Nathan Dylan Goodwin. The Spyglass File. UK: CreateSpace, 2016.
Goodwin surpasses himself! Morton Farrier, forensic genealogist, is hired to help adoptee Barbara fill in the missing war years around her birth. She tracked down her now-deceased biological mother, Elsie, but Elsie's war years as a married woman are a black hole. Our hero dives into an impressive number of record sources with ease ― some familiar, some esoteric, including many relating to the Second World War. Goodwin uses cleverly paced flashbacks wherein Elsie tells her own story that never quite answers the consuming questions: who is Barbara's father and what happened to him?
Elsie joins the WAAF Wireless Service because of her German language skills ― long days and nights listening to aircraft transmissions, translating, reporting ― 1940s life in England is faithfully recreated. As he gathers pieces of Elsie's wartime life, Morton would not be Morton if he were not attracting sinister threats. While he labours over the often strange or surprising documents he uncovers, his own unsolved adoption secrets prey on his mind. Readers will seldom find a better or more challenging plot. Only one small paragraph appeared corny to me (to use the 1940s vernacular), out of place in the overall feeling (p. 265). It was fascinating to learn so much about WAAF contributions to the war effort. Spyglass was well-crafted, absorbing, and highly recommended. Please bring Morton and Juliette back again!
She was certain, as she waited for her door to be flung open, that the moment she ceased to think about her heart and lungs, they would stop working. (70)
"I'm going to go to my nice safe job catching murderers, burglars and rapists, whilst you get on with your highly dangerous job ordering birth certificates and leafing through tired old documents." (156)
At the aerodrome:
He shook her hand vigorously. "Nice to meet you, Sergeant Finch."Elsie couldn't help but smile. He was a young man―no older than twenty―trying to impress his friends. He had a boyishly smooth face, with short dark hair, but carried a confidence beyond his years. There was no way, in any set of circumstances, that she would go near a boy like him. Without thinking, she stretched out the fingers on her left hand and glanced down at her wedding band, inadvertently also drawing it to his attention."Lucky guy," he muttered. "Not that that's a problem for me." (50)
The letters hung between them, he trying to offer them, she refusing to take them."Why me?" she asked."I just can't do it."
"Come on, you're not a teenager opening your exam results. Just do it," she said. "Besides which, I don't want to be blamed if you decide afterwards that it wasn't such a good idea after all."
Morton lowered the letters and stared at them, unsure if they were a blessing or a curse to his investigations into his own family.
Juliette sat herself down at the table and folded her arms, waiting, as if for the commencement of some grand performance. (85)
Official Secrets Act:
"Come in here a moment, would you." Jean stepped back, allowed Elsie inside, then closed the door behind her.
RKB swept his hair over again and sighed. His eyes locked with Elsie's. "Listen, Elsie, we've just heard from Number Eighty Wing with the probable location for tonight's raids. I'm afraid it's Coventry."
Elsie took the news with a fresh stab to her insides. She nodded, unable to speak. She knew the protocol, knew that she wouldn't be allowed to warn her parents. (141)
A stint on Malta:
The women headed to the back of the vehicle and clambered in. It was some kind of personnel transporter and Elsie was pleased to see the hard wooden seats entirely empty. She was beginning to grow tired of the attention two women in uniform were gathering on the island. It was like being permanently surrounded by a clowder of tom cats in heat. (214)
Roslund & Hellström. Cell 8. UK: Quercus, 2011.
A most unusual fiction, from a prominent Swedish crime-writing duo. John Meyer Frey was convicted of murdering his girlfriend and scheduled for execution in an Ohio prison. But years later he is discovered living in Sweden on a Canadian passport. The resulting political storm around extradition from a non-death penalty country to a death penalty country affects everyone who ever came into contact with him. Ewert Grens is the Swedish detective leading the investigation; Edward Finnigan is the murdered girl's grieving father; Vernon Eriksen is the prison officer in charge of the American death row; Ruben Frey, father of the convict. Initially, John is not a particularly sympathetic character. He remains curiously obscure throughout even as we wonder whether he was actually guilty of the original crime.
At first this felt like a thinly disguised polemic for death sentence reform. The mystery is slow to develop; so is our understanding that in prison Frey had been mourning his girlfriend. We get to know the warmer-blooded characters surrounding him, interspersed with bleakly objective prison scenes. It's not your usual style of crime writing but it becomes very absorbing. The climax is shocking. Certainly worth pursuing more titles from the same authors.
