13 March 2018

Library Limelights 155

Melanie Raabe. The Trap. Canada: House of Anansi Press, 2016.
This German writer sets her debut book in Munich. Housebound for eleven years but a highly successful novelist, Linda Conrads sees a journalist on television and recognizes him as the man who murdered her sister Anna. And also indirectly caused her own isolation. Until now, she knew only his face; the police never solved the case. Did the police even believe that she witnessed the killer? Linda pens a new book, a murder mystery out of character for her, thinly disguising the real events of Anna's death in an elaborate effort to trap this Victor Lenzen. Her alter-ego is Sophie, whose sister dies. Linda's mantra is the way out of fear leads through fear.

Pages from Linda's book alternate with reality around her. The clever device sucks us in until we wonder which version is the reality. In other words, not everything is as it seems ... the hallmark of a good suspense writer. Linda is mentally fragile in some ways; she has guilt that she couldn't prevent Anna's death. Her retreat from the outside world becomes clearer as she struggles with depression and panic attacks. Clues to the truth are scattered here and there, but so are false clues. Confrontation with Lenzen is inevitable. Page-turner, yes!

"In real life, a woman like that would be unbearable." (131)
I am overcome by the fear of being stark raving mad. (182)
It's his truthhis skewed, distorted, cobbled-together, self-righteous truth. (263)

"A book must be an axe for the frozen sea within us," he says in an almost accusatory tone.
"Kafka," I say. (45)

A friend:
"The book is an axe, Norbert."
He looks at me, suspicious, then shrugs his shoulders. With a single look I try to say all the things I can't put into words. I scream: I'm terribly frightened, I don't want to die, I need someone to talk to, I'll drop down dead if he leaves now, I feel like the loneliest person on the planet.
My publisher says goodbye with a smack on each cheek. I watch him disappear into the night. I don't want him to go. I want to tell him everythingabout the earthquake, about Anna. I want to tell him my plans. He's my last chancethe safety of the shore, my anchor. I open my mouth to call out to him, but I can no longer see him. It's too late; he's disappeared, cast off.I'm on my own. (46)

I work out hard. I enjoy the pain during the last round of weight-liftingthat burning, screeching feeling that tells me that I am still alive, after all. My body remembers different things from my brain: walks in the woods and aching calves; nights of dancing and sore feet; jumping in a pool on a hot day and the way your heart seizes up before it decides to carry on beating. My body reminds me what pain feels like. And it reminds me what love feels likedark and crimson and confusing. I realise what a long time it is since I last touched anyone, or since anyone touched me. (65-6)

Truth mission:
I have to find out what happened on that goddamn night, and I have to hear it from his own mouth. The thought of Kerner and his DNA samples reassures me. He is my safety net. I'm going to get Lenzen. One way or another. (76)

I feel his fearthe fear he feels for himself, but more than anything else the fear he feels for his daughter. It's written all over his face.That face. I notice again that he has a sprinkling of freckles. I can imagine what he must have looked like as a little boybefore life, before the wrinkles. Interesting wrinkles. I catch myself thinking that I'd like to touch his face, just to know what it feels like. I remember my beautiful grandma and her lovely lined face. Lenzen's face would feel different beneath my fingersfirmer.I brush the thought aside. What am I doing? I'm like a child at the zoo who wants to stroke the tiger even though she's quite old enough to know that it would tear her limb from limb.Get a grip on yourself, Linda.I mustn't let myself get carried away by my pity. (154-5)

Linwood Barclay. Parting Shot. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2017.
So reliable, this author, and always full of surprises! Stand-alone, but with repeat characters P.I. Cal Weaver (first person narrator) and Promise Falls policeman Barry Duckworth (third person perspective) wherein two separate problems challenge them unbeknownst to each other. Weaver is hired to protect a spoiled teenager from threats of revenge after a highly-publicized car accident; anonymity for young Jeremy seems impossible in a world where cyber-bullying is endemic. Brian, victim of the oddest crime, innocently activates a string of murders. Duckworth more than has his hands full with that while Weaver contends with Jeremy's materialistic mother Gloria and her entourage, which turns into something much more dangerous.

Duckworth encounters elder abuse; tattoo artists; fathers and sons; the horrendously scarred victim of an unknown sadist. He's dismayed to find his own son Trevor as a potential witness of a killer. One father manages to commit a vigilante act without crossing anyone's radar. Weaver is beset with doubts about Jeremy's recent past. We expect the two detectives (who are acquaintances) to find a connection between their mushrooming problems and meet, but it comes late. It's such a pleasure to sink into Barclay's world of Promise Falls, NY, and match wits with a master story-teller. Admittedly, I love the dialogue-driven characters. Always recommended!

