Peter James. Dead Simple. 2005. UK: Pan Books/Macmillan, 2011.
A stag night prank spins out of control: the groom-to-be, Michael, lies underground in a coffin, lord knows where, all contact lost. Brrrr ... our attention is engaged. The lovely bride-to-be Ashley is frantic; Michael's business partner Mark is distraught. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace of the Sussex police is reluctantly drawn into the missing person investigation by his friend DS Glenn Brannon. Grace is suffering peer ridicule over consulting a mystic on a previous case and the mysterious disappearance of his wife Sandy still haunts him. Suspense becomes almost unbearable as the cops work 24/7 to locate Michael; how long can someone like that survive?
But buried alive is not the only creepy aspect to this story. Grace and Brannon suspect someone is lying about events behind the search. Who among Michael's circle is not who they seem? Will a walkie-talkie save Michael? Culminating in a long, breathless car chase that seems written for a movie script, credibility is stretched regarding a new villain and an evil woman. James is new to me — another green light on the waiting list.
His friend looked like a laboratory experiment. (40)
The best predators were the most patient ones. (82)
It looked like an infant had texted them, not a grown man. (386)
Routine gave you structure. Structure gave you perspective. And perspective gave you a horizon. (50)
"Roy, what I know is that you are an intelligent man. I know that you've studied the paranormal and that you believe. I've seen the books in your office, and I respect any police officer who can think out of the box. But we have a duty to the community. Whatever goes on behind our closed doors is one thing. The image we present to the public is another."
[annoying, uncooperative font change] "The public believe, Alison. There was a survey taken in 1925 of the number of scientists who believed in God. It was forty-three per cent. They did that same survey again in 1998, and guess what? It was still forty-three per cent. The only shift was that there were fewer biologists who believed, but more mathematicians and physicists. There was another survey, only last year, of people who had had some kind of paranormal experience. It was ninety per cent!" He leaned forwards. "Ninety per cent!" (64-5)
Mark had never forgotten a wildlife documentary he'd seen on television, filmed in a bat cave in South America. Some tiny micro-organism fed on the bat guano on the floor of the cave; a maggot ate the micro-organism; a beetle ate the maggot; a spider ate the beetle; then a bat ate the spider. It was a perfect food chain. The bat was smart, all it had to do was shit and wait. (82-3)
" ... They were killed in a traffic accident on Tuesday night."
"And you walk in here with your big swinging dicks, looking for some poor sodding landlord to blame for plying them with drink?"
"I didn't say that," Grace replied. "No, I'm not. I'm looking for this lad who was with them." He pointed at Michael's photograph.
The landlord shook his head. "Not in here," he said.
"Looking up at the walls, Branson asked, "Do you have CCTV?"
"That meant to be a joke? Like I have money to buy fancy security gizmos? You know the CCTV I use?" He pointed at his own eyes. "These. They come free when you're born. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a barrel to change."
Neither of them bothered to reply. (157-8)
Grace was tiring of it ‒ but did not know what to do about it. What if he found someone? Fell in love with a woman, big time? And then Sandy turned up? What then?
He knew in his mind that she wasn't ever going to turn up, but there was a part of his heart that refused to go there, as if it was stuck like some old-fashioned record needle, in an eternal groove. Once or twice every year, when he was low, he would go to a medium, trying to make contact with her, or at least try to prise out some clue about what might have happened to her. But Sandy remained elusive, a photographic negative that lay forever black and featureless in the hypo fluid of the developing tray. (210)
Graham Hurley. Touching Distance. UK: Orion Books, 2013.
Hurley just gets better and better, if possible. Jimmy Suttle, our Devon detective, faces the worst scenario of his career — several sniper killings have panicked the media and the public. Each death involves intense scrutiny of the victim and his associates. The pressure is on Sutton and his partner Luke Golding from their bosses, Houghton and Nandy, although the entire Devon police force is at work on it. Possibly the three separate investigations have a mutual link but the plot becomes very complicated with disrupted marriages and vengeful motives.
Meanwhile, trouble seems to be the middle name of Lizzie, Suttle's estranged wife. She's found an ex-army captain as a source for explosive press coverage that would ensure her re-entry to journalism. She's also willing to transfer her affections to this Rob who, among a large cast of well-outlined characters, seems the one stiff exception. On the other hand, details of the Afghan war effects on British soldiers are memorably vivid. "Touching distance" applies to relationships as well as the critical climax. Perfect Hurley; more to come.
"Knock too often on hell's door and one day it's gonna open." (183)
"The thing had got out of hand and she was binning the marriage for matey down the road." (259)
The big mistake, he said finally, was believing that doctors knew best. (278)
"You don't like being a grandmother?"
"I don't appreciate being taken for granted."
"Is that what I do?"
