18 October 2017

Lost and Found: Meat Loaf

Not exactly lost ... let's say revived. Last year a concert by slimmed-down drama master Meat Loaf himself.

This year, those rip-roaring rock n' roll songs from the 80s found again. Was it a good idea to make a stage musical from Bat Out Of Hell? Why not?? That was on composer Jim Steinman's mind before the bestselling album ever hit the airwaves.

A slim story indeed, inexplicably set in a dystopian future, but same old thrill, powered by exciting sets and exceptional singers perfect for the songs. Rock on, Meat and Steinman!!

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)

28 September 2017

FEC Nominations

Someone in Upper Levels said there must be elections for the Inmates Committee (IC). This is news to Mr OCD who has chaired the committee forever. Forever at least since the late, sometimes lamented Shelley died in office, so to speak. One minute she was taking the roll call Shelley did things like that — and the next minute she sagged back in her chair with her mouth open. For a while the members thought she was just taking a break to restore her grip on reality, but Ophelia noticed a little puddle under the chair and began screaming.

"911! 911! Call 911!!" Treasurer roared.
"Who's got a cell phone?"
"SHUT UP, Ophelia!"

"Omigod is she, like, dead? What happened?!"

George was awake by then and as the only owner of a cell phone at the time, fumbled the numbers in. Everyone except Ophelia held their breath as he struggled to speak, listening intently to George's one-sided responses.
"We think she died!" he yelled.
"Pulse? How ..." he hissed at the others to take her pulse.
"No pulse, please get here!"
"She's in a chair. How can we do CPR?!"
He growled aside, "Who knows CPR?"
Blank looks.
"No, the screaming is someone else. SHUT UP, Ophelia!"
"Dead as last week's pizza," was Treasurer's opinion.

And so it went until the paramedics arrived while George was still connected to the 911 voice. Now a bit of nostalgia affects the current members as they recall the professional attention lavished on poor Shelley no longer able to appreciate it. Didn't even have her makeup on, Ms Etoile recalls sadly.

Mr. OCD does not take his predecessor's fate as a bad omen. He wants to do this right — Upper Levels will be keeping an eye — and continue as chair. "What does our constitution say about election procedures?"
"We don't have a constitution," mutters Sheila who often acts as secretary.
"Well then, ..." the rumble from OCD's throat signals the start of an operatic hum, "let's have some procedures."
"I was on a society board once," Bella ventures, "and they had to have nominations first."
"Just so," beams Mr. OCD. "I nominate myself for chair. Gonzo, you want to be treasurer again?"
"I nominate Gonzo for treasurer," says Sheila.
"Done," says OCD, "you're it."

"Hold it, hold it," Luther interrupts. "It doesn't work that way. We can nominate ourselves but we have to ask the rest of the inmates residents too."
"Like putting up notices and having a big election meeting," volunteers George.
"So other inmates residents can try to unseat us?" OCD muses.
"Oh crap," says Gonzo. "What if Thomas the Bastard Dread wants to be treasurer? We're screwed."
"OMG, Sally might decide the IC needs her mystic psychobabble!"
"And who wants someone like Archie bellowing his drunken drivel at our meetings?!"

Potential adversarial prospects seem to delight, rather than faze OCD: "I gather we would all like to keep our positions. A little campaigning wouldn't hurt. But paperwork first, people. Procedures. Bella and Luana, you're on it. Let's get it sorted and wrapped."
"Everything we've done for FEC, we can't lose!" Ms. Etoile wails.
Ophelia is working up to a good cry.

"Calm. Calm," OCD says with a ferocious grin that nearly dislodges his denture. "A strategy meeting is then in order."
"Strategy," repeats George with an evil twinkle, "that's the thing. Discourage opposition."
A great hush falls on the assembly, conspiratorial eyes darting, campaign ideas churning.

OCD then warms up a spirited Verdi chorus for today's adjournment.

Another feckless day in the life ...