It was like a cancer, all this social media shaming. (195)
You'd think, a town the size of Promise Falls, one forensics team would be enough. (274)

"I'm not a bodyguard, Jeremy. I'm a detective." (326)

Teen lecture:
"You looked scared to me."
"Yeah, right. I'm fucking shaking in my boots."
"Fine," I said. Look, I know the whole world's been calling you a big baby and you want to show them you're not. I get that. But the fact is, a little bit of fear is a good thing. It makes you smarter. It makes you pay attention. Now, all I'm hired to do is have a look at your level of security, and right now I'd say it's zero. A good portion of the blame goes to you and your mother for being too free with what you say online. You might as well have put a billboard on your grandmother's front lawn advertising your arrival. Part of you wants to bust out and party, but part of you knows you may actually be in danger. That's what I saw when I looked at you on the porch."
Jeremy didn't say anything for several seconds. "Maybe. But only a little." (90)

"The two of you work together a lot?" I asked.
"We've done a few deals," Broadhurst said, smiling. He had a hand on Bob's shoulder. "Just doing what I can to make Bob here a rich man. Isn't that right, Bob?"
Bob offered up a smile as genuine as a spray-on tan. He said, "Last year Galen bought several blocks in downtown Albany. It's part of a proposal for some new state government offices."
"Well," I said. "I'm sure it's all over my head."
"I would imagine so," Broadhurst said. He reached out a hand to Bob for a farewell shake, but did not bother with me.
He got in behind the wheel of the Porsche, fired it up, then eased it into first and pulled away from the curb. We listened to the car work its way through the gears until it reached the end of the street, turned, and disappeared.
Bob said, "He's kind of an asshole."
"Thanks for telling me," I said. (121)

Teen angst:
He stopped to dig a tissue from his pocket and dab the tears that continued to puddle from his eyes.
All he'd ever wanted was to be somebody.
No, not just somebody. He wanted to be somebody better. Somebody better than his brother and his sister. Somebody better than his judgmental father. Somebody who made a difference, somebody who would be talked about for years to come.
He'd come so close to that.
He felt an aching sadness wash over him. What he wished right now, was that he was home. That he was curled up on the couch in the basement under a blanket, knees pulled up to his chest, in front of the TV. (395)

Val McDermid. Out of Bounds. UK: Little, Brown, 2016.

The natural nosiness of DCI Karen Pirie of Scotland's Historic Cases Unit is way out of bounds when she refuses to accept a current case as a suicide. It's typical of the stubborn and successful cop smoothly defying her nemesis boss ACC Simon Lees. The gunshot death of inoffensive Gabriel Abbott leads back to the intriguing death of his mother twenty years earlier, a case that does fall within her purview. Pirie is convinced that the bombing of a small plane had more to do with personal motives than a terrorist attack, but collecting the circumstantial evidence is a long, hard slog. Then a deadly car accident produces a connection to another cold case. Karen tolerates the clumsy ways of her assistant Jason.

The evidence in both cases is very much about family trees and DNA. Karen's female colleagues feature well in assisting her, not only with forensic advice but also moral support in her struggle to get past the death of her beloved partner Phil. There's a nice little sidebar about Syrian immigrants. As to be expected from McDermid, women are the most interesting characters and their usage of Scots idioms is fun. But the author's contention that the "system of [Scottish] parish records" is so superior to England's should have clarified that she very likely meant online access at Scotland's People. In one case, a last ditch witness statement appears out of the blue, a little too convenient for cinching Karen's theory.

"I want the right answer, not the easy one." (163)
"She gave me enough straw to start making bricks." (256)
"A transplanted organ retains its donor's DNA." (353)
But she never ceased to be amazed at the lengths apparently respectable people would go to in order to keep the aspidistra flying. (374)

"What am I? Google Buddy?" (159)
Clearly the Swinging Sixties had passed her by. But then, in parts of Scotland the sixties hadn't started until 1979. (277)

Connections begin:
" ... And I'm presuming you got the lab to run DNA?"
"Well, it's routine now." Sergeant Torrance didn't sound like a man who thought that was a good use of Police Scotland's budget.
"I'm guessing that's why you're calling me?"
"Aye. We got a hit on the DNA database. I don't pretend to understand these things, but it wasn't a direct hit. Well, it couldn't have been, because it ties in with a twenty-year-old murder and this lad's only seventeen." The rustle of paper. "Apparently it's what they call a familial hit. Whoever left his semen all over a rape murder victim in Glasgow twenty years ago was a close male relative of a wee Dundee gobshite called Ross Garvie." (21)

Accusations dance:
"So because we've got a leak that you clearly know about but have done nothing to plug, the department's going to be stuck with a massive legal bill?" The burn of self-righteous anger was a feeling Lees had always enjoyed.
Karen rolled her eyes. "It's pretty obvious there's a leak. I know it's not coming from me and I'd stake my pension that DC Murray isn't sneaking round talking to journalists behind my back. So it must be coming from admin or the forensics division out at Gartcosh. Neither of which is my responsibility."
"Be that as it may, you should have reported your suspicions to me." Lees glared at her. It wasn't often he got Karen Pirie on the back foot and he was happy to make the most of it. (73)

Her only weakness:
In the grip of strong emotion, Karen struggled to express what she needed to say. "We don't talk about Phil to outsiders. It's nothing to do with them." She wanted to howl at him that Phil was hers and nobody else's, but she knew that would make her sound deranged so she held back. "We don't talk about him to strangers," she said instead, forcing her voice level.
Jason's face was wounded. "We don't talk about him to each other," he said, his voice cracking. "You won't talk about him to me and I don't have anybody else to talk to about him. It was just the three of us on the old team and you won't share. It's really hard, boss." His lower lip trembled.
She didn't want to hear this. He was right, she wouldn't share. She shouldn't have to. Phil had been hers, the only one who had ever been hers. (92)

Jason's room-mates:
"See, if you saw inside their bedrooms, you'd think we had a visit from extreme burglars. Totally shan. My mum would give me a skelp if I left my room like that." (95)

28 February 2018

Library Limelights 154

Ian McEwan. Nutshell. Toronto: Vintage Canada Edition, 2017.
What a coup ... not exactly unexpected from an acknowledged literary icon. Murder and suspense, all viewed by an unborn child in utero. A child with remarkable insight to his (a boy, for sure) immediate surroundings that include mom Trudy, dad John Cairncross, and uncle Claude Cairncross. As well, his speculation about the world awaiting him swings from the caustic to eager anticipation. Yes, the story is baby-narrated, from conception of a devious plan to the natural end, which is another beginning. John the poet has aquiesced to Trudy's demand that he move out of their marital house and live elsewhere. Claude the opportunist moved in. The house is a decaying dump of a once proud family mansion. Elodie the girlfriend complicates the fallout.

