24 February 2017

Library Limelights 127

Dennis Lehane. Prayers for Rain. USA: HarperCollins, 1999.
Here's a certain kind of comfort reading with Lehane's PI Patrick Kenzie, in the great tradition of Travis McGee, Virgil Flowers, Spenser, and so on. Lehane knows how to balance wicked plots with humour. Kenzie is narrating. First he solves a straightforward request from Karen Nichols to stop someone stalking her. Months later Kenzie feels obligated to investigate her suicide ― death by gravity the incident is sometimes called by the cops ― with the help of his foul-mouthed sidekick Bubba Rogowski; eventually his estranged partner Angie Gennaro joins them. The characters are comforting, the premise is not. Comforting, if you like strong-arm tactics with black humour.

Karen's background leads them to a psychiatrist and uncovers a series of planned harassment. A bit of Boston mafia crops up along with the unsurprising but creative dysfunctional family associations. Trying to determine the motive and identity of a criminal mind goes into murky territory whereby Kenzie gets beat up and shot up, apparently typical procedure for him. I'm not totally convinced about the entire scheme but as I said, it's both fun with the sleuths and bloody in the action, an easy enough read.

One-liners:
Being at the top of the police department's shit list was not where I'd planned to be at this point of my life. (14)
The office was done up in some kind of Laura Ashley meets the Spanish Inquisition decor. (184)
Where have you gone, Burt Lancaster, and why'd you take most of the cool shit with you? (285)

She's in:
She looked over at me. "How serious was Stevie?" 
"As the plague," I said. "He'll kill us both." I jerked a thumb at Bubba. 
"Him first." 
Bubba snorted. 
Angie stared at both of us for a long time and her face gradually softened. 
"Well, I don't have a job anymore. Which means I probably can't afford this apartment much longer. Can't hold onto a boyfriend, and I don't like pets. So, I guess you two morons are all I got." 
"Stop it," Bubba said. "I'm getting all choked up and shit." 
She dropped off the counter. "All right, who's driving me to a safe phone?" (285)

The cranberry bog:
The stand of trees seemed to whisper. They seemed to groan.Stay away, they said. Stay away. 
"He knew I'd find this place eventually. Maybe not as quickly as I did, but eventually." 
"So?" 
"So, he's gotta move. He's gotta move fast. Whatever he's planning, it's either about to happen, or it's already in motion."

She reached out and her palm found my lower back. 
"Patrick, don't let him in your head. He wants that." 
I stared at the trees, then the shed, then the bloody, misting bog."Too late," I said. (420)

Time for action:
He smiled. Angie smiled. I smiled. In the still of the bog and the dark of the night, I had the feeling it was the last time any of us would smile for a while. 
"All right," Bubba said. "It's all three of us, then. Just remember, the only sin in combat is hesitation. So don't fucking hesitate." (434)



John Sandford. Escape Clause. USA: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2016.
Virgil's back, more of the same genre as above but a touch more Carl Hiassen-ish. The craziness begins with the kidnapping of Minneapolis Zoo tigers, a species at risk of extinction. Then there's Bill, the part-time priest frolicking in the ol' swimming hole. Most of the kidnappers manage to fumble their jobs here and there, earning sudden (and un-funny) bizarre death from their leader. Using rare animal parts for questionable "organic" medical nostrums plays a significant part in the story. Masterminding the tiger capture is a Xanax-stoned sociopath beholden to a wealthy Chinese immigrant. Having to deviate from his original plan, he fails to hide the bodies well.

The plot careens along with Virgil's frustration, driving from one medical examiner to another, always one step and one murder behind. Meanwhile his girlfriend Frankie's sister Sparkle sets off a small storm in a local canning factory, investigating the employment of illegals. As a result, a collaborating worker and Frankie both end up in the hospital. Typical engaging Virgil; typical inventive Sandford.

One-liners: TV cameras liked him and he liked them back. (31)
After several friendly conversations, each recognized the innate criminality in the other, and an arrangement was made. (67-8)

Touching on the theological:
"Is this relationship with Sparkle ... a long-term thing?" Virgil asked. 
"No, no, it isn't. I've spent time with her the last two summers, but of course the other nine months I'm celibate and she doesn't put up with that." 
"That seems very strange to me," Virgil said. 
"It seems fairly strange to me, too, but I find both sides of the equation to be rewarding," Bill said. "Of course, I may go to hell." 
"No offense, but I don't think the Church gets to decide who goes to hell," Virgil said. 
"I'm not offended," Bill said cheerfully. "I fact, I agree. Don't tell the Church I said that." (17)

