Robert Wilson. Stealing People. UK: Orion Books, 2015.
Most complicated Charles Boxer novel yet. A series of kidnappings in London, six children of mega-rich families, each a different nationality, is executed in a tightly coordinated manner. Because they happen almost all at the same time, it's clear that a large number of personnel are involved. Various levels of investigation are swiftly put in place by police, kidnap specialists, MI5, MI6, international intelligence agencies, and ... the parents. Mercy Danquah is in charge of the police operation that seems an overwhelming job. Strong personalities clash over procedure and the tension can't get any higher while everyone waits for ransom demands, but the kidnappers have mysterious motives. Boxer and his daughter Amy (thankfully acting mature this time) are drawn into it through a missing person request from the enigmatic young Siobhan.
Two more kidnappings close to home add harrowing confusion as Mercy and Boxer work the cases from different angles, suspecting conspiracy of a military nature. Dead bodies are strewn in their wake. Challenging ― I had to keep flipping back and forth to keep track of so many characters. Wilson makes his salient angry point about the deception of the Gulf War and its profiteering private contractors. We never see the kidnap victims interacting until the very end; seems like a missed opportunity, unusual for Wilson, but of course would have substantially increased the page count. Clearly more to come with Boxer.
Word: anodyne (adjective) ― moderating, medicating
One-liners: The kid looked like trouble on stilts. (27)
Fight for emotional control:
Silence from Mercy as anger and fear battled away. She got to the car, dropped her head on to the steering wheel. She was not prone to tears, never cried in her professional life, whatever the horrors of the case. Her job demanded a cool head at all times. But in this situation she couldn't help herself: professionalism went out the window, the tears flowed as her imagination ran riot with images of Marcus's bloodied face. She had to grip the wheel and remind herself of the basics of kidnap negotiation. The mind game. The power of the unseen. (70)
Mind over matter?
Boxer lowered himself to the floor, which was covered with overlapping carpets, and studied the perfect calm of the face in front of him.
He'd been a long time waiting for this moment and was surprised to find that the anger he'd readily summoned in London was now more difficult to come by. The distance from the turmoil of modern life, the presence of time and space, the cleanliness of the mountain air, the tranquillity of the room and the meditative serenity of the man before him were not conducive to extreme emotions. (344)
Rosemary Sullivan. Stalin's Daughter. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2015.
A lonngggg wait for this extremely popular biography. As if I hadn't consumed enough hardship and suffering in Child 44! At 600+ pages Sullivan indeed covers "the extraordinary and tumultuous life of Svetlana Alliluyeva" from hundreds of documents, interviews, and published sources. What can one say about someone who grew up in the dense shadow of Joseph Djugashvili aka Stalin, a paranoid monster, the Russian vozhd who murdered countless more people than Hitler ever did? An isolated child whose father was distant and rough, whose mother committed suicide? A woman whose life was characterized by restlessness and loneliness? Her own birth family was decimated by executions or sentencing to the gulags.
I thought I could slip and slide through this, picking just the sections I wanted to read. But couldn't help myself, the entire book went by thanks to Sullivan's compassionate and compelling rendition that quotes so many who knew Svetlana. Rare photographs enhance. She was very attractive, usually outspoken, intellectually strong but emotionally needy. A great variety of friends over her lifetime admired her down-to-earth kindness and occasionally suffered her volatile temper. She sought, unsuccessfully in multiple marriages, a man who would stay the course. Abandonment issues, so very sad.
Word: tropism ― a one-directional biological response to external stimulus
Olga slowly came to realize that Svetlana was "essentially an orphan." (109)
Ordinarily, suicide was looked on as treason against the collective. (156)
"Svetlana was doomed to carry the cross of her origin for the rest of her life." (223)
Visiting "papaschka" as a married woman:
When she and her father were alone, it was difficult to find subjects to talk about, other than the food they were eating or the botanical details of nearby plants. She was careful not to talk about people, in case she might mistakenly say something about someone that might arouse her father's suspicions. She never knew what to say or, more important, what not to say. It was easiest when she read to him.