Cleverly wrought satire the likes of which mystery fans will seldom see. Conspirators collude while baby hears and is affected by whatever his mother experiences. Including all the white wine she can swallow and her questionable general nutrition. An intellectual delight, the author ever liberal with lovely words: not sure one could confidently throw any of them into everyday speech.

sclerotic "rigid and unresponsive," unadapting
aubade dawn serenade; music or poetry suitable to early morning
purulent pustulous
palimpsest altered written material showing traces of original writing
exequy funeral rites

Pessimism is too easy, even delicious, the badge and plume of intellectuals everywhere. (26)
Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves, Confucius said. (134)
Sarcasm ill suits the unborn. (146)
I'm on a slope, which suggests my mother is sitting up in bed propped by pillows. (158)

I kick my mother awake but she won't disturb her lover. Instead she clamps a podcast lecture to her ears and submits to the wonders of the Internet. She listens at random. I've heard it all. Maggot farming in Utah. Hiking across The Burren. Hitler's last-chance offensive in the Ardennes. Sexual etiquette among the Yanomami. How Poggio Bracciolini rescued Lucretia from oblivion. The physics of tennis. 
I stay awake, I listen, I learn. Early this morning, less than an hour before dawn, there was heavier matter than usual. Through my mother's bones I encountered a bad dream in the guise of a formal lecture. The state of the world. An expert in international relations, a reasonable woman with a rich deep voice, advised me that the world was not well. She considered two common states of mind: self-pity and aggression. Each one a poor choice for individuals. In combination, for groups or nations, a noxious brew that lately intoxicated the Russians in Ukraine, as it once had their friends, the Serbs in their part of the world. We were belittled, now we will prove ourselves. (23-4)

A wine-y afternoon:
"Are you still at home?" 
I can't hear him for her crunching. 
"Well," she says, after listening. "Bring it here. We need to talk." 
From the gentle way she sets down the phone I assume he's on his way. Bad enough. But I'm having my very first headache, right around the forehead, a gaudy bandanna, a carefree pain dancing to her pulse. If she'd share it with me, she might reach for an analgesic. By rights, the pain is hers. But she's braving the fridge again and has found high in the door, on a Perspex shelf, a nine-inch wedge of historic parmesan as old as evil, as hard as adamantine. If she can break into it with her teeth, we'll suffer together, after the nuts, a second incoming salt tide rolling through the estuary inlets, thickening our blood to brackish ooze. Water, she should drink more water. (44-5)

Place in space:
Certain artists in print or paint flourish, like babies-to-be, in confined spaces. Their narrow subjects may confound or disappoint some. ... 
To be bound in a nutshell, to see the world in two inches of ivory, in a grain of sand. Why not, when all of literature, all of art, all of human endeavour, is just a speck in the universe of possible things. And even this universe may be a speck in a multitude of actual and possible universes. (61-2)

Robert Charles. Ancient Sins. UK: F.A. Thorpe (Publishing), 2007.
A "filler" while waiting for TPL back orders, poor choice, waste of (my) time; it's not always apparent in the first few pages. Policewoman Judy Kane gets a case to prove her detective skills when an old skeleton is found in a ploughed field. Her cohorts are busy planning a simultaneous raid on three gypsy camps suspected of harbouring smash-and-grab thieves. The local pub and church offer old wartime gossip to egg Judy on; the dead man could be one of three candidates. My hackles rose at the first mention of and constant reference to the Red Indian (always capitalized) ... supposedly a Navajo in the US Air Force. The stereotype includes high cheekbones. My policy is to see a book through, even if cringing.

That's not the only unfortunate or misleading element. Plus, Judy works in a cop shop where she is totally respected and well liked; no sexual harassment from her warm-hearted colleagues. Life with her husband Ben despite a road accident early on is nothing but roses. A bar in Spain in their retirement future. How trite can it get? It's as if a cosy author tried to stretch, unsuccessfully, to a higher level of craft. Or a former Harlequin writer reaching for a new genre. The language is often that stilted or restrained Brit-speak such as "Madam Smarty Knickers" shouted improbably by a furious, potential killer to his victim. Another example is "There was an old local saying that even the dirtiest dog didn't mess on its own doorstep." Can't help comparing that with Olympia Dukakis' (1987) line in Moonstruck: "Ya don't shit where ya eat." You can see where I'm at. These things overcome any attempts at suspense or excitement.

