he's been preying on women too intimidated (or too dead) to report him. It's uncertain whether three new murders can be connected, let alone pinned on him.

Threats against the families of both Farrell and Glitsky are taken seriously, causing domestic disruption; are their jobs worth it? Figures involved in the killer's previous trial are dragged into the equation to make it twice as complicated. One of them loses his wife, his house, his son's support, and almost his mind. The author captures legal permutations and manoeuvres so well, keeping the forensically-minded reader completely absorbed. Among the ethics and morality in play here, great discussion of the consequences of unilateral action by Glitsky. I don't think Lescroart has had a below-par novel yet!

One-liner: The job was bunching at him from every direction like an ill-fitting suit. (69)

Curtlee and Farrell:
"So you're not going to confirm to me that you're planning on taking a case to the grand jury ..."
"I'm neither going to confirm or deny it. I'm not going to comment."
"Well, you'll understand if that makes me feel just a little bit as if you're going to go ahead and do it."
"It's no comment, sir. Either way. I can't undermine the foundation of how the grand jury works."
"My reporter had it on very good authority," Curtlee said.
"Well, whoever told her has a big mouth. You want to tell me who that was?"
"Even if I did know, and I don't, I couldn't reveal my reporter's source. You know thaT."
"Well then," Farrell said, "I guess we've both got our secrets."
A silence hung on the line. Then: "I want to make something very clear to you, Farrell. You and I had a deal about my son not going back to jail ..."
"Not saying we did, sir, but if we did, that was before he started killing people." (259-260)

Backup SOS:
Glitsky's blood pounded from his temples to the center of his forehead. "Look, the guy is serious as a heart attack and he's down there now. He's probably stalking this Gloria woman. You need to just send some units down and check it out. Be a presence. You see a guy who looks like he doesn't belong, get his ID. If it's Curtlee, hold him or if the indictment's come down, take him in."
"You suggest we go door to door?"
"Yeah. Absolutely. If you have to."
"Can I get the spelling of your name again?" (354)

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