24 April 2018

Library Limelights 158

BLOGGER is playing games with FONT and SIZE!

Mark Raabe. Cut. 2012. UK: Manilla Publishing, 2016.
Cut! ... meaning as when the director of a film stops a scene. Photography and film lurk in the background of Gabriel Naumann’s childhood trauma; he’s repressed the events that orphaned him and brother David. Released from a mental institution after relentless but barely effective “treatment” for a misdiagnosis, he spends years working in the security business. Thirty years later our story opens; he is no closer to remembering why his parents died or why he is terrified of cellars. Then his journalist girlfriend Liz is kidnapped in the attempt to force Gabriel’s memory; he has no idea who is after him, while reunion with David places them both in danger. Nightmares gradually trigger odd pieces of the old story.

Cut is not just psychological suspense, it's infused with psychiatric theories and jargon. It all makes some sense in the end but the journey to enlightenment is painful for both characters and reader. Detailed action scenes cry out movie-script, although I had trouble visualizing a pregnant woman climbing a solid twelve-foot high wrought-iron fence topped with long razor-sharp spikes ... super powers? Gabriel’s alter-ego, childhood hero Luke Skywalker, continually admonishes his better instincts for obscure reasons until it becomes a tiresome device. It's definitely a challenge to warm up to the characters. The climax extends forever and seems unsustainable. Creepy, with vicious touches, and confusing references to delusions v. flashbacks.

They needed five men to put him in a straitjacket.” (128)
The neuroleptic is already working again and her mind has begun to dissolve into soapsuds.(169)
All of a sudden, the dream ends, like a rubber band that has been stretched too far and then snapped. (243)
His senses are so delicate, it’s as if he has no skin and feels every single nuance of human vibration. (271)

The former shrink:
Dressler smiles endearingly. "I would say you're in a difficult position. Or have I misunderstood something?" 
Gabriel bites his lip. He feels like he's strapped down and unable to move his arms or legs. He hates that Dressler is still capable of triggering this feeling in him. "I don't know how you would be able to help me. Or have you changed professions and are now working as a lawyer after failing as a psychiatrist?" 
A shadow falls across Dressler's smile. "Failed is not quite accurate. My treatments have had amazing success. It was simple not the right time for them back then at Conradshรถhe. But this is twenty years later and that was just a fleeting moment. I've been a private lecturer and top specialist for sixteen years. And in this case, I was called in as an expert to determine your physical and, more to the point, your mental condition." 
"My condition is just fine," Gabriel says. 
"And good old Luke? How is he? Dressler smiles. "Does the voice still ask for him from time to time?" 
Don't say anything wrong now, the voice whispers in Gabriel's head. You know what he's like. (136-7)

Gabriel stops and tries to find the right words for something that has no right words. "You know that I can't remember ... that night." 
David nods coolly. "Or at least you always blocked it." 
"I really don't know, David. I simply can't remember. But now I need to know, you understand?" 
David looks at him, surprised. Apparently he'd thought of every possible scenario except for this. "What do you mean? Why?" 
"Don't ask. It is what it is. I need to know." 
David laughs bitterly. His cheeks go red with anger and he's visibly fighting to maintain composure. 
"My god," he finally exclaims. "You're silent for thirty years. You answer nothing, not one of my questions and you leave me to think you're dead. And now, all of a sudden you want to know what happened?" David shakes his head. "Honestly, I can't believe it! I was the one locked up in my room. I didn't hear anything. And now you're asking me what happened? Again, what about my bloody questions?" (246)

Joseph Kanon. Leaving Berlin. 2015. USA: Washington Square Press, 2016.