She had soon discovered that off duty she preferred firemen to policemen. (31-2)
"The Red Indian," Judy said at last. "Do you know his name?" (147)
"I know I look all bedraggled like something the cat dragged in, so I'm not at my glamorous best." (270)
"God help us, boy, a policewoman ain't no rabbit." (331)

They all say it:
"Anyway, we were all drinking. When Alice and Joe came in Archie saw red " She giggled. 
"Literally red, you might say, Red Indian, see. Archie wanted to fight Joe there and then. He swore he was going to kill him." (199)
From one idyllic life to another:
"Yes, I know I'll walk again, it's only a matter of time, but I don't think I'll ever be quite the man I was, not A1 fit for an active career. I'll have my pension, if our lawyers can keep it safe from the Peacheys' lawyers, and we've paid off a fair bit of our mortgage. We could invest in that little bar in Spain right now, and have the rest of our lives to enjoy it." (295)

Mick Herron. Spook Street. USA: Soho Press, 2017.
Lunacy reigns in Slough House, the dumping ground for misfit spies in HM's Secret Service. Jackson Lamb in charge, more absent than not. Moira, his new PA, is appalled at this chaotic bunch: Marcus the addicted gambler; Sandra taking Anger Fucking Management courses; air pianist JK Coe; River Cartwright grandson of a legendary spymaster; Louisa the fearless enigma; and dandified Richard Ho, butt of sarcasm from all. "Slow horses" these clapped-out spies are called. While London recovers from a suicide bombing, an incident in the bathroom of the growingly-demented grandfather David Cartwright sets off a wild chain of events that amount to a cracker of a thriller. River immediately creates his own mission to backtrack ("walking back the cat") a killer. Identities are one issue.

Meanwhile, internal security ("the Dogs") uncover a cold body protocol and the head of the Secret Service at Regent's Park is being blackmailed by his second in command. Is there an SS conspiracy to do away with retired old spooks? Let me tell you, this is delicious insanity! How I would like to write like this. Many threads mesh so beautifully. Everyone has smart, hilarious retorts to crazy observations. Everything gets resolved. Sort of. Then I learn there is a series by Herron about this asinine but lovable office group; where have you been hiding? I'm on it. But horrors: what if world security is really in the hands of maniacs like this??

gallimaufry a hodgepodge or jumble
trebuchet a catapult (and a font!)
apotheosis the peak of perfection (I knew this; just hard to throw into everyday speech)

Everyone here had problems, or what you now had to call "issues." (15)
"Probably takes two of him to scramble an egg." (31)
Her next phase of life involved domestic tranquility, and avoiding unwise shagging choices. (37)
Nothing more frightening, to someone who'd lived by his wits, than to be slowly losing them. (44)
Lately, Marcus and money had been undergoing a trial separation. (218)
An analogue man in a digital world. (15)

"Maybe not the right thing to do. But it's the right decision to make." (250)

Office collegiality:
"He means Lamb's text," Marcus confirmed. 
"He sent it to me," said Ho. "What makes it your business?" 
"I swear to God," said Marcus, "this is like being trapped in a special school. Ho? Read him the fucking text." 
Ho sighed theatrically and produced his Smartphone. He'd just finished tapping the code in when Shirley snatched it from his hands."Hey, you can't" 
"Just did." 
Ho reached for her, but had a wise moment and refrained. She might be shorter than him but they both kneweverybody knewshe could rip him up like confetti if she wanted, and scatter him like rice. (71)

"I'm sure we've all spent hours planning the best way of killing River," Lamb said. "But our assassin came all the way from France, which sounds more like a job than a hobby. So let's assume he was after Grandpa. Business before pleasure and all that." 
"So who killed the killer?" 
"One Cartwright or other. Does it matter?" Lamb slumped heavily into the nearest chair which was the absent River's. "What we actually need to know is what the hell's going on. And since young Cartwright's not here to tell us, and old Cartwright's lost the plot, we're going to have to work it out ourselves." 
Louisa said, "Has he really lost it? The old man?" 
"I've had more illuminating conversations with ducks," Lamb assured her. (106)
Traffic accident video goes viral:
The phone buzzed again, angrier this time, the way phones get. Emma sighed, and moved a few feet away. "Flyte." 
"Tell me that's not you I'm watching. Along with half the population of the western world." 
"I doubt it's that many," Emma said. "Most of them'll be viewing it twice. You have to factor that in." 
Diana Taverner said, "Are you drunk?" 
"Not yet." 
"How did this happen? How did any of it happen?" 
"It happened because I wasn't given enough information," Emma said. "So when we were sideswiped by a professional hitman, we weren't expecting it. In the circumstances, we got off lightly. Unwelcome publicity notwithstanding."
"You call that lightly? What would heavy look like?" 
"It would involve my body lying in the street." (239)

20 February 2018

Library Limelights 153

Camilla Ceder. Frozen Moment. UK: Phoenix Paperback/Orion House, 2011.
Christian Tell, lead homicide detective, is a two-dimensional character for some time; he personifies the "emotionally inaccessible" cop often found in someone whose life is the job. The unusual killing of a man in a rural area seems devoid of any motive, but a second murder by the same method instigates a wide search to link the two victims. Tell's guilt over becoming personally involved with Seja, a witness in the first case, opens up more flesh and blood in his character. At the same time, we are following the story of events sixteen years earlier, revolving around quiet teenager Maya; we know somehow the police will have to connect the threads. Seja, as a budding journalist, finds herself irresistibly drawn toward the search thanks to a resurfacing but vague memory.

Finally learning that a third murder is likely to happen, the police approach from different angles. Ultimately Seja is endangered. Each investigator on the team has his or her domestic problems; Tell greatly admires his boss Östergren, and is deeply shaken when she has a crisis. So grows his awareness that immersion in the job could cost him the chance of having a real life ‒ whether he wants one or not. Guilt of some sort is a noticeable element among various depicted personae. My only complaint (it also holds for some other authors) is that more dialogue interaction could have been used to reveal depth of character. Oh. ... And a comparison to Lizbeth Salander is highly fanciful.

