06 October 2017

Library Limelights 143

Lee Child. Night School. USA: Random House Large Print 2016.
Set in 1997, Child's familiar protagonist Jack Reacher is commandeered along with two strategic CIA and FBI agents to pursue a vague international threat based on information from their spy in Hamburg, Germany. Their boss is ultimately the National Security Agency, represented by Dr. Marian Sinclair. The absence of now-ubiquitous cell phones is notable. Someone is selling something unknown but important ‒ for one hundred million dollars. Someone is buying, but who? Mysterious messengers are relaying between the two at secret meetings. The good guys must find one of the meetings, identify the seller, and track down his expensive item. Illicit trade in military hardware is one guess; keeping the whole mess quiet is critical.

Reacher brings his right-hand woman Sgt. Neagley on board. Eventually they all converge in Germany where they convince local police chief Griezman, consulate officials, and U.S. army resources to assist. Little do they know the alt-right has its own agenda. By stealth and luck, the suspect eludes them time after time. Reacher's instincts usually lead them perfectly in an otherwise hopeless-looking situation. Including getting it on with Sinclair in his spare time. No attention is given to the buyer end of it, sketched only as cartoon-ish, Arab-like figures. Plenty of army lore here. It's typical Child with terse, stripped-down prose; all those incomplete sentences.

Her lips moved against his and she said, "Is this a good idea?" (241)
The folder held mimeographed copies of typewritten pages, all held together with brass fasteners gone dull with age. (393)
He was staring blankly at the far horizon, with wide-open tragedy in his eyes. (466)

Difficult elimination:
"You're a real ray of sunshine, you know that?"
"Your theory says at the same time the messenger will also be moving. Toward the same destination."
"We don't know what name he'll be using or where he'll be coming from. Or what passport he'll be using. Pakistani, possibly. Or British. Or French. Too many variables. We looked back two days before the first rendezvous, and there were five hundred plausible contenders through the Hamburg airport alone. We can't tell one from the other on paper. We wouldn't know who to watch."
"Drink more coffee," Reacher said. "That usually fixes things up." (86)

Prevaricating or not:
"Did she ask you to do that?"
"I suggested it myself. I told him I would run the print. That was all. Why did I choose those particular words?"
"Subconscious wiggle room."
"Doesn't feel good."
"Would going to prison feel better?"
"He's a homicide cop with a fingerprint. What am I supposed to do?"
"What did you think you were doing?"
"I guess I was figuring I would tell him if it's negative, and if it's positive, maybe I would stall. That way everyone's a winner, and I don't break the law." (229-30)

Watching the watchers:
" ... His orders came through flagged red."
"What does that mean?"
"It used to mean organized crime, but now it means terrorism. The guy wasn't clear whether it was supposed to be an old red or a new red. There's some confusion at the moment. But I think it was a new red, because they were also watching an apartment near Reacher's hotel. Earlier in the day. There was supposed to be a Saudi guy coming out. But it didn't happen. I checked the city records and there's an apartment in that building with three Saudis and an Iranian. All young men. I think this is some kind of Middle East thing." (287)

Lorine McGinnis Schulze. Death Finds a Way. Canada: http://LorineSchulze.com, 2016.
Fictional genealogists acting as crime detectives are an expanding group and Janie Riley is one. Created by prolific blogger and genealogist Schulze, Janie runs into suspicious behaviour during her family research week at Salt Lake City's renowned Family History Library. When her new friend at the library, Clarissa, collapses, she convinces herself murder is involved. Various odd or scruffy figures are glimpsed slinking around the microfilm cabinets; Janie is experiencing a few accidents that could be deliberately planned. Her tenacity in pursuing some clues brings an ally, PI Dan Mulroney, but also personal danger. Her spouse Steven yo-yos between support for Janie's new cause and exasperation at her hyperactive imagination. Naturally, a genealogical research trail is part of the procedure to prove inheritance skulduggery.

A genealogist is perhaps not the best reviewer for such a book; a genealogist can predict the events and results presented here. Speaking for myself, there's little suspense. The demanding rigours of family history writing are not the same as the novelist's genre and the transition does not guarantee success because most of us are pedestrian writers. Repetitive routine and conventional devices ― putting on makeup, daily meals described, examining oneself in a mirror ― do not particularly enhance or flesh out the characters. Too much exposition about them is uncomfortably forced; using their own words and actions is preferable for personality revelation. Janie and Steven seem not fully-fashioned enough yet to feel a warm connection with them.

The library research and computer technology are on firm ground, where Schulze knows her stuff. The slim plot has merit but the back story of Irish Katie seems oh-so-familiar if not stereotyped. Some good editing would have caught inconsistent dialogue construction (and removed annoying capitalizations). Now that she has her feet wet in a debut novel, Schulze may be finding her own style. I for one await promising developments in A Grave Secret, Janie's next adventure.

