10 February 2016

Library Limelights 101

Linwood Barclay. Broken Promise. Toronto: Doubleday/Random House Canada, 2015.
Welcome to the microcosm of Promise Falls, somewhere in upstate New York. It's a quiet town in economic depression, but dangerous secrets seethe below the bland surface of every home. David Harwood finds himself unemployed and living with his parents; it's not the first time he's been featured in Barclay's prolific panoply. His slightly mad cousin Marla is the prime suspect in the murder of a woman whose baby she apparently kidnapped. Local detective Barry Duckworth's major concern is finding the evidence to convict her; his shorthanded department is also trying to catch an elusive rapist and some mysterious vandals on the college campus. David does his own nosing around to help Marla only to experience everything going from bad to worse.    

Barclay is always reliable for a rousing tale of mayhem; he captures reality in individuals' reactions and dialogue, with never a dull (and often humourous) moment. During the investigations, we meet a wide array of characters who contribute more threads to tangle the problems. There's some satisfaction to the ending but uncharacteristically, not every mystery was resolved loose ends obviously beg a sequel.

Word: prosopagnosia the brain's inability to recognize faces

All about Dave:
I'd had six dates in the last few years, with six different women. Slept with one. That was it. Since losing Jan, and the circumstances around her death, had made me averse to commitment, and Mom should have understood that."I'm just saying," she persisted, "that I think she'd be pretty receptive if you were to ask you out. Whatever her name is. Next time we're in there together, I'll point her out." 
Dad spoke up. "For God's sake, Arlene, leave him alone. And come on. He's got a kid and no job. That doesn't exactly make him a great prospect." 
"Good to have you in my corner, Dad," I said. 
He made a face, went back to poking at his tablet. "I don't know why the hell I can't get an honest-to-God goddamn paper to my door. Surely there are still people who want to read an actual paper." 
"They're all old," Mom told him. 
"Well, old people are entitled to the news," he said. (11-12)
Beery reflections:
"That's very kind of you, Mr. Fisher. It really is. But what I need, I don't think you or anyone else can provide." 
"What would that be?" 
"I need someone who can help me get my act together," he said, setting the bottle down and miming something with his hands, as though he were assembling something. "You see, my act is in pieces. Isn't that a funny saying? Get your act together? What's that supposed to mean? That we're all actors? That all of this is some performance? What was it Billy Shakespeare said? That all the world's a stage and men and women merely players. Something like that. I think what we're in is a tragedy without any kind of ending. What do you think, Mr. Fisher?" 
"I think you've had a lot to drink, Victor." (199)


Robert Galbraith. Career of Evil. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015.
It was a not-so-patient wait for this one ... Galbraith/Rowling's third novel to feature the rumpled, limping private eye Cormoran Strike. Galbraith paints him less attractive than usual although his assistant Robin is hooked on being a detective, and perhaps on him, wanting full status in the agency. She is still half-heartedly attached to the odious Matthew but hopes ran high when she dumps him midway through their latest murder investigation. The dismemberment of a body directly targets Strike who loses business and credibility with the police because of it. Identifying four potential suspects, he has to track them down as the police pursue red herrings.

It takes 500 pages to discover who had the opportunity and the cunning to devise a bizarre plot, while more victims fall to the same killer. A ghoulish internet subculture and encounters with abused women are part of Robin’s on-the-job training. Galbraith knows how to build the tension, not just in the investigations but also in the ambivalent feelings between Robin and Strike. You gotta love a guy who gets beaten to a pulp and meets his commitment to show up at a social function thusly. SEMI-SPOILER: cliffhanger ending.