As far as they are concerned she has disappeared in a puff of smoke. (20)
Being seventeen means that every step is for ever. (23)
As a general rule, Maya's mother had always found it difficult to distinguish where she ended and other people began. (61-2)
"You have your work, and that means you know who you are." (373)

Therapy choices:
Was this woman a physiotherapist or a fortune teller? And it got worse as she massaged Beckman's wronged body with alternate hard and soft strokes. 
"Unspoken truths often settle in the muscles and turn into pain. Things you want to say, but don't have the courage. Particularly in the musculature at the back of the neck and in the face. Many people experience pain in the jaw and even the teeth. When the mouth refuses to form those liberating words, they gather around it like an indefinable pain that refuses to go away. There are tensions in your body that have turned into inflammations. If you're not careful, you could end up with a chronic condition. It's also not unusual for a person to burst into tears when someone touches them, if they're not used to it. Linking the body to the brain." 
Beckman never went back. Instead she went to a doctor and got a prescription for Diclofenac. (79)

Hangover morning:
"I don't live far away," he said. "We're going to freeze to death." 
And it was true. In any case, she wasn't exactly capable of driving. 
Ending up in bed wasn't part of the plan. It was, he thought on the morning of Christmas Eve as the pale sun stabbed him in the eye, the result of poor judgement followed by severe intoxication. This could cost him dear and would be difficult to explain to his colleagues. And to Östergren, if the gossip got that far. And it probably would, given that the police station was like one big coffee morning.  
... He had always found these unwritten rules difficult to understand: the game that had to be played at the beginning of a relationship. The precisely measured amount of give and take a man must master, in order to avoid being perceived as an arrogant bastard with intimacy problems, or a suffocating control freak. (100-101)

Personal survival strategy:

When a murder enquiry wasn't going anywhere it stressed him out; it was always the same. As time passed, he felt a personal sense of responsibility that the crime hadn't been cleaned up. Responsibility to the relatives, of course. But also to his colleagues and superiors. He slept without dreaming. He noticed that he was thinking differently. He made an effort to think in wide circles around the investigation, and often did so at the expense of other mental activity. He became more brusque in his dealings with people. Rational. Emotionally muted, in order to use his energy where it was needed most. What was left was a fairly isolated individual; he was well aware of that. After all, nobody said that being aware of your faults meant you could change them. And he wasn't sure he even wanted to change. Like his father, he had found a strategy for survival that seemed to work. (262-3)

Shari Lapena. The Couple Next Door. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2016.
Anne and Marco Conti's baby is suddenly gone — whether misplaced, lost, kidnapped, or killed. Sympathy, right? The first fifty pages or so evoked only my impatience with this pathetic, boring couple who left their child alone at home while they partied next door. Fortunately the story picked up before I quit. Anne has been in a postpartum depression ‒ only the first of her secrets to appear ‒ resenting her flamboyantly attractive neighbour Cynthia. Marco's business status is iffy, and he hates his arrogant, wealthy father-in-law who dotes on the baby Cora. That's enough for Detective Rasbach to consider both of them suspicious.

Nearly all is told through Anne's or Marco's eyes but Rasbach is forming his own theories based on the timing of events that night. If it's a ransom case, a demand is slow to arrive. Whether Cora is alive or dead is Anne's constantly revolving nightmare. The breakdown of two rather ordinary people through stages of guilt, blame, shame, rage, and fear proceeds apace; it's not only the missing baby, it's the anguished effort to conceal some information. Anne's family is as much a hindrance as a help. The next door neighbours are oddly quiet. Lapena's cool, dispassionate style is perfectly suited to the milieu for building suspense. I predict, not too far off: the movie.

"My parents are very hard to please, and they're very controlling." (117)
Marco's shirt is already sticking to his back as he hits the highway. (148)

Two-liner: "Postpartum depression is not the same thing as postpartum psychosis. I am clearly not psychotic, Detective." (116)

Shame and desperation:
But Anne and Marco need the media to take an interest. They need Cora's face plastered all over the newspapers, the TV, the Internet. You can't just take a baby out of someone else's house in the middle of the night and have no one notice. It's a busy neighborhood. Surely someone will come forward with information. Anne and Marco must do this, even thought they know they'll be the target of some nasty press once it all comes out. They are the parents who abandoned their baby, left her home alone, an infant. And now someone has her. They are a Movie of the Week. (47)

A different issue:
"What's up?" Marco says. He wants to keep this short. 
"I have something I want to talk to you about," Cynthia says, a little more businesslike. "Can you come by the house?" 
"Why? Do you want to apologize?" 
"Apologize?" She sounds surprised. 
"For lying to the police. For telling them that I came on to you when we both know you came on to me." 
"I'm sorry about that. I did lie," she says, with an attempt at playfulness. 
"What the fuck? You're sorry? Do you have any idea how much trouble you've caused me?" 
"Can we discuss it?" She's not playful anymore. 
"Why do we need to discuss it?" 
"I'll explain when you get here," Cynthia says, and abruptly hangs up the phone. (194)