18 September 2017

Library Limelights 142

Graham Hurley. Western Approaches. UK: Orion Paperback, 2013.
Sadly, Hurley's series in Portsmouth ("Pompey") with Joe Faraday is over but here is a new beginning with young DI Jimmy Suttle in the Devon and Cornwall police. The Suttles have moved to live in a dismal, rundown cottage while Jimmy investigates an apparent suicide. Jake Kinsey was not a likeable man despite his financial contributions to the Exmouth Rowing Club and Jimmy suspects murder. Kinsey's plan to develop a nearby pristine beach had elicited mixed reaction. The members of Kinsey's "quad" (four-man sculling team) expound on the man's activities. Meanwhile Lizzie, Suttle's wife, joins the rowing club as an outlet for her anger with their living conditions; no-one knows she's the wife of a cop.

Jimmy is still getting used to his new bosses, Houghton and Nandy; how much leeway will they give him to pursue what looks like a cut-and-dried death? He uncovers more of Kinsey's unsavoury history but pressure is mounting on him, not only to find evidence for his theory, but also from Lizzie who is going off the rails. His marriage is floundering. Lizzie's deep frustration is understandable while Jimmy's character is not as well defined. As to be expected from Hurley, the natural surroundings play a part as do the physical benefits of rowing; the sea has been a major force on many lives. I for one plan to follow this engaging series.

For reasons she didn't begin to understand, she'd ended up in a prison cell of her own making. (20)
For all his talk of falling in love, something was holding him back. (232)

Witness impressions:
"From where I was sitting, the man was on another planet."
"Because of his wife?"
"You couldn't tell. Did he miss her? Yes, I think he did. Was that the end of the story? No way."
"There was other stuff?"
"There had to be. He wasn't difficult or uncooperative, don't get me wrong. He just didn't say a lot."
"Meaning he had something to hide?"
"Meaning there were limits, places you didn't go. I can't remember meeting anyone so private."
"Fuck-off private? Or private private?"
"Private private. We're not talking aggression. Far from it. I had the impression he'd be a good guy to have a drink with." (118)

The officer returned with the breathalyser. Suttle blew into the tube. The PC watched the figures on the readout climb and climb. His mate had joined him by now. Their backs were turned and Suttle caught a mumbled exchange before the officer was back in his face. The reading was just short of the figure that would haul him back to the nick for a blood test and a great deal of paperwork.
"Who's a lucky boy then?" He didn't bother to hide his disappointment. "Would you step this way, sir?" (216-7)

Lizzie's meltdown:
She parked across the road and switched the engine off. The light was on in the upstairs flat and the curtains were pulled back. She stared up at it for a long moment, trying to steady her pulse, trying to regain control of herself. She'd never snapped like that in her entire life, and the knowledge of where it might lead alarmed her deeply. She'd never been frightened of making decisions. On the contrary, especially at work, she'd won a reputation for being on top and ballsy in the trickiest situations. (237)

Chris Brookmyre. Flesh Wounds. UK: Abacus/Little, Brown, 2013.
Are all his books like this? ... intricate, enigmatic, constantly time-shifting? This one is a saga of the Glasgow underworld and the cops who catch (or are caught by) them, almost a historical review of power battles. Of course there are redeeming characters like DS Catherine McLeod and DI Beano Thompson, and like private investigator Jasmine Sharp who seeks the identity of her unknown father. The death of money-laundering businessman Stevie Fullarton in his own carwash sets off a chain of enquiries that leads back to old feuds and crimes.

Jasmine's mentor Glen Fallan drifts almost like a ghost behind the scenes; his role everywhere is a mystery in itself. McLeod has her own dark secret that may prevent her from exposing police corruption. Overwhelmed at first by the abundance of names and mysterious references to clustered relationships of the past, I felt like I was floundering through a thick fog for a while. And I did glaze over a bit on the inventive criminal money scams. Brookmyre does not stint on the Glaswegian vernacular. But on the whole, the story is actually brilliant; advanced armchair sleuths will find great satisfaction.

