04 April 2018

Library Limelights 157

Dennis Lehane. Since We Fell. Large Print. USA: HarperCollins Publishers, 2017.
It's a long time since I read Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island, et al) and I scarcely recognize him. This book is all Rachel ... a driven journalist in Boston, missing a lot of love and security from an early age. She takes her television crew to Haiti for an extended time, reporting on the horrendous, chaotic aftermath of earthquake and cholera. But the toll of living with such fear and survivor guilt is a public panic attack that costs her job; she becomes a self-imposed shut-in. When she marries Brian, his patient love slowly helps her overcome the pernicious agoraphobia. Being with Brian is safe. There's much more to the relationship and her parents, but halfway through the book I am wondering is this a mystery? ... more like a catalogue of anxiety and despair.

It took that long to grab me because suddenly Rachel makes strange discoveries about Brian. He appears to have a double life or is it her paranoia playing tricks? Nevertheless, the urgency to investigate takes her out of the house and into a whole new dimension. She finds the two of them are involved in a devious, choreographed plot that threatens to fall apart. Yet Brian points out that Rachel has never been so alive as when facing danger and possible death when she's anything but safe. Add some guns and dead bodies. Altogether a different kind of crime book from the multi-talented author.

Lee looked like the worst boyfriend and greatest fuck of all time. (135)
A marriage, her mother often said, was only as strong as your next fight. (242)
It was full dark now, the dark of Germanic fairy tales and solar eclipses. (463)

Finding dad:
She thought she'd known what it was to feel alone but she hadn't. She'd had an illusion to keep her company, a belief in a false god. A mythical father. When she saw him again, she'd been telling herself in one way or another since she was three years old, she'd feel whole, if nothing else. But now she had seen him again, and he was no more connected to her than the tractor. (60)

Panic strikes:
While Brian was legging back from Hamburg one morning, she got into a cab on Beacon Street. They'd driven four blocks when she realized she'd entrusted a complete stranger with carrying her safely across the city for money. She had him pull over, overtipped him, and got out of the cab. She stood on the sidewalk, and everything was too bright, too sharp. Her hearing was too acute, as if the ear canals had been cored; she could hear three people on the other side of Mass Ave talking about their dogs. A woman, ten feet below on the river path, berated her child in Arabic. A plane landed at Logan. Another took off. And she could hear it. Could hear the cars honking on Mass Ave, and cars idling on Beacon and revving their engines on Storrow Drive. 
Luckily there was a trash barrel nearby. She took four steps and threw up in it. (194-5)

Cold Comfort?
She felt closer to death than at any time since Leógâne. She felt it emerge through the floorboards and penetrate her body, conjoin with her blood and pull her back down through the floor into the cellar of the next world. 
That's what was waiting, what had always been waiting, the next world. Whether it was above or below, white or black, cold or warm, it was not this world with its comforts and distractions and knowable ills. Maybe it was nothing at all. Maybe it was just absence. Absence of self, absence of sense, absence of soul or memory. 
She realized now that in Haiti, even before the camp, as far back as Port-au-Prince and the corpses smoldering in the streets and stacked in the parking lot of the hospital, stacked like old cars in junkyards, beginning to swell and balloon in the heat, as far back as then, the truth of their deaths became the truth of her own: We are not special. We are lit from within by a single candle flame, and when that flame is blown out and all light leaves our eyes, it is the same as if we never existed at all. We don't own our life, we rent it. (441)

Graham Hurley. The Order of Things. UK: Orion Books, 2015.
A favourite ... meaning his series that began with Portsmouth detective Joe Faraday and continued with Exeter detective Jimmy Suttle. At this point, Jimmy is long separated from wife Lizzie who revived her journalism career. Lizzie decides to investigate the same bizarre murder that's baffling Jimmy and his bosses ‒ from her own perspective. Alois Bentner, an eccentric climatologist, is the most likely suspect in the death of his wife, physician Harriet Reilly. But he has disappeared. His neighbour is wanted as a potential witness but she too is elusive. Turns out Harriet was quietly practising assisted dying, as Lizzie uncovers, opening a whole new perspective. Lizzie feeds her discoveries to Jimmy who is conflicted about revealing his source.

Lizzie's motive for sharing may be personal as well as professional: Jimmy has found a deeply satisfying personal relationship with Oona. Several of the characters exhibit personality contradictions to keep us guessing. Anthropologist Gemma Caton does not quite come across as the magnetic, persuasive force of her academic reputation. Between her and Bentner, we get doom's day climate change and nostalgic reverence for simpler ways of life, particularly as among indigenous tribes of the Pacific Northwest. Compiling evidence to convict a murderer is a slow job with emotional reactions on all sides. Yet again, a compelling read from Hurley.