Fallout effect:
Anne thinks she hears her baby crying. Cora must be just waking up from her nap. She peels off her gardening gloves and goes quickly inside and washes her hands at the kitchen sink. She can hear Cora upstairs in her crib, crying for her. "Just a minute, sweetheart," she calls. "I'll be right there." She feels happy. 
Anne rushes upstairs to get her baby, humming a little. She goes into the nursery. Everything looks the same, but the crib is empty. She suddenly remembers, and it's like being violently swept out to sea. She collapses into the nursing chair. 
She's not right—she knows she's not well. She should call someone. Her mother. But she doesn't. Instead she rocks herself back and forth in the chair. 
She would like to blame Cynthia for all her problems, but she knows Cynthia doesn't have her baby. (244-5)

Stefan Ahnhem. The Ninth Grave. Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2016.
Such a brilliant but brutal tale, extremely challenging (for the cops and the reader) but compelling, impossible to put down. Swedish cops Fabian Risk and Malin Rehnberg are after a cruel serial killer; Danish cop Dunja Hougaard also struggles with a series of mutilated victims. Both police forces, with great difficulty, eventually backtrack to their respective killers who have been ingeniously elusive. Both cases are pronounced solved and closed by superior officers. And yet, Fabian and Dunja separately risk their jobs to go even further; the chance of an overlap is agonizing for the reader because of snippets inserted from a deus ex machina. Ultimately, that premise for motive may be the book's only weak point.

Two strong policewomen with sharp insights share centre stage, one pregnant and one prey to sexual harassment (couldn't be more timely). A map of the area would have been useful — so many geographic place names; sorting out Helsingborg and Helsingør is just one of the confusing spots. But twists and surprises galore. In the end, Fabian disappoints himself; redemption is out of the question but he will return. Love the detectives, hate the grisly moments ... not all sadistic details of the victims were necessary, thank you! Yet the author has to be top-ranked among Scandi-noir writers.

Panic spread like a forest fire through her body. (74)
The discrepancies were the common denominator. (136)
He was quite unprepared for the tears that suddenly started dripping from his eyes onto the floor. (272)
"She said that living with you is like living with an empty shell or a shed skin." (491)

The serial theory:
"If you would let me finish what I'm saying, maybe you would get your vision back and see that there's not only a connection, but that it actually seems to be the same perpetrator." 
Edelman set his cup down again, the lump of sugar still between his teeth. It's lucky she's pregnant, thought Fabian. Neither he nor any of the others would have gotten away with that tone, especially not after a press conference, which, nine times out of ten, made Edelman extra touchy. 
"What do you think, Fabian?" Malin gave him a look that suggested his very survival depended on his agreement. 
Fabian nodded, even if he really didn't know what to think. As Malin was saying, there certainly were things that suggested they were dealing with the same perpetrator, but he couldn't understand how, and in a way he felt just as blind as Edelman. He'd tried gettig in touch with Hillevi Stubbs to see if she'd discovered any technical leads that might reinforce their theory, but she had her phone turned off, which she often did when there was a lot going on. (168-9)

A suspect:
"Oh no, not another crazy. And he's been released?" 
"He's been out for three years and four months." 
"So he's been declared competent?" asked Malin, shaking her head. "As if a little medicine and therapy can help anyone capable of these crimes." 
"As if," said Tomas. "The rest of the medical world accepts that a paralyzed lower body will always be paralyzed, but psychology is different. Everyone can get healthier with a little treatment, regardless of how disabled they are." 
Malin looked at Tomas with a surprised expression. "Did you think of that yourself, or did you read a newspaper for the first time?" (178)

Dunja looks east:
She looked beyond the wet dock and the boats that were moored along the quay opposite towards the back side of Kronberg Castle — the last outpost of the East. 
She often reflected on this when she looked out over the Sound and saw Sweden towering up on the opposite side. Their neighbouring country was officially neutral and undoubtedly the Swedes leaned more toward the West in their basic values, but the sensibilities of the East had always been apparent with all their rules, state liquor stores, and the like. 
But her feelings were completely different this time. Instead of thinking the Swedes were hopelessly behind Denmark, she now thought they were further ahead. She didn't know if this shift was caused by meeting that very pregnant policewoman from Sweden, or the fact that she'd just set foot in the country for the first time only a couple of days ago. All she knew for sure was that, despite her experiences in Kävlinge, she felt an increasingly strong desire to go there again. (384)

15 February 2018

FEC News

Fading Entertainers Centre (FEC) requires its own space. The FECsters have grown awfully unruly, making unreasonable demands for attention. Just the other day, Mr Obsessive-Compulsive (OC) of the Inmates Committee (IC) dropped the phrase: a clean sweep. Ms Throat goes around sulkily muttering time to go ... but then again, that might just be her personal mantra. Luther and Gonzo of all people ‒ together, that is  were heard conspiring that change is needed. Sheila and Luanna volunteered to make the posters to go in the elevators. When they figure out what it is they want. To change. Within the unintentionally pliable parameters erected for them by Upper Levels, of course.

Regardless, this kind of passive-aggression can't be ignored. Possibly the IC is feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of its mandate. Or perhaps something more sinister lurks beneath their remarks. Change is good. It might even mean progress of a sort. When Bella comes back from the hospital the entire IC can brainstorm to their hearts' content, provided Ophelia gets busy in the communal kitchen beforehand. Alcohol will not officially be involved.

FEC Foolishness will likely (slowly) transform itself elsewhere. Website? E-book? Slowly fade like its namesakes? Trash prospect? If there exists a person of interest curious reader, then don't hesitate to voice your question, comment, or opinion below. Nothing goes unheeded.