These guys worked hard to put layers of deniability between themselves and their activities. (115)
Something hung in the air between these two that was not precisely blame or accusation, but definitely a cousin of both. (237)
Doing the job was what kept the darkness from swallowing her for ever. (396)

Reading his rights:
"I am arresting you on suspicion of the murder of Stephen Fullarton. You do not have to say anything ..."
He watched the erstwhile roadblock part slowly as the two police cars reversed away from each other in order to let the custody van drive through. Glen's head swam as they picked him up and dragged him toward it.
You do not have to say anything.What was there to say? He was at their mercy now, and he wasn't expecting much of that.
There was only one way left for him to play this, a way he had learned a long and very dark time ago. He would not resist. He would let them have their way, let them dole out the damage until they themselves were tired from the blows. Then, once they were satisfied that he couldn't take any more, he would strike. (67)

The maze begins:
"I've got officers talking to Fullarton's people but I'm not expecting them to give us anything. I'm sure they'll all be baffled as to how anybody could possibly wish the slightest harm upon such a gentle spirit and widely respected pillar of the community."
"All the while making their own inquiries as to who might be behind the hit. That's assuming they don't know you've arrested Fallan, but even then, they'll be working on their conspiracy theories."
"Fallan did used to work for Tony McGill," she suggested.
"And so did Stevie Fullarton," Abercorn replied. "That's Glasgow bam politics for you: it can be labyrinthine in its complexity and yet staringly obvious at the same time. The farther back you go, the murkier it gets, and this particular love triangle goes all the way back to the late eighties." (78)

An unexpected witness:
Catherine had to remind herself that she was talking to a priest. It wasn't just that he was dressed in muddy football kit, but his language and even his metre jarred with all her previous experience. The others she had met tended to slip into this auto-piety register that seemed an attempt to imbue their mundane and frequently asinine contributions with some deeper meaning and authority.
"How did he die?"
"He went off a roof at Bailliehall prison."
McGhee arched his brow. Clearly there were layers to this. (249-50)

Catherine's burden:
She was with her husband and her boys, sitting in the kitchen, present but not quite connected. Was that how it was going to be now? Was that the price?
What really hurt ‒ what always hurt most about this ‒ was that she couldn't tell Drew what was wrong. He was the first one she went to when she needed to unload, to pour out her troubles and be shown they weren't so awful now that they weren't flapping around manically inside her skull like a bird trapped in an attic.
She had been missing him, even as he was sitting right beside her. It had been this way many times down the years, but tonight she had experienced a far more acute version of it, and found herself facing an entire future of feeling this way. (397)

Peter May. The Lewis Man. (large print) USA: Thorndike Press, 2012.
A splendid work from the master of Outer Hebrides crime novels: stand-alone, yet building on his The Blackhouse. Fin Macleod has left the Edinburgh police force to face unresolved personal issues on his native Isle of Lewis. His son Fionnlagh is at a critical stage with a new baby and a disapproving father-in-law. His former lover Marsaili contends with aging parents, especially her father in the grip of dementia. And a well-preserved "bog body" has turned up: a murdered young man whose identity is a mystery. Naturally Fin becomes involved in the search for clues that reaches back to an earlier generation and sterner social practices. We learn the bygone customary procedure for Catholic orphans in a Calvinist society.

Fin is on it before a detective can arrive from the mainland to take charge of the case; Fin's plan to rebuild his parents' old home is put on hold. It's hard to put down this book as pieces from the past surge from old memories and the surprise conclusion is right in keeping with an ageless tradition. Bill Lawson, well known genealogist of the Isle of Harris, makes a guest appearance. The dominant surroundings and the weather on those austere windswept islands are integral to the characters' personae. May's portrayal of dementia is extraordinary, unforgettable!

Someone had hung out washing at the manse, and white sheets flapped furiously in the wind like demented semaphore flags urging praise and fear of God in equal measures. (55)
All along the ragged coastline, the sea sucked and frothed and growled, tireless legions of riderless white horses crashing up against the stubborn stone of unyielding black cliffs. (138)

There is always a moment of internal silence after being in the presence of death. A reminder of your own fragile mortality. (156)