Dejected by the whole ordeal, Svetlana returned to Moscow after three weeks, but as soon as she was back in the Kremlin apartment with her son Joseph, she felt she was again trapped inside a sarcophagus. She grew desperate. Given her psychological history, Svetlana did not know how to be alone. Alone, she felt totally exposed. She thought she would be safe if only she could entwine her life with another, but then, once she had achieved this, she would feel suffocated, a pattern that would take her decades to break, if she ever succeeded. (136)
The Zhadanov marriage:
It was not possible for either her or her husband to go into the dark interior spaces where the fear and anger raged. It was not possible to engage real emotions in these families where nothing was said. Did she and Yuri discuss his father, her father, what was happening in the world beyond their walls? That seems impossible. Was what she called an "inborn lack of emotion" simply an inability to speak truthfully? And yet it was also true that in orthodox Bolshevik circles, certain kinds of emotion were seen as weakness or self-indulgence. (167-8)
John Verdon. Let the Devil Sleep. New York: Crown Publishers/Random, 2012.
Retired detective Dave Gurney is emerging from the trauma of being shot (Shut Your Eyes Tight), needing to prove to himself that his mental faculties are still intact, although most of the time he's gloomier than ever. He meets young Kim whose thesis research on a cold case of serial murders brings her an offer from the fictional equivalent of Fox News. The media had dubbed the unknown killer as the Good Shepherd. Dave agrees to be Kim's consultant but soon dramatically differs from the accepted police theory of the time ― and no-one believes him. Even worse, the killer is returning to terrorize the original families. And he may be invading Dave's home life.
Although Dave's celebrated cop instincts come to the fore again, he recognizes that his emotional life is in a dead-end fog. One wonders how he maintains any relationships at all but wife Madeleine and son Kyle are supportive. IMO the author was not all that successful in portraying Dave's gradual opening up to normal feelings. The lesser characters are well done, and here's a welcome move: Jack Hardwick, Dave's former colleague of the impossibly rude, irreverent attitude, turns from nemesis to ally. Sort of. Some of the television interviews with "expert" talking heads are wickedly on point. Lots of life left in Dave yet.
Meese seemed to be riding an emotional horse that was getting away from him. (123)
"Anger doesn't hurt as much as guilt." (359)
Find the root:
A therapist had told him long ago, "Whenever you're disturbed, try to identify the fear beneath the disturbance. The root is always fear, and unless we face it, we tend to act badly." Now, taking a cool step back, Gurney asked himself what he was afraid of. The question occupied him for most of the remaining trip home. The clearest answer he could come up with was also the most embarrassing.
He was afraid of being wrong. (49)
No flies on Dave:
A long silence fell between them. Gurney's mind felt empty, unfocused, uneasy.
"It's kind of chilly down here," said Kyle. "You want to come back up to the house?"
"Yeah. I'll be up in a minute."
"So ... you never finished saying what it is about the Good Shepherd case that's getting to you. You seem to be the only person who has a problem with it."
"Maybe that's the problem."
"That's way too Zen for me."
Gurney uttered a sharp, one-syllable laugh. "The problem is a gaping lack of critical thinking. The who goddamn thing is too neatly packaged, too simple, and way too useful to too many people. It hasn't been challenged, argued, tested, ripped, and kicked, because too many experts in too many positions of power and influence like it the way it is―a textbook crime spree by a textbook psycho." (183)
Kim's media education:
Gurney took the opportunity to ask casually, "Will the new murders boost your ratings?"
Getz flashed another grin. "You want the truth? The ratings will shoot through the roof. We'll run news specials, Second Amendment debates, maybe even a spin-off series. Remember the project I offered you? In the Absence of Justice―a hard-nosed review of unsolved cases? That could be a hot one. That's still very much on the table, Detective. The Orphans of Murder could have real legs. A franchise. Media alchemy."
Kim's hands were balled into fists. "That's so ... so ugly."
"You know what it is, sweetheart? It's human nature."
Her eyes blazed. "It sounds to me like ugliness and greed."
"Right. Like I said, human nature."
"That's not human nature! That's trash!"
"Let me tell you something. The human animal is just another primate. Maybe even the ugliest and stupidest one. That's the real truth. And I'm a realist. I didn't create the fucking zoo. I just make a living in it. You know what I do? I feed the animals." (389)