Robin stands her ground:
"Well, I'm not going to be frightened off," said Robin. 
"Robin, this is no time for heroics. Whoever he is, he's telling us he knows a lot about me, that he knows your name and, as of this morning, exactly what you look like. He saw you up close. I don't like that." 
"You obviously don't think my countersurveillance abilities are up to much." 
"Seeing as you're talking to the man who sent you on the best bloody course I could find," said Strike, "and who read that fulsome letter of recommendation you shoved under my nose " 
"Then you don't think my self-defense is any good." 
"I've never seen any of it and I've got only your word that you ever learned any." 
"Have you ever known me lie about what I can and can't do?" demanded Robin, affronted, and Strike was forced to acknowledge that he had not. "Well then! I won't take stupid risks. You've trained me to notice anyone dodgy. Anyway, you can't afford to send me home. We're struggling to cover our cases as it is."  (25)
Strike has a sister:
Keen to get her off the phone, Strike told her untruthfully that he was leaving everything up to the police.Fond as he was of his younger sister, he had come to accept that their relationship rested almost entirely on shared and largely traumatic memories. He never confided in Lucy unless forced to do so by external events, for the simple reason that confidences usually elicited alarm or anxiety. Lucy lived in a state of perennial disappointment that he was still, at the age of thirty-seven, holding out against all those things that she believed necessary to make him happy: a job with regular hours, more money, a wife and children. (245)
Momentary fright:
"Are you going to stand there all morning?" she asked, trying to sound cross. 
"No," said Strike, still grinning. "I just wanted to show you something." 
He ferreted in his backpack and pulled out a glossy property brochure. 
"Elin's," he said. "She went to see it yesterday. She's thinking of buying a flat there." 
All desire to laugh fled. How exactly did Strike think that it would cheer Robin up to know that his girlfriend was thinking of buying a ludicrously expensive flat? Or was he about to announce (Robin's fragile mood began to collapse in on itself) that he and Elin were moving in together? Like a film flickering rapidly before her eyes she saw the upstairs flat empty, Strike living in luxury, herself in a tiny box room on the edge of London, whispering into her mobile so that her vegan landlady did not hear her. (270-271)

William J. Coughlin (and Walter Sorrells). Proof of Intent. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St Martin's Press, 2002.
Popular writer of legal thrillers, Coughlin died in 1993; having been a judge in real life, his books have an easy familiarity with courtroom procedure. This is his final posthumous book sad to say goodbye to irreverent lawyer Charley Sloan! Charley is a recovering alcoholic hoping to rescue his daughter Lisa from the same fate. Together they take on the defence of pulp crime writer Miles Dane, accused of bludgeoning his wife Diana to death. Charley's usual good humour is sorely tested by Dane's stubborn refusal to help himself or reveal family secrets. Dane adored his wife but his reactions seem strangely remote. The jury will not be impressed by his reputation as a tough guy, or his early novel that outlined actual murder of his wife.

Probably a manuscript polished and/or finished by Sorrells, the tale is true to Coughlin's signature style: a writer in complete control of his characters interacting, with relentless good pacing. Lisa's character may not have been fully developed One kvetch with the proofreader: it's disconcerting to see repetitions of "just deserts" when the meaning applies to desserts. The trial occupies about half the book, leading to two surprise endings. Bravo!

One-liner: "Man, I'm a thief not a liar!" (264)

Considered opinion:
I always thought his books were a little pretentious. The hero was generally some kind of compromised semicriminal with a name like Donnie or Dwayne who went around thrashing people and then talking like he'd read too much Kierkegaard. But Miles kept the pages turning, I'll give him that, throwing Donnie or Dwayne into one scary predicament after another. While the first books were alright, the last few I'd read seemed to verge on self-parody. 
But then, what do I know about writing? I'm just a small-town lawyer, scraping by. (5)
Opposing lawyers:
I stood and stretched. "I take it your derisive tone means you have no interest in offering a plea?"Stash continued to laugh. "Get out of here before I think of something else to charge him with." 
"You're a terrible, heartless man, Stash," I said. "And a discredit to your profession." This had become my standard farewell to the prosecuting attorney lately.
Stash, however, preferred to improvise a new insult every time. "The only thief worse than your clients is you, Charley." (95)
The slammer:
There is probably nothing grimmer or sadder than a jail on Christmas Eve. Every peeling gray-painted steel door, every rusting steel bar, every slipshod weld and deteriorating caulk joint, every crumbling slab of concrete amplifies the message of hopelessness and shame, the life-stops-here quality so central to what jail is all about. It is not just that a jail is a hard place to escape from, but that even barriers erected with such apparent disinterest and negligence are nevertheless so easily capable of hemming in a life. Jail says this: The wild freedom of the individual is nothing in the face of even the most careless and inefficient bureaucracy. In this place, you are a nullity: Get used to it. (154)

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