That old feeling:
She pushed herself, laden with weariness, away from the counter and sat heavily in her chair. Her face was strained by tension and fatigue, pale and pinched in the harsh electric light. But he saw in it still the little girl who had first drawn him to her all those years before. The little girl with the blonde pigtails who had sat next to him that first day at school and offered to translate for him, because for some reason inexplicable to the young Fin his parents had sent him to school speaking only Gaelic. He reached across the table and brushed the hair from her blue eyes, and for a moment she lifted a hand to touch his, a fleeting moment of recollection, of how it had once been long ago. She dropped her hand to the table again. (129)

Where the heart is:
Home? Was this really his home now, he wondered. This wind-ravaged corner of the earth where warring factions of an unforgiving Protestant religion dominated life. Where men and women struggled all their lives to make a living from the land, or the sea, turning in times of unemployment to the industries that came, and went again when subsidies ran out, leaving the rusting detritus of failure in their wake.
It seemed, if anything, more depressed than it had in his youth, entering again a period of decline after a brief renaissance fuelled by politicians courting votes by the spending of millions on a dying language.
But if here wasn't home, where was? Where else on God's earth did he feel such an affinity with the land, the elements, the people? (207)

Distracted driving:
" ... Most of the men were fishermen in those days, at sea five days a week, and the Eriskay jerseys knitted with that oiled wool were as good as waterproofs. They all wore them."
She swerved at the foot of the drive as she took a draw on her cigarette, and missed the fencepost by inches.
"Each of the women had their own pattern, you know. Usually handed down from mother to daughter. So distinctive that when a man's body was pulled from the sea, decayed beyond recognition, he could almost always be identified from the knitted pattern of his pullover. As good as a fingerprint, it was."
She waved at the old man and his dog to whom Fin had spoken earlier, and the Mercedes nearly went into a ditch. (366-7)

08 September 2017

Library Limelights 141

Linwood Barclay. A Tap on the Window. Toronto: Seal Books/Doubleday Canada, 2013.
Reliable, trusty Barclay for trademark twists and thrills in the fictional town of Griffon in western New York. Here's another mystery dealing with child loss as two teenage girls go missing. Private detective Cal Weaver is innocently sucked into emotional and political infighting as the search goes on for the mayor's daughter Claire. Weaver's own son Scott died recently in a drug-fuelled accident; Cal and wife Donna struggle to accept it and reconcile their feelings. Cal's brother-in-law Augustus Perry is the chief of police, at loggerheads with the mayor. In fact the police are highly unpopular among the town teens whose favourite pastime seems to be driving around, or driving around seeking illicit booze.

Barclay is always a pleasure to read, dialogue rich; it's easy to enter his world of ordinary protagonist caught in extraordinary events. I found it rather inactive at first, unusual for Barclay, while Cal slogs from one parental interview to another. But the discovery of a murdered body galvanizes as-yet unseen forces. Are the cops playing straightforward or not? Dropped into the action are inserts of a strange scenario taking place behind some locked doors in Griffon―making you guess about the relevance.

She hadn't reached total inebriation, although I had a sense it was her destination. (68)
"We're teenagers, so we must be guilty of something, right?" (396)

Combative mayor:
Sanders nodded smugly, like he was no fool. "I know he's your brother-in-law." 
"What of it?" 
"Didn't think I knew, did you? Figured you might get that one past me." 
"I don't give a damn whether you know or not," I said. "He's my wife's brother. What's that got to do with anything?" 
"You think I'm stupid?" he asked. "You think I can't figure out what's going on here? Perry doesn't like losing leverage, does he? Doesn't like it that he's got one less person to intimidate. You can tell him I know what he's doing. You can tell him it's not working. I don't care how many cruisers he's got watching me, or how many people he thinks he can turn against me. Because that's what he's doing, you know. He's making this an 'us against them' kind of town, using fear to turn people to his side. If you're not with the great Augustus Perry, you're on the side of the criminals. Well, it's not gonna work. I'm not backing down. He doesn't run this town. He may think he does, but he doesn't." (118)

Glum teen:
"If anything, Claire's dad cares too much. That can be kind of hard to live with, too." 
"Do your parents care too much?" I said. 
"Sometimes I wish they cared a little less. My dad's on my ass all the time, and he's pissed about Hanna being over and all, but her parents, they don't care that much about what she does. She's lucky that way." 
Was that what defined luck for these kids? Parents who didn't give a shit? I seemed to recall Hanna's parents being worried about something. A business Hanna was involved in with her boyfriend that could end up biting her on the ass. 
"You and Hanna got something going on the side," I said, not asking a question. "To make some money." 
His head jerked. I'd hit a nerve. "What?" 
"What is it?" I thought immediately of Scott. "You guys selling something? You selling drugs?" (142-3)