Accuracy of details:
"Why would you think anyone would wrap a cut with a hanky?" 
"Well ... to stop the bleeding." 
"But why with a hanky? Who do you know who carries a hanky?" Virgil asked. 
"It's just an expression, Virgil," Sawyer said. 
"You know who wraps wounds with a hanky? Virgil asked. "People on TV. Somebody gets cut on TV, they've got a hanky. In real life, no hanky. You need a different expression: wrapping the wound with toilet paper. Or Dunkin' Donuts napkins. Something more intelligent than a hanky." 
"Right. I'll put it on top of my list of things to do," Sawyer said. "Get new expression." (78-9)

Endangered:
"That sonofabitch." Her eyes grew wider and her face turned red. "You know what he does for a living?" 
"I think so ..." 
"If he's allowed to keep doing that, he'll kill off every bear in the state and in Wisconsin and the Dakotas, too. For their gallbladders! So some Chinese assholes can make a medicine that doesn't even work! People get all weepy about rhinoceroses, and they should, but who's crying for the black bear, that's what I want to know! Who's crying for the black bear?" (105)

More than one pickle:
Sparkle didn't answer, but stepped away, turned, and walked along the backside of the large stainless steel tanks. She was the only one back there, and she slipped through the factory, taking pictures of women sorting cucumbers before they went into a huge vat; other women pulling cucumbers off a moving track into separate bins to be seared, sliced, or discarded; a woman monitoring a machine that dumped brine into the jars. 
The place smelled like a huge wet cucumber, Sparkle thought, and so did she, after twenty minutes in the building. (226)


Lisa Gardner. The Next Accident. USA: A Bantam Book, 2001.
Ya gotta give Gardner due credit ― she spins complicated plots that sneak up on you, suspending disbelief sometimes. In this case, FBI hotshot Quincy Pierce is bedevilled by a fiendishly clever but unknown psychopath who is out to destroy the agent's entire family. And partially succeeds. Quincy hires Oregon PI Rainie Conner, with whom he has personal and professional history, to undertake a separate investigation into the car accident that killed his daughter Mandy. The novel's introduction gives us overt clues to the accident in unfortunately melodramatic tones. Here and later, Gardner can't resist adding some bodice-ripper scenes.

Flipping around from Portland to Washington and New York, Rainie makes some progress and keeps tabs on Quincy who is close to meltdown. Although they are "meant" for each other, but push each other away, their own banal ruminations (who am I, really?) give little insight into the relationship stand-off. The perpetrator, a true homme fatal, is a master of disguise; he cons Quincy's ex-wife to her death ― not the only murder that happens. This book was one of my "fillers" while awaiting more from TPL but it scored on merit. After an unpromising start it becomes more absorbing, hard to put down for the next twist to come.

One-liners:
Some nights he jerked awake, his heart hammering in his chest, with the frantic need to call Kimberly and make sure she was okay, that he still had one daughter left. (73)
He was standing in front of the empty refrigerator with the look of a man who'd opened it many times before and still kept expecting something different. (193)

Is he this trite?
Time had given Quincy regrets. It has also taught him honesty. He understood now that he no longer did what he did to save the world. He worked as an agent for the same reason people worked as accountants and lawyers and corporate clerks. Because he was good at it. Because he liked the challenge. Because when the job was done right, he felt good about himself. 
He had not been the husband he had wanted to be. He had not been the father he had hoped to be. Last year, however, he'd connected three mass murders that local officials had thought were one-off crimes. 
He was a damn good agent. And year by year, he was working on becoming a better person. (48-9)

Recalling the shooting range:
"I did it, I did it. I did it! Daddy, I did it!" 
And her father said, "Don't ever throw down your firearm like that! It could go off and hit someone. First put on the safety, then set down the gun and step away from the firing line. Remember, you must treat your pistol responsibly." 
She had been deflated. Maybe even tears flooded her eyes. She didn't remember anymore. She just recalled the curious change that came over her father's face. He looked at her crestfallen expression and perhaps he finally heard his own words, because his features suddenly shifted. 
He said quietly, "You know what, Kimmy? That was great shooting. You did a wonderful job. And sometimes ... sometimes your father is a real ass." 
She had never heard her father call himself an ass before. She was pretty sure that was one of the words she was never supposed to repeat. And she liked that. That made it special. Their first real father-daughter moment. She could shoot a gun. And sometimes Daddy was a real ass. (104-5)

Night recce:
"I can do fences," Rainie assured him. "Dobermans have me a little more concerned." 
"No dogs, I drove by earlier." 
"No dogs? What kind of self-respecting salvage-yard owner doesn't have a dog?" 
"The kind who's been turned in to the humane society twice and could no longer afford the cruelty-toward-animal fines. Now he has a security company that drives around in hourly intervals. You see headlights, duck." 
"Cool," Rainie said and started whistling "We're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz." 
Five minutes later, they'd scaled the eight-foot-high fence and were making their way through the final resting place for thousands of cars. (149-50)


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