27 May 2017

Library Limelights 133

Minette Walters. Fox Evil. UK: Chivers Press (large print), 2002.
Admired for her psychological suspense mysteries, Walters has produced a dozen over the years. We meet the vicious character called Fox Evil right at the beginning to know that he is the creepy villain scaring women, children, and grown men behind the scenes. The scenes take place mainly on one Boxing Day when his solicitor Mark spends Christmas with lonely widower James Lockyer-Fox. James desperately wants to meet his unknown granddaughter Nancy who became an adopted baby. A group of travellers that morning take up belligerent residence in a wood bordering James' Shenstead Manor. Rumours persist about the death of James' wife.

All of it combines to bring old family grudges to a head, inexplicable personal attacks, and neighbours' secrets being exposed. On immersion in the tale one might guess that the elusive and anonymous Fox Evil is not the obvious suspect. But we are left in the dark about Nancy's biological parents until Walters neatly ties up multiple loose threads. Strong on dialogue, less on action, a little too much allegory about the fox destroying his victims ... although we are in fox hunting country which adds another minor dimension. The coincidence with the two Fox names is for the reader to judge.

It was her view that there was room for only one mother in a person's life, and it was an unnecessary complication to add the emotional baggage of a second. (19)
They had been given every advantage in life, and had failed spectacularly to build on them. (77)
She was an envious woman who enjoyed a grievance. (149)

What would a good soldier do?
He jabbed a finger at her. "What do you do then ... assuming you have a conscience and you don't want to shoot the wrong person?"
"Resign your commission," Nancy said bluntly. "Become a pacifist. Desert. All you do by listening to enemy propaganda is compromise your morale and the morale of your troops. It's bog-standard tactics." She jabbed a finger back at him to stress the words. "Propaganda is a powerful weapon. Every tyrant in history has demonstrated that." (147-8)

In-law shoots from the hip:
She listened to the nasal breathing at the other end as the girl struggled to calm herself. When Belinda spoke again, her voice was brittle. "That's the pot calling the kettle black, wouldn't you say? Since when have you made us feel welcome? We flog over once a month for the same ridiculous ritual. Chicken casserole in dishwater because your time's too precious to cook properly ... character assassination of Jack's dad ... invective against the man at Shenstead Manor ..." She drew a rasping breath. "Jack's even more hacked off with it than I am, bearing in mind he adores his dad and we both have to get up at six every morning to keep the business afloat at this end. Poor old Dick's dead on his feet by nine o'clock because he's doing the same thing ... while you sit there stuffing your face and slagging people off ... and the rest of us are too damn knackered earning your bloody golfing fees to tell you what a bitch you are." (179-80)

That sixth sense:
They both knew they were too close. She saw it in the flash of awareness that sparked in his eyes. He saw it in the way her finger hovered within inches of his mouth. She dropped her hand. "Don't even think about it," she said, baring her teeth in a fox-like smile. "I've enough bloody trouble with my sergeant without adding the family lawyer to my list of difficulties. You weren't supposed to be here, Mr. Ankerton. I came to speak to James."
Mark raised his palms in a gesture of surrender, jealousy spent. "It's your fault, Smith. You shouldn't wear such provocative clothes."
She gave a sputter of laughter. "I specifically dressed butch."
"I know," he murmured, putting the mugs on a tray, "and my imagination's in overdrive. I keep wondering about all the softness that's underneath the armour plating." (261-2)

Tayeb Salih. Season of Migration to the North. UK: Heinneman, 1969.
A classic of modern Arab literature, the time is set in post-First World War Sudan, Egypt and London. Salih uses an anti-hero, Mustafa Sa'eed, in a deft portrayal of the crushing colonial effect on one man. An educated African Arab proving himself as an equal in London, seat of power, Mustafa finds his own ambivalent emotions too heavy to bear. He becomes a deliberate, cunning seducer of women, until one woman calls his bluff. Later, switching to a quiet life farming along the Nile seems just as unsatisfactory. The story's narrator, whose name we don't know, is fascinated by this stranger come to live in their village, and slowly pieces together Mustafa's life, including his trial for murder. Around them, the villagers continue their ages-old agricultural practices as progress and bureaucracy encroach.

The villagers are a lively group, hard working and hard drinking at times, but destined for tragedy that they blame on Mustafa. One would expect religion to permeate such an atmosphere, accustomed as we are to more recent fiction about Muslim life. But no, very little. Female circumcision is mentioned in a bawdy conversation; occasionally they remember to request Allah's forgiveness for passing sins. Sometimes it is Mustafa speaking, sometimes the narrator. "North" is used both geographically and figuratively. This is a brief novel for both the intellect and the heart, beautifully written.