Domestic aftermath:
Donna said, "I'll get breakfast going." 
A few minutes later, in the kitchen, things felt slightly different. Not unlike the feeling after a tornado whips through. You've been through this horrendous storm, wondering whether the roof will fly off, the walls will come crashing in, the car will get flipped over on its roof.But then the storm's roar fades away and you think it's safe to venture outside. The sun is coming out. You've lost a few trees, the power's out, half the shingles on the roof have been blown off.But you're still standing. 
We brushed against each other as we went about our morning routine without the recent awkwardness. I placed a gentle hand on her hip in a way I hadn't in some time. She made enough coffee for two. (229)

Susie Steiner. Persons Unknown. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2017.
Steiner's style is different, her plots extraordinary, her characters addictive. DI Manon Bradshaw is not a predictable cop and not the most sympathetic person at first meeting. But counterpointed by her lovable colleague Davy, she grows on you as a murder story explodes all over her private life. Manon is now living in Huntingdon again with adopted son Fly; her sister Ellie shares the house. Ellie's high-flying financier ex-husband is the victim, throwing the police into a tizzy. Mainly because Fly appears to be the killer. The side story of Birdie and Saskia is going to merge; we know it, but the cops don't.

Some Latvian thugs seem to be involved (to my amusement), although evidence is scant as the police puzzle over scenarios. At least the ubiquitous British CCTV cameras enable reconstruction of parts of the crime scene. Events are told alternately by a pregnant Manon, Davy, and Birdie—the first two still dreaming of stable partners for a relationship. Life can be a struggle for all of them, finding their own support and humour in different ways. This is dense, substantial, credible fiction ... strongly suggest you begin with Steiner's first: Missing, Presumed.

Word: tesselate - to fit together tightly, as in tile floors

He wishes his face was more Jack Reacher, less Charlie Brown. (37)
Is Davy looking in on him through the square window in the door, then slamming it shut? (132)
Our only job is to protect children from the shoddiness of adults and I've already failed. (138)

Dual reality:
[Manon] "They don't afford a black boy the same presumption of innocence or the same need for protection as they do white boys." 
She knows this from experience rather than from any study and she feels it sadly, rather than as a lefty crusade, as he seems to. She cannot change this difficulty for Fly, the way the world mistakes him time and again. How fraught with peril life will be for him. All she wants is for him to survive despite it and prosper. She'd had to have "the conversation" with him, back in London, when he was repeatedly being stopped and searched: her sermon on how to behave with the police. Don't get their backs up, don't be impolite, don't question their authority. And she'd thought, as she said it, that what she was really saying was, "You cannot be fully yourself in this situation. You must reduce yourself, because the justice system that protects me is a risk to you." (193-4)

The cop shop:
[Birdie] I went to my local nick, couldn't think what else to do.Reception was the colour of sick. Yellow floor, yellow walls. The desk was being a sliding window, it's thick frame painted blur gloss. An empty chair on the other side of the glass. I pressed on the intercom. Eventually, someone said, "Yes?" like I'd interrupted their favourite TV show. 
"I need to talk to a police officer." 
"Have you called the main switchboard telephone number? It's there, on the wall." 
"Why would I do that when I'm here, in person?" 
"What's it about?" 
Well, how do you answer that in a nutshell? A murder. A prostitution racket. The City and all its money. The death of a child. A cover-up. 
"Well, it's a bit complicated," I said. (241-2)

[Davy] Davy is surprised to feel sorry for DerryDerry who strides about HQ like some grim-reaper colossus; busy, busy, busy. Derry who depends on minions falling on his expertise. Derry who wears bow ties as if he were a private school headmaster. At this moment, he looks frightened and old. 
"It seems I may have been wrong. I would like to show this to colleagues," he says to Mark. 
"Of course," Mark says. 
Davy steps out of the way and avoids Derry's eye on the way out, not wishing to add to his humiliation. It is very hard to climb down. The shame and then, waiting in a dank pool at the bottom, guilt. (314)

