05 May 2016

Library Limelights 108

Tom Rob Smith. Child 44. NY: Grand Central Publishing/Hachette, 2008.
Grim, grim, GRIM. An inside view of Stalin's Soviet Union and its brainwashed, fearful, struggling inhabitants ― for which Smith has deservedly won accolades ― incredulous as the events of that era to us. Some years ago I began reading this book, did not finish. This time I persevered. Leo Demidov, officer in the MGB (numerous acronyms before and since for secret police), does his job doggedly persecuting innocent people until the tables are turned on him ... just when he's finding the trail of a serial child killer. The MGB refuses to consider such a notion. Unwilling to give up a righteous quest against all odds, he knows everything that can go wrong, will and does.

Leo's indoctrinated conditioning makes for a painful metamorphosis of self-awareness. Wife Raisa sticks with him despite the coldness of their marriage and her own initial misgivings. On the run, they intend to find the killer before they find themselves being executed. Many dramatic, horrifying scenes follow. Possibly General Nesterov of the militia will cut them some slack. Nevertheless, in this squalid society the MGB holds the ultimate power, destroying lives right, left, and centre. You are warned: prying your toenails off with a red-hot scalpel would be more fun than reading this book. It's not the writing, it's the depth of (justified) paranoia, the unrelenting grey of hopeless existence.

One-liners:
Those who appear the most trustworthy deserve the most suspicion. (40)
A suspect's guilt became real as soon as they became a suspect. (41)
Not even those who worked within the Lubyanka's walls, not even those who kept this machinery of fear ticking, could be certain that the system they sustained would not one day swallow them too. (71)

Interrogating a colleague:
None of his heroism or military training had any relevance today. Here was no enemy. This was a colleague, a friend, a grief-stricken father. And yet, even so, this was an MGB protocol and this father-in-mourning was the subject. Leo needed to tread carefully. He couldn't allow himself to be swayed by the same feelings that were blinding Fyodor. This hysteria was putting a good family in danger. If left unchecked, the groundless chatter about murder could grow like a weed, spreading throughout the community, unsettling people, making them question one of the fundamental pillars of their new society: There is no crime. (25-6)

First official visit to Lubyanka:

Entering the main corridor, Leo wondered how it would feel to be led down to the basements with no leave to appeal and no-one to call for help. The judicial system could be bypassed entirely. Leo had heard of prisoners who lay abandoned for weeks and doctors who served no other purpose than the study of pain. He taught himself to accept that these things existed not just for their own sake. They existed for a reason, a greater good. They existed to terrify. Terror was necessary. Terror protected the revolution. Without it, Lenin would have fallen. Without it, Stalin would have fallen. Why else would rumors concerning this building be deliberately spread by MBG operatives, muttered on the metro or on tramcars as strategically as if they were releasing a virus into the population? Fear was cultivated. Fear was part of his job. And for this level of fear to be sustained it needed a constant supply of people fed to it. (70)

 Joy Fielding. Now You See Her. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2011.
Loss ― women's loss ― seems to be a recurrent theme with Fielding. Marcy Taggart has lost her daughter and her husband, one to mental illness and drowning, one to divorce. Not to mention the mother who never really mothered her. So Marcy is more or less a basket case when she goes off alone to Ireland. Her neurotic obsession causes her to see daughter Devon around every corner. In flashbacks, Devon is a proper bitch. Marcy's hunger to change the vanished but strained relationship into something lovey-dovey, which it was not, made me queasy at times.

In Cork, Marcy is convinced she had a true glimpse of Devon and somehow collects a few people (mostly men) to help her hunt. That is, when the gardia are not questioning her about all the strange events that follow. The egotistic ex-husband, Devon's father, dismisses her concerns; her sister implores her to come home. But we understand that her lack of self-esteem and enormous sense of guilt, over every relationship in her life, will probably resolve by sticking to her errant course. One episode where Marcy is conducting two conversations at once is extremely effective. Fielding is a master at this kind of suspense novel.

