René Knight. Disclaimer. USA: HarperCollins Publishers, 2015.
Novels based on real people will have a disclaimer that "any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental" to avoid potential libel. Catherine finds a stray novel with a red line through the disclaimer and reads it out of mild curiosity. Before long she is horrified to self-identify as the "fictional" star of twenty-year-old events she had kept hidden from everyone. Who is the mysterious author exposing her secret? Damning photographs begin to circulate and the book won't go away. Paranoid Catherine keeps baffled husband Robert in the dark far too long.
Then there's crafty old Stephen, consulting his dead wife, who learns to manipulate social media. The perspective switches between him and Catherine, occasionally Robert, until we don't know where deception lies. We feel someone is going to die, but who ― psychological suspense at its best. The back story unfolds piece by piece, to wrap itself almost full circle. Gold star for a first novel from this author.
Sanctimonious twit is his judgment on himself. (168)
He knew the truth when he saw it and she respects that―it's not something many people are capable of: denial is so much easier. (364)
It was the mother who opened the door. It was teatime, but she had the chain across. It wasn't midnight, for goodness sake, it was teatime. It was broad daylight. And I was smiling at her. I wouldn't be smiling if I meant them any harm.
"Good afternoon, I'm so sorry to bother you." Pause for emphasis. To demonstrate I really was sorry. "I'm trying to get in touch with an old friend. Catherine Ravenscroft. She used to live here, I believe ..." Blink. Refresh smile. "I popped a birthday present through the door a few weeks ago but haven't heard anything and ... well, that's not like her."
"They moved," she said. Not returning my smile even slightly.
"Aah, that explains it. It's been a while since I've seen her and the family. I wonder ..." Pause again. Don't want to appear pushy. "Do you have an address for her?" Another blink. I am old, frail. And it's cold out here. Be kind to me.
She shook her head.
"No," and then she began to close the door. The bloody cheek of it. (77)
The secret revealed:
Robert's hands are shaking. He holds one up and looks at the jittering fingers in surprise, as if he is holding up a specimen of something he has never seen before. Whatever he is about to read has happened. There is nothing he can do about it, and yet it holds a power over him, as if by reading it, it will happen all over again just because he is there to see it this time. He reads on, like a teenager desperate to get to the sexy bits. (182)
Her mother hasn't said anything, but does she know? Does she remember? Tears come at the thought that her mother knows but doesn't judge her. She blinks them away so she can pull down the mask she must wear to get through the day. It fits her well, no one would know it was there, and she has even got used to the way it inhibits her breathing. By the time she gets off the bus she is in her stride, marching along the stretch of road toward work like a confident woman on her way to a busy day in the office, not noticing anyone she passes. (246-7)
Zoë Ferraris. The Night of the Mi'raj. UK: Little, Brown, 2008.
The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a 21st century anomaly where men wear white and women wear black and never the twain shall meet except to make babies. Women are confined to home unless they have access to an "escort" (father, husband, brother, son) who will drive them to visit a friend or to shopping malls. "Religious police" stalk city streets watching for clothing misdemeanours and behaviour infractions. The general repression of natural social instincts and inter-gender communication is so effective/painful you could weep at the restrictions for love and sex. All this in a climate where killer temperatures force everyone to live year-round inside air-conditioned homes, offices, and cars.
Author Ferraris has captured the essence of this society ― mind you, its upper class society. But the only lower class in the kingdom are immigrant labourers and domestics who do not figure in this story. Nouf, a young daughter in a wealthy, respected family disappears only to be found dead in the desert. Two individuals on the family's periphery are unsatisfied with the official verdict as an accident. Niryan is a friend, an expert desert guide, willing to help the girl's brother discover the truth. Katya is fiancée to a family member, a rare woman working as a biology lab technician. Despite the crippling limitations of custom and tradition they manage to uncover the truth in a complex, absorbing tale. Published as Finding Nouf in the USA.