Denise Mina. The Long Drop. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2017.
You've gotta have some Scots blood to appreciate Mina in her true grit element―she is right down to business in her bailiwick, the shady underside of Glasgow. Based on the 1950s true story of Peter Manuel, one of the last men hanged in Scotland, the novel is a character study more than anything. Mina fictionally explores a relationship between Manuel and William Watts, who lost three members of his family to the killer. Because the mind of the killer―in the author's rendition―is so vacillating, the convolutions in chronology and in the trial itself are not an easy read.

Manuel's self-identity as a story-teller leads his audience and the reader to other possible scenarios. His mental stability was never really considered at trial. As only Mina can do, the pages bristle with lives lived―not well, but scrabbling against poverty and/or consumed with small ambitions. Personal foibles leaven a night of bar-hopping; the history of the relevant guns is a showpiece of cunning. The decaying (now-destroyed) old tenements of the poor and the ubiquitous hole-in-the-wall bars are testament to Glesga's once-reputation for endemic alcoholism. A thorny, thoughtful read from a brilliant writer.

This is when Manuel loves Glasgow, when it's defenceless and the people are still.
Talking to Cameron is like talking to a wall with eyebrows. (195)
"My knees are broken with praying for you." (224)

Watt sees himself as the coming man. He's a businessman, not a tradesman, his path will be through the Merchants House, but still, as he locks his car door, his eyes linger on the warm windows of their sister association, the Trades Hall. He thinks he will soon take his place in that line of dynamic men who made the world cleave to their will. This they did by having the mettle to do things others would find distasteful. They gain mastery by enslaving weaker men, by profiteering, doing that which must be done, by meeting Peter Manuel. It is a timely reminder of what he is doing this for. The lights warm the back of his fat neck as he crosses the road away from it. (69)

Truth blinkered:
Everyone is lying. 
Day five of the trial is a whistle-stop tour of Glasgow's underbelly. There are two handguns on the productions table in the middle of the court: the Webley used to kill the Watts and the Beretta used to murder the Smart family. Sworn witnesses tell the court that these guns have tumbled from hand to hand, unbidden. They have dropped themselves into paper bags, hidden themselves away on the top shelves in cupboards. No one ever buys them, no one ever sells them, though, it is admitted, unrelated fivers have passed from hand to hand, always in the opposite direction from the guns, during approximately the same time frame. Buying guns is illegal and has a steep sentencing tariff. This deception is understandable. (115)

A time of clubs:
Both Watt and Manuel have been to the club before. That's not surprising. Every man of interest in Glasgow has been in the Gordon Club at one time or another. This is a time of clubs. Men with common interests meet in closed rooms and make deals, lend money, decide outcomes before formal negotiations are even timetabled. Still, though, the Gordon is special. It is a social portal through which the bottom and the top can meet and drink and talk, in the absence of women and church and moralising judgement. 
The Gordon Club is a thrumming valve in Glasgow's mercantile heart. But mostly it isn't about deals. Mostly it is about bonhomie and men acknowledging their common interests across the chasm of class distinction. But it's no place for the faint-heated, it takes audacity to be part of this. It hazards disgrace. (126-7)

30 August 2017

Library Limelights 140

Jean Pendziwol. The Lightkeeper's Daughters. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2017.
Wow, just wow. Look for it! Not only is it a literate novel about growing up on Lake Superior, it's a mystery, or series of mysteries, unveiled piece by piece. I firmly relate to the first, and have some experience with the second, but it will bamboozle the most compulsive reader. Elizabeth and Emily Livingstone grow up on Porphyry Island between the headlands of Thunder Bay and Black Bay where their father mans the lighthouse. It's mainly a carefree, if solitary, existence in the 1930s. Elizabeth finds herself the natural caretaker for her mute sister. They live every inch of the land with its dramatic seasons and wildlife. Sometimes others come to visit or stay and the family makes occasional trips to Port Arthur for supplies. Several surprising events coalesce just as brother Charlie returns from wartime service.