Just what the doctor ordered ... you know how crosswords and sudoku are good for staving off dementia? Kanon always provides highly complicated plots to challenge the brain. In this case, he infuses his thriller with details of post-war Berlin largely in ruins. Writer Alexander Meier returns to his home town in 1949, an outcast from his adopted U.S. for refusing to cooperate with McCarthy's witch hunt. Wanting to return to his American son and clear his reputation, he is forced to become a spy to earn his way back. Alex is invited to stay in the Russian sector as one of their Kulturbund guests. Before he knows it, he is deep in amateur espionage against experienced experts. Walking on eggshells becomes second nature as conspiracies and betrayals multiply to make his situation almost impossible.

Germans, Russians, nazis, communists, police, and military security all have different agendas, permutations, and cruelties. Everyone's a spy. Yet Alex is eager to reacquaint himself with childhood friends, the entitled von Bernuth family. He meets Irene again, the first love of his life, further complicating his soon desperate, impromptu plans to fulfill his mission and escape such a bizarre life. Irene's brother, and her Russian lover, are headed for death. The sector's theatre world of which Alex is newly part is dominated by Bertolt Brecht, the well-known dramatist and Marxist, playing a vocal part here. Absolutely steeped in history and politics from the 1930s, the book includes a minimal map but knowing the city would be a definite bonus for the reader. Kanon is an extraordinary writer and cannot be classified as "merely" a crime writer.

"No anesthesia, nothing for the pain, but no Russian baby either." (94)
Alex watched them, back and forth, a tennis volley of unfinished sentences and code words, the way people talked now. (217)
"The best watcher is the one you don't expect." (260)

"He was knocking off people in mental homes. The euthanasia program, to keep the Aryan bloodlines pure." (41)
What had he overheard? But what was there to overhear? (89)
They were going to leave him here, in place, to race between traps. Nobody could keep that up indefinitely. (236-7)

Dieter the German:
The man looked at him, then rubbed out the cigarette. "You want to know why I do this? If you can trust me? So. I work for the Americans because they're not the Russians. That's the politics of it, nothing else. I used to think things. A better world. Anyway, better than the Nazis. Then the Russians came. They raped my daughter. They made me watch. Then they beat hershe was fighting them. And she died. So that's my politics now. Stop the Russians." (117)

Fellow Soviet guests:
"So, my friend, I hear you're going to write something for Comrade Stalin." 
"Good news travels fast." 
Brecht looked up. "As you say. They thought it would encourage me. To follow your good example. A poem, just a poem. They think that's easier, only a few lines, not so many words." 
"Will you do it?" 
Brecht sighed and leaned against the wall. "It's my last country here. Denmark, Finland, Russia, those idiots in HollywoodI look at my passport and I feel tired just looking. We can work here. And Berlin" He broke off, drawing on the cigar. 
"So you will." 
"I don't know. I'm not such a model citizen." He nodded toward Alex. "Anyway, it's interesting to make them wait. Some old theater advice." He held up a finger. "Leave something for the second act." (177)

The noose tightens:
"I've been recruited. To work for the Germans. They want me to do what you want me to do. For them. I have to get out. Now. Before it starts." 
Campbell said nothing, turning this over. 
"What Germans?" he said, as if he hadn't heard correctly. 
"They have their own service now. The old K-5. I'm a Geheimer Informator." He looked over. "A protected source. Both ways. It's a game of smoke and mirrors. I can't do this." 
"Smoke and mirrors." 
"I'm not good enough, not for this." 
Campbell just stared, thinking, his hand over his chin, a smile beginning to crease his face. "You don't have to be good. Not when you're lucky. Don't you see what a chance this is?" (230)

No choice:
"You need to put in some time." 
"How much?" Alex said quietly, but he already knew. They were never going to send him back. They'd keep him here, where he could be useful. Until he wasn't. (232)

Plan B. Or C:
Alex took one of the typed papers out of the big envelope and faced the microphone. The testimony Aaron would never hear, another gift to Ferber. His own airfare. He told the story everyone already knew: the exile returning to Berlin, the excitement of homecoming, the Socialist hopes. Then the disillusionment, the growing alarm at the Party's abuse of its own people, finally his refusal to condemn an innocent man. His decision to leave the East, burning every bridge now, every smiling Neues Deutschland picture turned upside down. Voting once more with his feet. He imagined Brecht hearing the broadcast, dismissing it, a foolish self-immolation, maybe framing some sardonic twist to excuse the rest of them. (342)