One-liner: In theory, Nayir should take the whole thing to the police, to the judges or the mosque and the men in charge of law, but since the examiner's office had already closed the case – decided, in fact, that there was no case to close – then what hope did he have of stirring up justice from a system so easily corrupted by the rich? (322)
Guest in the men's sitting room:
Of course Nouf had passions, they just didn't know what those were. He felt no empathy for brothers who had only the vaguest, most superficial impression of their sisters. Certainly, women had other concerns. They lived in a different manner, in other parts of the house. He imagined that their lives barely intersected except during meals, holidays, excursions. But there was no taboo against talking to a sister. A sister, he imagined, should be the most comforting of woman – an accessible female with whom one could speak openly, who could explain sensitive things where others might shy from trying. Nayir had no siblings, but he had longed for a sister his entire life. (37)
She had to admit that before meeting Nayir, she'd been intrigued by Othman's description of him – pure and noble, a romantic Bedouin figure. He'd turned out to be such an ayatollah. He hadn't been able to speak to her without blushing, he wouldn't meet her eyes, and he had fainted when he saw Nouf's body, as if he'd been exposed to the face of the devil himself. Nayir was just the sort of man who stopped women on the street to complain that they weren't wearing gloves, or that he could see too much of a face through a burqa. (147)
Face to face (almost):
"I'll talk to him," Nayir said. "That's what you want, isn't it?"
She turned to face him, and he quickly averted his gaze. "Yes, if you can. But more than that ..." She faced the window again. "I'd like to know that you're still in this."
He hesitated. "I want to know what happened to her. And I think so does Othman, whether he feels that way now or not."
She seemed relieved, or grateful, and she uncrossed her arms. "Then will you come with me right now? This is important. I need your expertise."
He hesitated again.
"Tracking," she said, as if that explained it.
After a pause, he nodded. "Just give me time for morning prayers." (231)
Lars Kepler. Stalker. (2014) Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2016.
In Kepler's world, Sweden is a hotbed of the most bizarre murderous minds; it's the main characters and detection process that hold us glued to the page. Stalker is the fifth in a series where detective Joona Linna plays a prominent part. From hiding out to protect his family, Joona returns to Stockholm a sick and injured man as a serial killer eludes policewoman Margot and her colleagues. Consulting psychiatrist Erik (The Hypnotist) finds similarities in an old case that convicted Rocky, who is still locked up in an institution. In fact, Erik has history with Rocky, not all of which he shared with the justice system at the time. Joona's friendship with Erik irrevocably draws him into the hunt.
Margot rarely knows what Joona and Erik are up to in their separate investigation, especially their reliance on Rocky's questionable memory. Without a doubt this novel has the most dramatic manhunt I've ever read, reading way past the midnight hours! It's almost inconceivable how so many characters survive so much physical battering (blood-curdling noir alert). Also, the revelation of the underlying psychosis seems so improbable ― but who am I to say? Ultimately, dramatic consequences for Joona. I feel the next sequel unfolding already in the hands of this co-author team.
One-liner: Right now her fate is floating like a razor blade on still waters. (8)
Now Madeleine is walking along next to her mother, talking and keeping an eye on the path even though she knows her mum doesn't need help.
Her mother walks with one foot nudging the edge of the grass, so she can feel the plants against her leg and at the same time listen to the stick tapping the path.
A compressor starts to rumble outside the Royal Library, and powerful drills begin digging at the asphalt with rapid metallic thuds. The noise means her mother loses her bearings and Madeleine takes hold of her arm. (124)
"He was utterly ruthless," she says in a toneless voice.
"So I understand," Erik replies. "But he still doesn't deserve to be convicted of a murder he didn't commit."
Olivia's greying hair falls over her forehead and she blows it away.
"Will anything bad happen to me if I lied to the police before?"
"Only if you lied under oath in a court."
"Of course," she says, and her thin mouth quivers nervously.
They sit on the steps. Olivia looks down at her trainers, picks something off her jeans and clears her throat.
"I was a different person then, and I don't want to get mixed up in anything," she says quietly. "But it's true, I did know him back then."
"He says you can give him an alibi."
"I can," she admits, and swallows hard. (243)
"The r-rich need it, the p-poor already have it, but you fear it more than death," Nestor whispers.
"I'm a bit too tired for riddles, Nestor."
Erik falls asleep, and in his dreams little Madeleine is standing by his bed, blowing on his face and whispering the answer to Nestor's riddle.
"Nothing," she whispers, blowing on him. "The rich need ... nothing, the poor have nothing ... And you fear nothing more than death." (378-9)