An elderly Elizabeth is relating the story by means of her father's old log books. Profanity-inclined Morgan is the rapt young listener; orphaned very young, her grandfather was the only family she knew. Elizabeth had once known Morgan's beloved grandfather but admits her memory has gaps. Morgan begins to piece together missing bits on her own. How did the Livingstones' tenure on the island end in tragedy? Why did Charlie die in his sailboat on the lake? Where did the toy engraved "Anna" come from? Did Emily ever learn to speak? Together the two women find a deep companionship. Structurally perfect, it's a tale to lose yourself in.

Once someone was in her icy clutch, Superior was not inclined to let go. (162)
War and death can silence the strongest of men. (174)
He had known, for a long time, he had known. (201)

Two-liner: "You're a goddamn Indian witch," he said, his voice hoarse, almost a whisper. ""I'll get you for this." (157)

And sometimes, when the wind crept through the cracks in the walls and drove icy snow against the windows, he drank whiskey out of an old chipped mug and talked about my mother. "She loved you, Morgan," he told me, his accent getting thicker the more he drank. "In some ways she reminded me of your grandmother. She was like the wind. Unpredictable. Free. Never knew what to expect from her. You can't tie down the wind, Morgan. It dances where it pleases." And then he'd take a big swallow, and tell me that my mother had fought. She fought so hard, but she wasn't strong enough, and the wind had carried her away. I was only a baby when she died. 
I don't remember her, and I didn't miss her. Not then. He was enough. (33-4)

Winter visitors:
When I raised my head, I was close enough to see the yellow eyes of a large male as he glanced in my direction before returning his focus to my sister., circling as a unit with the others in the pack. Emily turned slightly and crouched down, catching those piercing yellow eyes with her striking gray ones, fearless in her round, pale face. I lay still in the snow, my bare hands prickling from the cold, not daring to move. The wolf stopped. Their eyes locked. The other wolves stopped too. I could hear them whining, see them pacing in tight patterns while they waited on the alpha. Minutes passed before Emily moved again, and then she simply stood, turned and walked past the brute toward me. (127)

November terror:
She broke through the fog less than thirty yards away, a specter, rearing like the cliffs of the Sleeping Giant, massive and gray, bearing blindly toward our little wooden boat. We were a tiny cork bobbing on the blanketed surface, far beneath her decks, invisible, and right in her path. 
"David!" I screamed. 
David was in the stern already, straining with the outboard. He yanked; it sputtered and failed once, twice, before roaring to life. I cowered in the bottom of little Sweet Pea. The steel hull of the freighter towered over us, and as David turned out of her path, I could hear the tapping of the water as it parted for her prow. (199)

Alice Sebold. The Lovely Bones. USA: Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company, 2002.
How can the effect of a young teenager's violent death be warmly expansive into her family and circle of friends? Sebold shows us how in this very inventive novel. Suzie Salmon died at the age of fourteen and went to her version of heaven where she can watch the earthly figures she left behind. Gifted sister Lindsey, her parents, boyfriend Ray, her perverted killer, the extra-sensory Ruth ... all these and more are explored as they deal with mourning. They will never have a body or Suzie's bones for closure.

Suzie's memories are sweetly funny as only fumbling teenage life can be; her observations from a distance gradually reflect a spiritual growth. Her father instinctively knows who committed the murder but there's no proof. Mother Abigail goes off the rails with the investigating detective; Lindsey stays strong and true to herself; Grandma Lynn is an unforgettable character. A few of them have the ability to sense Suzie's presence although she cannot interfere with them. Heaven and dead spirits are all too believable; wouldn't we all prefer such a hereafter? The book was such a bestseller, it doesn't seem like it was fifteen years ago.