Liza Marklund. Red Wolf. 2003. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2010.
Another Scandinavian crime queen, new to me. So I went to one of the earliest books about Swedish journalist Annika Bengtzon. Is the woman nuts or what? ... panic attacks, angels singing in her head. Well, a horrendous previous experience/book left her with PTSD. Yet panic afflicts several characters, including her best friend, Anne Snapphane. Both are struggling, peripheral to the main story, with marital havoc caused by another woman. A colleague of Annika's in the far north was run over on a deserted road, dead. He was about to assist her with research into an old bombing. Then the only witness to the road "accident" is killed. Annika's pursuit of the story is not welcomed by Schyman, her newspaper boss.

Two more people die; Annika is the one who recognizes and identifies a serial killer. It's a good crime story with mysterious motives and odd messages from the perpetrator. But the hodgepodge ideology and politics of Swedish youngsters in the 1960s is confusing; the personality of the killer and his childish cult stretches credibility and weakens any suspense. Modern political corruption rears its head, owing a debt to a previous adventure of Annika's, although it's more comprehensible than the crimes. Somehow all the pieces don't quite hang right except for Annika's single-mindedness. In the end, she pulls off more than a journalistic coup. While I would not rate the writing near the top of Scandi-noir, I will follow-up to see if mental health prospects improve for Annika and Anne.

Nowhere on earth was outer space as close as it was at the Polar Circle. (8)
He felt the distance between them like a dead weight. (80)
It was her fault; oh God, she had persuaded the boy to talk. (157)
Stopping to catch his breath, he heard the howling monster of consumer society like a waterfall behind him. (171)

"I want to be an individual," she said. "Not a function." (118)
Had she lost the ability to judge relevance and probability? Was she on the verge of losing her grip on reality? (282)
"You must start your life again, devilish child. Evil art thou, mean and filled with Satan." (331)

Annika's angels:
"Hello?" she said. 
There was a click and the hall lit up. She blinked, momentarily confused. She was surrounded by dark-brown panelled walls that seemed to loom over her. It felt like the ceiling was pressing down on her. She put her hands above her head and screamed. 
"What on earth's the matter? Take it easy." 
The boy was gangly and skinny, and was wearing thick socks. He was pressed against a door bearing the name Gustafsson, his eyes dark, watchful. 
"Jesus," Annika said. "You scared me." 
"I'm not the son of God," the boy said. 
"What?" And the angels suddenly started singing. "Oh, just shut up!" she yelled. 
"Are you nuts?" the boy said. 
She gathered her thoughts and met his gaze. It was inquisitive, and slightly scared. The voices fell silent, the ceiling slid away, the walls stopped throbbing. 
"I just get a bit dizzy sometimes," she said. (65-6)

Annika's husband Thomas panics:
Guilt and regret hit him in the guts like the kick of a horse, the utterly fundamental paralysis that comes from unwelcome awareness. He couldn't breathe; his diaphragm contracted and made him collapse. 
Oh, good God, what had he done? 
What if she found out? What if she understood? What if she already knew? Had someone seen something? Had someone called? Maybe someone had tipped off the paper? 
He was breathing raggedly and with some difficulty, forcing himself to be sensible. (226)

When it began:
What was it like growing up north of the Arctic Circle in the fifties, in a family where the father was a religious leader in a strict and weird belief system?

Annika knew the Swiss psychoanalyst Alice Miller had found that a striking number of West German terrorists were the children of Protestant ministers. Miller saw a connection: the terrorist's violence was rebellion against a strict religious upbringing. The same could easily be true of Sweden and Laestadianism, the religious movement of Northern Sweden. (235-6)

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