One-liner:
Peter's voice chimed in, almost alarming in its enthusiasm for being who he was. (295)

The weight of passive aggression:
Peter never snored, although he claimed she did. "Why do you have to sleep on your back?" he'd say accusingly, as if her snoring was something she was doing deliberately to provoke him. And then increasingly, as the years passed and more grievances surfaced: "Do you have to move around so much?" "Do you know you talk in your sleep?" "Can't you ever lie still?" Until one morning about a year after Devon's accident she woke up to find Peter's side of the bed empty, and when she'd gone to look for him, she'd found him asleep in the guest bedroom. 
He never came back. 
Five months later, he moved out altogether. (49-50)

A thousand cuts:
"I'm over twenty-one. You can't tell me what to do." 
"As long as you live in this house, I can and I will." 
Devon jumped off the bed, flew toward her mother, arms flailing. "Then I guess I'll just have to move out." 
Marcy didn't flinch, her toes digging into the bottoms of her shoes as if to root her in place. "I remind you that one of the conditions of your bail is that you continue to live at home." 
"So now you're my jailer?" 
"I'm your mother." 
"Yeah. Great job of that you're doing." 
"This is not about me." 
"No? This is your fault, you know. It's your rotten genes I inherited." (193)

Repetitive default:
"I'm sorry," Marcy said. 
"Jesus, is that all you ever say?" 
Marcy was about to apologize again and had to bite down on her tongue to keep the words from escaping. 
"It's bloody irritatin', you know that? The color was slowly returning to his cheeks. "You'd think you were responsible for every bad thing that ever happened." 
"Sometimes that's the way I feel." 
"You really think you're so bloody powerful?" 
Marcy almost smiled. She'd always felt the exact opposite, as if she had no power at all. But maybe he was right. (336-7)

Ian Rankin. Even Dogs in the Wild. UK: Orion Books, 2015.
Oh the joy of a new Rankin! As compelling as ever, the author wends an intricate dance of criminal activity in and around Edinburgh. Rebus is now officially retired from Police Scotland but as we expect, he cannily interjects himself into his friend Siobhan Clarke's investigation of a high-profile murder. The case multiplies into victims, plural, just as local and out-of-town gangsters are becoming more visible with a turf war looming. We've met some of the characters before; Rebus finds himself strangely allied with two former enemies: Malcolm Fox, the one-time Complaints officer, and Big Ger Cafferty, the aging underworld kingpin.

Fox, working with a team on surveillance of a nasty criminal element, manages to fumble his end a few times but eventually scores ― bloody but unbowed. His relationship with Siobhan remains ambiguous. I love the cop meetings in various cafes and curry joints to compare notes. Rebus figures out a tricky suspect, calmly managing a climactic confrontation. Looks like he will adopt an adorable dog. "Even Dogs in the Wild" is a song by Billy Mackenzie of The Associates, echoing for Rebus (and Rankin?) the dark side of impoverished and unloved lives. The next Rankin can't come fast enough!

Words: stairheid rammy ― stairheid = landing, rammy = noisy brawl

One-liner: "There was a time," Fox said as they took their drinks through to the living room, "when you wouldn't have let me past the front door." (169)

The Job:
"So you'll talk to Page?" Rebus asked. 
"I'm doing it right now." Clarke brandished her phone and headed for the door. 
"And tell him about the gun," Rebus called to her retreating figure, after which he sank another inch of his drink and scooped up a few nuts. 
"So how are you, Malcolm?" he asked, chewing. 
"Me?" Fox sounded taken aback by the question. 
"Recovering from that hiding you took?" 
"It only hurts when I laugh." 
"Can't recall seeing you laugh." 
"Exactly.""And things are going well with Siobhan? I'm only asking because I care." 
"We don't always see as much of each other as we'd like." Fox paused. "Well, as much as I'd like, anyway." 
"She's in love with the job, same as I was. How about you?" 
"The job has its moments," Fox was forced to concede. 
"Moments aren't enough, though – everything about it should give you a buzz." (160-1)

Winter:
Rebus stood on the walkway. It was only partially glassed-in, the glass itself scored with graffiti. But he had a view south to where snow lay on the Pentlands, just beyond the bypass. The street lights were already on, though the sun was just barely below the horizon. Long shadows at ground level. Rebus tried thinking how many hours of daylight there had been – not quite eight, maybe seven and a half. At this time of year, kids went to school in the dark and came home at twilight. He'd often wondered if crime rose in the winter – darkness changed people's mood, darkness changed everything. And under cover of darkness, anything might happen undetected. (228-9)

Fox plods:
A cheap souped-up saloon car passed him, its occupants barely out of their teens. Both front windows were down so the world outside could share their taste in what they presumably thought was music. They paid Fox no heed though. He wasn't like Rebus – he didn't look like a cop. A detective he'd once investigated when in Complaints had described him as 'a soulless, spunkless middle manager from the most boring company on the planet'. Which was fine – he'd been called worse. It usually meant he was closing in on a result. And the fact that he didn't stand out from the crowd could be useful. As far as the kids in the car were concerned, he barely existed – if they'd thought him a threat, the car would have stopped and a scene of sorts would have ensued. Instead of which, he arrived at the lockups without incident. (304)


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