I want to take my rightful share of life by force, I want to give lavishly, I want love to flow from my heart, to ripen and bear fruit. (4)
I was not alarmed for I felt that satanic warmth under my diaphragm, and when I feel it I know that I am in full command of the situation. (32)
Yes, I now know that in the rough wisdom that issues from the mouths of simple people lies our whole hope of salvation. (32)

In her eyes I was a symbol of all her hankerings. I am South that yearns for the North and the ice. (24)

In a nutshell:
I heard Mansour say to Richard, "You transmitted to us the disease of your capitalist economy. What did you give us except for a handful of capitalist companies that drew off our blood and still do?" Richard said to him, "All this shows that you cannot manage to live without us. You used to complain about colonialism and when we left you created the legend of neo-colonialism. It seems clear that our presence, in an open or undercover form, is as indispensable to you as air and water." They were not angry: they said such things to each other as they laughed, a stone's throw from the Equator, with a bottomless historical chasm separating the two of them. (47-8)

Denise Mina. The Dead Hour. UK: Charwood/Bantam (large print), 2007.
Feisty Paddy Meehan, girl reporter, is at it again. She's a full-time employee of Scottish Daily News, working the mostly dreary graveyard shift in Glasgow, chasing police calls. She's still overweight and still feeding her low grade depression. And once again she inadvertently embroils herself in a nasty murder investigation. She is the only witness to the murderer's face. Bent cops, comic cops, dodgy newsmen, and ex-boyfriend Sean all get in her way at times while she tries to vindicate her part in the developing situation. Meanwhile, the cokehead sister of the slain woman is sniffing her way to certain destruction if she's not found in time. Paddy nervously debates which policeman she can trust, even the one she fancies with a passion.

Some of Paddy's fascination with her same-name lowlife doppelganger wears off. It's prime Mina, taking us through the worlds of working class Glasgow and competitive journalism where budget cuts have everyone on edge. Her characters are always memorable in lively prose. The Dead Hour is the second in a three-book series about Paddy (see my review of the first, The Field of Blood, at https://anotherfamdamily.blogspot.ca/2017/04/library-limelights-130.html). A few unresolved dangling ends have surely been left to the third book.

She found herself a foot in the wrong direction to meet anyone's eye, her own lonely heart alone in the universe, a beat out of step with everyone else. (3)
The old soaks used Kevin as a measure to justify their own drinking: if they got as bad as him they'd stop, but no one ever was as bad as him. (335)

Paddy stepped into the hallway, into the warmth and the homely smell of toast and strong tea. The holy-water font inside Mimi's door was large enough for a small chapel: a Disney-ish Our Lady gazing lovingly down at a fat baby Jesus who was holding a pink oyster shell full of holy water. Paddy dipped two fingers of her right hand and dabbed her head, her breastbone and both shoulders as she crossed the threshold. It was an old habit she couldn't shake. She had no faith but she knew the gesture soothed her mother's fears about her. Every time she did it she felt like a hypocrite, but a hypocrite with a calm mother. (22)

Pink slips:
Paddy looked at Farquharson's closed office door and suddenly understood the air of shock and horror in the room. The board were making changes. Farquharson had been in the job for four long years so it wasn't because he wasn't fit for the job: they were making changes because the paper wasn't making money. Any one of them could go next.
"Who's coming in?" she asked. "Do we know yet?"
"A bastard from London."
"How do you know he's a bastard?"
"Because he's from London." (125)

The self-pity train:
As she walked along the corridors following the signs, she passed the Oncology ward and remembered when her friend Dr Pete had been in here, when he looked at her with a steady fearless eye and told her he was dying. She missed him. She missed Terry Patterson. When she thought about it, she missed every fucking person she'd ever known and wished it was some other time than now. She wished she was on day shift. She wished her father had a job and her mother was over the menopause and last night hadn't happened and she hadn't shagged George fucking Burns. She wished Mary Ann wasn't a religious maniac and Sean was still her boyfriend. She wished she was thin. (285)

Nathan Dylan Goodwin. The Missing Man. UK: Self-published,* 2017.
Goodwin's mysteries are well-crafted to appeal to a broad fan base, not only family historians. But for the latter, what could be better than curling up with Goodwin and Morton Farrier? One is the creature of the other: Morton has become well established as a fictional forensic genealogist in England.[1] And his biggest personal brick wall has been his "lost" American biological father the missing man. His mother never knew her father withheld letters from her erstwhile lover, letters that Morton uncovered long after the fact (in the previous The Spyglass File). He found them both curious and troubling. But now he has enough clues for some serious research and interviews. His good-natured bride, Juliette, agrees to spend their honeymoon in Massachusetts.

Each new document Morton finds only deepens the mystery about his father Jack and his father. Hoping that some of the older generation will still be alive, he moves from one resource location to another in the Cape Cod area. Alternating perspective is a device Goodwin has used before to great effect; here, Morton's activities contrast with those of his father forty years earlier. It's a deft suspense-builder. Beginning with a devastating house fire, ending at an airport, The Missing Man is a novella, a quick read. It's one you won't want to interrupt and will wish it would continue. No worries; I'm sure Goodwin has further Morton Farrier adventures up his sleeve or in his hard drive as we speak. The books are available at various Amazon sites; links on the author's website nathandylangoodwin.com.

The shocked gasp of her neighbours and the stricken cries of the firefighters on the lawn were lost to the appalling cacophony of metal, brick, wood and glass crumbling together, crescendo-ing into the night sky. (1)
"I'm afraid you're not listed here as family." (59)
It might have happened to someone at some point, but not to his grandparents in Boston in 1946. (36)
He studied her features, wanting to absorb every detail, knowing that it would likely be the one and only time that he would ever see her. (61)

[1] For example see reviews: https://brendadougallmerriman.blogspot.ca/2015/10/book-america-ground.html and https://brendadougallmerriman.blogspot.ca/2016/10/book-spyglass-file.html.

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