08 February 2018

Library Limelights 152

Michael Connelly. Two Kinds of Truth. USA: Little, Brown and Company/Hachette, 2017.
Aging somewhere north of 65 is not slowing down Harry Bosch. In fact, he's more active than ever as a volunteer, working two cases simultaneously. His San Fernando Valley PD colleagues are aghast when he agrees to go undercover into an illicit prescription drug network run by the notorious drug lord Santos. His scary, ultimate success does not override the dismally depressing epidemic of "hillbilly heroin" addiction, the biggest growth industry in southern California. The second case brings some of Harry's former LAPD colleagues to the fore: Lucia Soto and Jerry Edgar. Much to his anger, Harry is being accused of planting evidence in an old case that will release a scumbag convict from death row.

Harry's reputation is destroyed in the media. It's the lowest point imaginable: questioning his own previously vaunted detective skills. If he missed or misinterpreted evidence in one case, what does that do to all the cases he solved? Will his fellow cops believe he didn't do it? One truth is Harry's own fundamental honesty; another "truth" is that which is manipulated by self-serving authorities. We're certain that Harry will prevail, with the canny help of his non-conformist half-brother, the lawyer Mickey Haller. Together they propose to uncover a conspiracy, a matter that may not even be admitted into court. This is Connelly's typical police and court procedural cum laude. An ambiguous scene flashes past at the end, yet Harry revives.

Word: entropy - "degree of disorder or randomness" in a system; lack of predictability

There was a saying in police work, that places were safe until they weren't. (134)
The seeds were planted thousands of miles away by faceless men of greed and violence. (329)
As much as he trusted his half brother, passing the responsibility to someone else left him sweating in a cold room. (335)

Listen up:
"I think the only one with a problem here is you, Harry."Bosch had nothing to say to that. He sensed that something had changed in her view of him. He had fallen in her eyes, and she had sympathy for him but not the respect she'd once had. He was missing something here. He had to get back to the investigative file he knew she had stuffed into his mailbox, whether she acknowledged it or not. He now had to consider that she had done so not to help him but to warn him about what lay ahead. 
"Listen to me," Soto said. "I'm putting my neck out here for you because...because we were partners. You need to let this play out without setting a fire. If you don't, you are going to get hurt in a big way." 
"You don't think it's going to hurt in a big way to see that guy—that killer—walk out of San Quentin a free man?" (78-9)

History revisited:
Bosch was fresh back from war in Southeast Asia. When he entered the house he saw a boy of about five or six standing with a housekeeper. He knew then that he had a half brother. A month later he stood on a hillside and watched as their father was put into the ground. 
"Yes," Bosch said. "That was a long time ago." 
"Well," Siegel said. "For me everything was a long time ago. The longer you live, the more you can't believe how things change." (159)

Kicking addiction:
" ... In six weeks I accumulated over a thousand pills. That's when I made the deal with myself. When those pills ran out, I was going to rise up and beat it. And I did." 
"I'm glad you did, Cisco." 
"Fucking A. Me, too." 
"So no help from the V.A.?" 
"Fuck them, the docs at the V.A. were the ones got me hooked in the first place after my surgeries. Then they cut me loose and I'm on the street, strung out, trying to keep a job, trying to keep my wife. Fuck the V.A. I'll never go back to them." 
The story was not surprising to Bosch. It was the story of the epidemic. People start out hurt and just want to kill the pain and get better. Then they're hooked and need more than the prescriptions allow. People like Santos fill the space, and there is no turning back. (175-6)

Louise Penny. The Long Way Home. USA: Minotaur Books/St Martin's Press, 2014.
Armand Gamache is retired as Quebec's chief inspector of homicide, still recovering physically and mentally from a near-death experience. His slow rehab is disturbed when he learns that his friend and neighbour Clara wants to search for her missing artist husband Peter. And so begins Gamache's new "case" with a team that includes his wife, his son-in-law Beauvoir, and local bookseller cum psychologist Myrna. Their names and their village of Three Pines will be familiar to the legion of Penny fans. Tracking Peter's year away from home is challenging; seeking new directions for his painting seemed to be his impetus. Along the way the team meets more artistes and increasingly sinister clues.

I'm not the biggest fan of Penny, but there's no denying her immense appeal. Quebec small town and wilderness ambience are highly visual; most of the characters are endearing (Ruth is irresistible). It's a terrific story with the usual rich literary sprinklings. Structurally, the book is admirably perfect. But personally, I find the artistic and metaphysical metaphors to the point of overdone, almost belaboured. With no less than four artists involved, we have muses and magic and cosmic speculation and psychic reconstruction galore. Is it that difficult for a man to examine and change his safe, selfish path through life? There's a hint that a vaguely bipolar state is necessary to be successfully creative; we feel for Gamache's tender recovery.