"He was always threatening to kill himself and take us with him." (37)
Female ancestors could be challenging to track down. (42)
For a brief moment she felt this level of spying on her part was wrong. (81)
"Your degree in Psychology doesn't make you an expert in human behavior!" (98)
"Maybe it's time you stopped being a Crusader for justice." (99)

Steven was stirring, waking slowly from sleep as she pulled on comfy black cotton capris, a soft olive green tee and open toed wedge sandals. A hint of makeup came next, just a little khaki green powder lining the upper edge of her eyes, black mascara, sheer lip gloss and a dollop of light rose blusher. She sat on the edge of the bed and patted her husband's leg gently. "Sweetie, I'm almost ready for breakfast. Are you getting up?"
Steven yawned. "Lord it must be early. What time is it?" He groaned when he heard her answer. "Who gets up that early?" Unlike Janie, Steven was not a morning person. But he was a good sport most of the time. "Okay give me ten minutes to shower and get dressed." (42)

Hunting a suspect:
As the driver made his way to the address she gave him, Janie took the opportunity to go over what she planned to say and do. Soon she was standing outside the doors of Jones Landscaping. A deep breath to steady her nerves and she was inside. A bottle blonde woman in her 30s sat at a gray metal desk. The smell of nail polish filled the air and Janie realized the woman was painting her long nails in a bubble gum pink color. As Janie drew closer to the desk she saw the nameplate on her desk that read Linda Thompson. Pausing in the middle of a swipe with the nail polish applicator, the receptionist looked up. "Hello, can I help you?" (64)

Paul Coelho. The Alchemist. 1988. USA: HarperOne, 25th Anniversary Edition, 2014.
This modern classic is apparently something important that I'd missed. Because it has camels and desert, I was urged to read it. Andalusian shepherd boy seeks mythical treasure at the Egyptian pyramids ... it's the journey, you know, not the destination. Featuring a philosophical-theological mashup. Philosopher's Stone ‒ Elixir of Life ‒ Emerald Tablet ‒ Master Work ‒ the Tradition ‒ Personal Legend ‒ Language of the World ‒ Soul of the World. That's about it. Philistine, linear thinking has destroyed my ability to distinguish the finer subtleties of mysticism.

Bons mots?
"The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon." (35)
He had never even wept in front of his own sheep. (42)
Sometimes, there's just no way to hold back the river. (61)
"If I have to fight, it will be just as good a day to die as any other." (87)
The world speaks many languages, the boy thought. (89)
He sat on a stone and allowed himself to become hypnotized by the horizon. (102)
"Each day in itself, brings with it an eternity." (106)

Advice on saddling up:
"Tomorrow, sell your camel and buy a horse. Camels are traitorous: they walk thousands of paces and never seem to tire. Then suddenly, they kneel and die. But horses tire bit by bit. You always know how much you can ask of them, and when it is that they are about to die." (119-20)

Anders de la Motte. The Silenced. 2015. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2017.
Otherwise titled Ultimatum (e.g. by Simon & Schuster), it's a deeply satisfying crime mystery. As a followup to his MemoRandom, the author presents less of a wild west atmosphere and more warmth in his characters. Detective Julia Gabrielsson is a winner; so is Atif Kassab, one of the villains. Julia is saddled with civilian assistant Amante, a political appointee of dubious merit. She and her boss are relatively low on the police hierarchy that stretches into uppermost government ranks. There are dead bodies to be sure, but the greatest puzzle is to find who pulls the strings to hide them. Manipulators and the unwittingly manipulated.

Policeman David Sarac is so shattered by past violence he is locked away in an asylum. He is such a jittery, mental wreck I wished he would disappear. Then he did. The opening pieces are brilliantly done, alternating the play of two different scenes. Several more characters surface from the previous novel; although this is apparently stand-alone, reading MemoRandom first would definitely help. One thing: the translator loves the word ahold. As in we must get ahold of so-and-so, meaning communicate with. It feels so wrong to me; get hold of sounds right. But the Oxford Dictionary says ahold is an adverb so who am I to disagree. I'm left to highly anticipate what comes next from de la Motte.

He could feel his face automatically delivering the right expression as his wife went on talking. (55)
An apprehended cop killer would trump any toes she was supposed to have stepped on. (271)
He imagined her and Natalie, hand in hand beneath the desert sky as night fell slowly, releasing the stars. (381)

Phoenix. The bird that catches fire, dies in the flames, and is then reborn out of its own ashes with shimmering new plumage.
The name couldn't be more inappropriate. No one in the prison was transformed into a better version of himself and emerging as a new, well-adapted individual with sparkling new feathers, ready to be embraced by society. The majority would end up back behind bars within a couple of years, for crimes just as bad as the first time around.
Maybe that was the cycle of repetition that the name hinted at? A sort of ironic wink: We all know how this is going to turn out, don't we? (87)

Home fires:
"How was your meeting with John?"
He kissed his wife on the cheek, put his briefcase down, and shrugged his jacket off before replying.
"'Fine'?" That's a nice, detailed description." His father-in-law had loosened his tie, his shirtsleeves were rolled up, and he had one of Stenberg's whiskey glasses in his hand. "Sit down, Jesper."
Karl-Erik gestured toward a free chair, and Stenberg stood still for a moment. He was being offered a seat at his own table, by a man who was drinking his whiskey. Marvellous. (156)

"You know how this sounds, don't you? A conspiracy inside the police force, mysterious security companies, bodies disappearing. You just need a few men in dark raincoats watching your apartment and you can get the tinfoil out and start making yourself a hat."
Amante's cryptic smile was back.
"That was the old days. Why follow someone when all you have to do is keep an eye on their cell phones? We use official police phones and SIM cards; we use the wireless network at headquarters whenever the software needs updating. Sneaking in an invisible app that would regularly pinpoint our whereabouts can hardly be that difficult. At least, not for someone with the sort of contacts we're talking about."
Julia held her hands out as if to say that she wasn't about to argue. (174)

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