Nice man if he liked you, but aggression on legs if he didn't. (60)
"Money always has the loudest voice and the deafest ears." (104)
For a man so short of social graces he had the rare knack of being able to voice his grief. (222)

Brilliant climatologist. Crap human being. (20)
"God made tidiness for the also-rans. Sure sign of a second-rate mind." (192)

Hearing about the final scene:
He had baked her a special cake, a recipe he'd acquired in one of their excursions across the Channel. He bought a bottle of Krug and another of Armagnac for afterwards. They spent an entire evening mulling over music and finally settled on Ravel's G major Piano Concerto.
"Do you know it at all?"
"I'm afraid not."
"Sublime. Utterly wonderful. Upbeat, mysterious, challenging, full of surprises, not a whisper of regret."
Not a whisper of regret. Lizzie wanted to hear this music. Share this departure, this take-off, this release.
"Do you have a copy?"
"Of the music? Ravel?"
"Of course."
He was on his feet in a second. He looked delighted. He went across to the oak cabinet where he kept his player and CDs. He loaded the machine and then disappeared. When he came back he was carrying three glasses and a bottle of what looked like champagne.
"It's not Krug, I'm afraid, but it's not bad." (67)

Human depredation:
"There's a word Ali loves to use," she said at last. "Overburden. It comes from the oil industry. It means all the useless stuff on top like trees and grasses and meadows these oil people have to shift before they go after the black stuff locked up below. Trees are Alois' business. As a climatologist, that's where he made his name. What they've done to Alberta seriously upsets him. He's been out there for a look. The Athabasca tar sands. He says it's beyond belief. Press him just a little bit, not much, and you get to the heart of it. The way Alois sees it, the overburden, the real overburden, isn't nature at all. It's us. He thinks we're the parasites. He thinks we're the takers. Once he told me that when it came to the planet we were death on legs." (103-4)

Estranged wifely wisdom:
"The point is we're very happy. We live apart. We have our separate spaces. We see each other lots. It works. That's rare."
"Great. Until she wants a baby."
"Funny you should say that."
"It's not rocket science, my love. It's the way we're programmed. How old is she?"
"I'll give it six months. Max."
"She's on the pill."
"That's what we all say. Until we're not."
"What is all this?" Suttle was laughing now."Should I ask for a lawyer? Go No Comment? What do you think?"
"Is that a serious question?"
"Are there other sorts?"
"Never, Jimmy. Not in your world." (111)

M.R. Hall. The Disappeared. UK: Pan Books/Macmillan, 2010.
No, it's not los desaparecidos. It's English countryside on the border with Wales. Just the name of Severn Vale District Coroner Jenny Cooper seems to promise a mild idyll in a decorous coroner's court ... but far from it. The disappearance eight years ago of two physics students comes to the fore with an anguished mother's plea; the Secret Service and/or MI5 heft all their authority to muzzle an inquest. Jenny also faces several unidentified bodies in her morgue. Not only that, she is a bundle of nerves, medicated against the trauma of her own unsolved childhood mystery. Dredging up witnesses from long ago is complicated by a shadowy American figure and McAvoy, the attractive, lawless Scotsman.

A coroner's inquest makes a great setting for complex drama. Jenny scrambles to locate witnesses and stay strong enough to manage her own court. Some witnesses recant or change their original police testimony. Perhaps the missing boys were jihadist recruits, or nuclear industry spies, or perhaps even worse; higher forces continue trying to shut Jenny down. Good writing here ‒ ex-policewoman Alison, the coroner's officer, and Jenny's teenage son Ross, among others, are skillfully woven into Jenny's world. But when you catch your breath after the abrupt cliffhanger ending, too many questions are still unanswered. Unusual applies to the whole proceeding. Jenny has adventures (this is the second book in a series) and I will certainly latch onto the next; maybe the missing answers will turn up.

"I wouldn't be surprised if he got the cancer if he doesn't find her soon." (31)
A coroner only ever acted alone, she had to remind herself; a coroner was independent and answered only to the Lord Chancellor. (117)

"You wanted to live with a teenager. Reality check." (40)
"How could she fall? Those railings must be waist high." (190)
"A heartless heart surgeon. Work that one out." (297)

Difference of opinion:
When insecure, Alison cleaved to institutions ‒ the police, the church ‒ and resisted anything that threatened them. It was irrational, but who was Jenny to pass judgement? Without her medication she was beset by irrational fears too.
"Her son's been declared dead," Jenny said. "She's entitled to an investigation, however limited. I doubt very much it'll amount to anything."
Alison's hostility hung in the air like an unwelcome presence long after she'd left the office. (28)

Managing personal darkness:
She tried to analyse her feelings. Random, unjust and terrifying were the inadequate words which came to mind. Why, for the last three years of her life, she had been haunted and occasionally overwhelmed by such deep and unsettling forces she was scarcely closer to knowing than when they had first made themselves felt. She had made some modest progress. Only six months before, she was limping through the days with the help of handfuls of tranquillizers and bottles of wine. Dr Allen had helped her break both habits. She was medicated, but holding herself together: she functioned. And she had proved that the mask she hid behind was not as flimsy as she feared. (38)

Life with boy:
"You're so moody all the time. Why can't you just relax like other people?"
"Dear God, I'm doing my best."
"Yeah, right."
"The atmosphere in this place ... I don't know what's wrong with you."
"With me? I've kept my side of the bargain. How could I possibly try harder ‒ tell me, I'd love to know."
"You never calm down. Never."
Jenny opened her mouth to reply, but the words caught in her throat and she felt her eyes welling.
"See what I mean?"
"Ross —"
He shook his head and went back through the door to join his girlfriend. (92-3)

Speculation on the missing:
"When they disappeared I was only beginning to understand the nature of the problem. But now I can tell you, if I were to draw a template for the ideal recruit to the extremist cause, both of them would fit it perfectly. Middle class, highly intelligent, ambitious, culturally displaced and as emotionally vulnerable as any young person. They were there for the taking." (186)

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