There wasn't a lot of bullshit in my heaven. (8)
The guilt on him, the hand of God pressing down on him, saying, You were not there when your daughter needed you. (58)
Had my brother really seen me somehow, or was he merely a little boy telling beautiful lies? (95)

Two-liner: If he died, I would have him forever. Was this so wrong to want? (258)

Grandma rules:
"Okay, clear off the table and get your mother over here. I'm doing a makeover." 
"Mother, that's crazy. I have all these dishes to do." 
"Abigail," my father said. 
"Oh no. She may get you to drink, but she's not getting those instruments of torture near me." 
"I'm not drunk," he said. 
"You're smiling," my mother said. 
"So sue him," Grandma Lynn said. "Buckley, grab your mother's hand and drag her over here." My brother obliged. It was fun to see his mother be bossed and prodded. (101)

Camp for Gifteds:
"What's the fish for?" Ruth asked, nodding her head toward my sister's nametag. "Are you religious?" 
"Notice the direction of the fish," Lindsey said, wishing simultaneously that they had vanilla puddings at breakfast. They would go great with her pancakes. 
"Ruth Connors, poet," Ruth said, by way of introduction. 
"Lindsey," Lindsey said. 
"Salmon, right?" 
"Please don't," Lindsey said, and for a second Ruth could feel the feeling a little more vividly ―what it was like to claim me. How people looked at Lindsey and imagined a girl covered in blood. (116)

A neighbour ruminates:
While Ruana's hands grew wet and swollen paring apple after apple, she began to say the word in her mind, the one she had avoided for years: divorce. It had been something about the crumpled, clinging postures of her son and Ruth that finally freed her. She could not remember the last time she had gone to bed at the same time as her husband. He walked in the room like a ghost and like a ghost slipped in between the sheets, barely creasing them. He was not unkind in the ways that the television and newspapers were full of. His cruelty was in his absence. Even when he came and sat at her dinner table and ate her food, he was not there. (314)

Jane Harper. The Dry. USA: Thorndike Press (large print), 2016.
From the reading list of Belgian Waffle, my fave blogger, I entered the dry, dry, dry land of southeast Australia farming country. Aaron Falk, federal financial cop from Melbourne, returns to Kiewarra, the home of his youth. His old friend Luke Hadler has been cruelly murdered along with his wife Karen and young son. Falk has no friends there. It's widely believed he was implicated in the drowning death of Ellie Deacon twenty years before; only old friends Gretchen and Luke's parents have time for him. Reluctantly he agrees to join the investigation of the family murders, establishing a working relationship with local Sgt. Raco.

The town is tight with anxiety and tension due to the effects of the prolonged drought, and the violence against the Hadler family brings it to boiling point. Motivation seems non-existent but gossip is rife. Some suspicions are directed toward Mal Deacon who stores a grudge against Falk. Overt threats force Falk to watch his back. In this debut novel, Harper blends the current mystery well with flashbacks to the teenage days of Aaron, Luke, Gretchen, and Ellie.

One-liner: The signs of a community in poverty were everywhere. (128)

"I blame age and hormones. We were all stupid back then." (187)
"This is a pub. This is not a democracy." (261)

Deacon's nephew Grant had moved into their farmhouse to lend a hand. Ellie's mother left two days after that. One man to resent was plenty enough for anyone. 
Throwing two old suitcases and a clinking bag of bottles into an old car, she had tried halfheartedly to stem her daughter's tears with weightless vows that she would be back soon. Falk wasn't sure how many years it had been until Ellie had stopped believing it. He wondered if part of her might have believed it until the day she died. (103)

He reached the riverbank, breathing fast, and pulled up short at the edge. There was no need. 
The huge river was nothing more than a dusty scar in the land. The empty bed stretched long and barren in either direction, its serpentine curves tracing the path where the water had flowed. The hollow that had been carved over centuries was now a cracked patchwork of rocks and crabgrass. Along the banks, gnarled gray tree roots were exposed like cobwebs. 
It was appalling. (155)

A supporter:
Earlier in the parking lot, Gretchen had given him a hug. 
"Bunch of absolute dickheads," she'd whispered in his ear. "But watch yourself anyway." She'd scooped up Lachie and left. Whitlam had ferried Falk toward the pub, waving away his protests. 
"They're like sharks in here, mate," Whitlam had said. "They'll pounce at the first sign of blood. Your best move is to sit in there with me and have a cold beer. As is our God-given right as men born under the Southern Cross." (262)