The Chief had walked away with a smile, knowing he'd completely messed with Beauvoir's mind. (99)
Was the final fear that, in losing his fears, he would also lose his joy? (122)

Turmoil shook loose all sorts of unpleasant truths. But it took peace to examine them. (4)
They had to face each other. And tell each other the truth. (329)

A practical man:
When Beauvoir had first met these people, and this village, he knew little about art and what he knew was more than he found useful. But after many years of exposure to the art world, he'd become interested. Sort of. 
What mostly interested him wasn't the art, but the environment. The infighting. The casual cruelty. The hypocrisy. The ugly business of selling beautiful creations. 
And how that ugliness sometimes grew into crime. And how the crime sometimes festered into murder. Sometimes. (137)

Gamache reflecting:
It was how Clara described her first attempt at a painting. No, not a mess, it was something else. A dog's breakfast. Ruth had called it that and Clara had agreed. Ruth tried to capture feelings in her poetry. Clara tried with color and subject to give form to feelings. 
It was messy. Unruly. Risky. Scary. So much could go wrong. Failure was always close at hand. But so was brilliance. 
Peter Morrow took no risks. He neither failed nor succeeded. There were no valleys, but neither were there mountains. Peter's landscape was flat. An endless, predictable desert. 
How shattering it must have been, then, to have played it safe all his life and been expelled anyway. From home. From his career.What would a person do when the tried-and-true was no longer true? (122)

Leader of the search:
"Clara's in charge. She knows what she's doing." 
"She once ate potpourri thinking it was chips," said Jean-Guy. "She took a bath in soup, thinking it was bath salts. She turned a vacuum cleaner into a sculpture. She has no idea what she's doing." 
Gamache smiled. "At least if it all goes south, we have someone else to blame for once." (287)

Yrsa Sigurdardottir. Ashes to Dust. UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 2011.
A bit battered, the copy of the book I received, but didn't affect the wholly refreshing nature of the tale within. The ashes of the title refer to a historic volcanic eruption in 1973 on the main island of the Westman group lying off Iceland's south coast, spewing lava and ash that destroyed so many homes. That occurrence covered up, literally, evidence of puzzling events at the same time, now coming to the fore. Lawyer Thora Gudmundsdottir is hired to defend Markus Magnusson on suspicion of murder when ash-covered skeletons are found in the basement of his ruined family home. Then Markus' childhood sweetheart Alda suffers a macabre death and both Thora and the police wonder if there is a connection.

Thora definitely puts out more effort than the cops to investigate alternative suspects. It's a bizarre maze after the lapse of several generations of family history and island secrets. A young girl Tinna is prey to anorexic anguish; Markus' father Magnus is just as trapped in dementia; accusations of rape hover over a few heads; the reputation of a nurse is in jeopardy. How will Thora ever find witnesses who are willing to talk? So many unexplained old mysteries; so many evasive characters. Squeamish alert: includes a graphic death and a head in a box. Leading her determined heroine through some challenging hoops and spectacular scenery, the author is clearly a winner.

It was absolutely indisputable ‒ four Icelanders simply could not have vanished without being missed. (89-90)
Those who are not used to hiding the truth always give themselves away. (123)
Agust tended toward the melodramatic, and she had no desire to nourish her own anxiety with his paranoia. (176)
The balls of Thora's feet began to ache in sympathy again, the woman's stilettos were so high. (323)

Two-liner: "I'm like a puffin. I can't take off unless I've got the sea in my sight." (78)

Digging out:
"For a while they were removing nearly ten thousand cubic metres of ash from the town every day. Landa Church was partly buried," said Leifur, pointing in the direction of the imposing but unostentatious chapel standing next to the cemetery. "A few houses were dug up, next to the ones where the current excavation is taking place." It was clear to Thora that she had to learn more about the eruption if she didn't want to waste all her time uncovering facts that were already common knowledge. She had brought the book Gylfi got from the library, and she could start reading it in her hotel room that evening. (68)

Medical discretion:
"Do you mean that Alda didn't leave on good terms?" said Thora. 
"That's actually what I was led to understand in my conversation with the head nurse." 
"Good and not so good," said Bjargey, enigmatically. "A particular situation came up that she and the department couldn't see eye to eye on, which led to an agreement that she should take a leave of absence until the matter was resolved." She fiddled again with her hair-clip, although it now appeared to be securely fastened. "The decision was reached without acrimony. I'm convinced that Alda would have come back if things hadn't gone as they did." 
"I see," said Thora. "You said the investigation was ongoing both here in the hospital and elsewhere. Are you talking about a police investigation or a liability claim?" She tried to imagine crimes one could commit in a hospital. "Did Alda make a mistake n her work? Did she steal drugs? Or ..." (185-6)

Maybe the woman wanted her to count sheep, like cartoon characters did. Tinna closed her eyes and tried it. In her mind's eye, one, two, three sheep hopped over a green-painted fence. The door to the room opened and closed with a faint thud. The woman had probably gone, but Tinna didn't want to ruin the sheep-race by opening her eyes and looking. She focused again on the fence and the sheep. It wasn't going well. The sheep were disgustingly fat, and the fourth one couldn't jump at all. It stood by the fence, breathless and panting. Then it started to expand, and soon its snout disappeared into its white belly, which stretched wider and wider until finally there was a loud bang as it burst. Blood and guts flew everywhere. Tinna opened her eyes quickly to rid herself of this vision. She was alone in the room. Her breasts heaved up and down. This was what awaited her if she didn't get out of here. She would get fatter and fatter until she blew up. (293)

The client's family:
"Don't you want to know what I found in the archive?" asked her secretary, sucking at her straw thirstily. "They opened it for me. That Leifur clearly has the town in his pocket. All I had to do was say his name and they pulled out the keys." 
"Yes, it's in everyone's interest to keep him happy," Thora said. "So what did you find? It's good that one of us is making progress, because meeting Markus' parents did me little good. His father was away with the fairies and his mother was such a dry old stick that she sucked all the moisture out of the air. The only thing I got out of it was some gibberish about a falcon and a child, and a headache from the old woman's perfume. ..." (264-5)