Ruben seemed to have shrunk a little with each trip; the heavy man was still rotund but it was as if he had deflated, as you do when your expectations fade. (179)
Thorulfe Winge wasn't tired and he didn't complain, he almost relished it, he was good at dealing with madness and diplomatic wrangling, and those around him had absolute faith that he would come up with the solution that was now taking shape. (275)
Ewert Grens was another person in his suit and tie and on his way to dance with a woman for the first time in twenty-five years. (280)
"What are you up to?"
As if you cared, you little arse-licker. Ewert Grens loathed his boss. Just as he loathed, in principle, everyone in his workplace. It was not something he tried to hide. No one could avoid noticing. But this whippersnapper, a cocky little superintendent, was too young and too self-important to even tie up his own shoes.
"What do you want?"
He heard his boss taking a breath, bracing himself.
"Ewert, you and I have different roles to play. Different areas of responsibility. For example, it is me who decides who is employed here. And where."
"That's what you say." (53-4)
Facing a loss:
Oscar ran down the hall, tripped over the doorframe into the bedroom, fell on the floor, and then a short silence reigned until he decided he wasn't going to cry, and got up instead, the final steps over to the bed with his arms stretched out in front of him.
"Daddy! You're home again!"
John looked at his son, his whole face was one big smile. He leant forwards, lifted him up, held him close until the thin body started to wriggle, already tired of being still and wanting to break free. He followed the five-year-old, who continued to run through the flat as if he was discovering it for the first time. He heard her steps too, looking towards the door, at Helena who was standing there. (74)
Ian Rankin. Rather Be the Devil. UK: Orion Books, 2016.
Perfection is settling in with a new Rankin and a supply of popcorn. Dialogue-heavy, always a pleasure. Two investigations by separate sections of Police Scotland threaten to meld because Edinburgh's rising criminal boss, Darryl Christie, has ties to both. Siobhan Clarke leads one; Malcolm Fox, having recently been promoted, represents the elite Organised Crime and Counter-Terrorism. The now-retired John Rebus bedevils both with his fixation on a cold murder case. We get more murder, disappearance of a major person of interest, a mysterious Russian, and the sly hand of not-quite-retired crime boss Big Ger Cafferty, nemesis of Rebus.
Really, the best part is the complex interaction among the three investigators. Their previous resentments are healed; their trust in Rebus extends to sharing ongoing information. Of course Rebus is not one to sit back, but plays the blithe catalyst to the consternation of Clarke's colleagues. Rankin plays his characters so deftly, and they are numerous, that I couldn't guess who proved to be the criminals. It's not amiss to mention that Rebus has a bad cough ― he has quit smoking ― but the prognosis other than COPD is not altogether clear. Is Rankin preparing us for the worst?!
Rebus being Rebus, the truth would not have been the whole truth; the man always liked to know just a wee bit more than anyone else sharing the stage with him. (87)
"That's what I like about spending time with you, John – you never fail to light up a room with that positive attitude." (181)
Still, best not to dwell – that was what Arnott's mum had always said when there was bad news, didn't matter if it was close to home or half a world away. Best not to dwell. (233)
Fox led the way back into the CID suite, but Clarke signalled toward the corridor, and he followed her, stopping as she turned to face him.
"Ask me how happy I am about all of this," she hissed.
"I did try phoning ..."
"You could have left a message."
"So you do know I tried?"
"I was a bit busy, Malcolm."
"You've not driven the length of the M8 twice already today – I'm the one who should be cranky."
"Who says I'm cranky?"
"You sound cranky."
"Livid is what I am." (33-4)
Rebus' companion Deborah:
" ... And I happen to think that you should be concentrating on yourself right now instead of old cases and new."
"I'm fine, Deb."
"I don't think you are."
"Who have you been talking to?"
She shook her head. "I've not gone behind your back, John – and no doctor or consultant would dream of discussing a patient with a third party."
Rebus stared out of the side window: nothing to see except one of the vans, maybe the one that had transported Robert Chatham from the quayside. "I can handle this," he said softly.
She reached for his hand and gripped it. "You're a stubborn old bastard and you'd rather go to your grave than let anyone see a weak spot in the armour you think you put on every morning." (96)
"How's your tomato juice?"
"A shot of vodka wouldn't harm it. How's your low-alcohol beer?"
Rebus screwed up his face.
"The state of the pair of us," Fox muttered, causing Rebus to chuckle. They sipped in silence for a few seconds. Rebus rubbed foam from his lips with the back of his hand. (180)