"Yes, if you want the truth. One day it might occur to you that I've got a life too. Most days Grace is no problem. I'm lucky to have her. I'm lucky to have the pair of you. But if I was that desperate for company, I'd never have given up the job. I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but some days, especially lately, I can see this thing ... this little arrangement of ours ... going on forever. That's not what I want. And neither should you."
"What are you telling me?"
"I'm telling you to decide on who you really want to be. We can't have it all, Lizzie. Sometimes we can't even have most of it. You have to compromise. And that way you might start getting the most out of motherhood." (29-30)
The best of friends:
After the darkness and silence of his first and only winter in the cottage with Lizzie, sharing the place with Lenahan had been a lifesaver. The man cooked like an angel. He was an unending source of stories, all of them framed to capture the madness of the world around him. Lenahan, on his own admission, had a cheerful pessimism about the human condition that had been coloured by postings to the far corners of the planet, but nothing, it seemed, could shake his faith that the journey ‒ wherever it led ‒ was still worthwhile. You had a duty to squeeze laughter out of chaos, to salve life's wounds as best you could, and to recognise that certain battles were best left unfought. In this respect, Suttle had often thought, he'd led a cop's life. He'd seen the worst. Yet he soldiered on. (59-60)
Doomed to repeat ...:
The Americans' key mistake, he said, had been to conflate al-Qaeda with the Taliban. The two elements were chalk and cheese. The Taliban had little time for a bunch of well-financed Arabs bent on world jihad and absolutely no interest in bringing America to its knees. They simply wanted to impose a certain way of life on their own country. And they didn't welcome interference from a coalition army determined to stop them.
"But we stayed." This from Lizzie.
"We did. A lot of our guys went off to Iraq for a while, but that didn't work out either so back they came."
"To take on the Taliban?"
"Sure. And the corruption. And all the tribal unhappiness. And the poppy. And the infrastructure ‒ which mostly didn't exist. You're talking about a country that had been at war for forty years. Things were just going backwards. And in so many respects I'm afraid they still are." (127-8)
Val McDermid. The Skeleton Road. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2014.
More war politics, rather surprising from McDermid. Skeletal remains of a murder on an Edinburgh rooftop become a cold case landing on the desk of DCI Karen Pirie. Two bureaucrats in The Hague offices of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia are tasked with finding a leak that enabled a freelance killer to assassinate individual Serbs in their relocated hiding places. The Balkan Wars are still very much alive in some quarters. Both investigations find common ground in Oxford professor Maggie Blake who lived in Dubrovnik during the seige. Blake's lover Mitja Petrovic had been a general in the Croatian army, coming to live with her in England in the aftermath; he has since abruptly disappeared.
Maggie is a well-established figure in the world of geopolitics, acclaimed for her teaching and publications. But she finds it difficult to write about her personal experiences in the Balkans, so heavily twined with the love of her life. Increasing circumstances make others question how well she really knew Petrovic despite the pain of losing him — her part of the narration reflects her loyalty. Pirie the cop has her own personal problems as she hunts for the skeleton's killer. This is classic McDermid using the complicated history of the Balkans as slightly different territory.
"I don't know how long it takes to turn into a skeleton, but I'm guessing it would be a few years?" (11)
"All you get from an eye for an eye is a lot of people stumbling around in the dark." (252)
How can ethnic cleansing make any sense when the people you are cleansing are the same as you under the skin? (291)
Maggie took a step away from Tessa, letting her friend's hand fall from her shoulder. "I love that you think so much of me you have to come up with some noble theory to explain why my lover walked out on me." She looked around the room, taking in the dancers, the talkers, the drinkers. The vista of the people who loved and respected [her] had no hope of chasing the sorrow away. "Whatever I was to him, Tessa, it wasn't home. That's why he left. Mitja just went home." (26-7)
Everyone thinks themselves unique when they fall in love. The truth is, we all lose ourselves in the same way. Whether it takes hours or days or weeks, we all find ourselves in a place of wonder and urgency, where we believe nobody has ever been before to quite the same degree. If everyone felt like this, our script goes, the world would come to a grinding, grinning halt. (173)
Karen desperately wanted to ask about Petrovic, but she forced herself to stay silent. "A wee bit different from Fife," she said.
Maggie gave a wry smile. "Yes and no. The extreme sectarianism that infects parts of Scottish civil society isn't so very different from the religious hatreds that divide communities in the Balkans."
"You mean Rangers and Celtics? Protestant against Catholic?"
"Exactly. As in the Balkans, what they have in common is that all sides share the same mix of ethnicity. It's as if they have to be twice as fierce in their hatred of what they perceive as "difference" so they can establish the right of their own position. It's madness. And it's gone on for centuries. But finally, with this generation, there seems to be a sliver of hope for change."
"I don't know about Scotland. I mean in the Balkans. And it's thanks to the internet." (186)