15 August 2017

Library Limelights 139

Susie Steiner. Missing, Presumed. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2016.
Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw investigates a deeply frustrating "misper" (missing person) case: Edie Hind disappeared seemingly without trace one Saturday night. Her upper class family does not hesitate to pull political strings for continued action. But the lives of everyone involved ― parents, friends, even the police ― are changed or affected by it to different degrees. Weeks of dogged work produce a tenuous clue that might solve the case. The faint trail goes back and forth from Huntingdon and Cambridge to London, including a rather charming ex-con. Meanwhile, surprising side avenues open up to more tragedy.

Beyond the exhausting investigation, this is a study of Manon's palpable loneliness, the career-minded single woman approaching forty who scrolls desperately through online dating sites. Her colleagues, too, are drawn as fully fleshed figures. The narrative changes seamlessly and alternately between Manon, DC Davy Walker to Edie's mother Miriam. Steiner is relatively new to the crime genre scene and deserves watching.

Wasn't every marriage a negotiation about proximity? (9)
If all men were like Davy, there would be no wars. (19)
She must be at least thirty-nine, the loneliness rising off her like a mist. (27)

Miriam hears:
He has been crying in his study. She heard him on her way up the stairs an hour ago, had stopped, one hand on the banister, curious to hear his upset expressed. Man sobs are so uncommon, they were quite interesting. His were strangulated, as if his tears were out to choke him. Hers come unbidden, like a flood, dissolving her outline, and it's as if she has failed to stand up to them. A weakness of tears. (216)

Manon recovering:
"Being walloped really makes you feel low," she says.
"You're always low."
"I know, but more so. I feel ..." and she starts to cry again, looking at the trees beyond her broad hospital window. She realises they have given her this spacious room to herself because she's a police officer.
"I think you need a dog," Davy says.
"I heard a dog makes unhappy people happy. They're good, y'know, for people who can't form proper relationships."
"You're a real tonic, Davy." (345-6)

Jo Nesbo. The Thirst. Random House Canada, 2017.
Nesbo, Nesbo, Nesbo ... the man with the gift of Harry Hole. Harry's in retirement as a police college lecturer but ~ you know ~ he's persuaded to form his own team to catch a gruesome killer being labelled a vampirist. Katrine Bratt leads the regular investigating team that includes an eager newbie, Wyller, and a soured veteran, Berntsen. Consulting psychologists Aune and Smith have differing views of the perpetrator but his identity is not in question: he's the only man who once got away from Harry. During the hunt, so many relationships in the extended group smoothly play into the story: Bratt's ex-lover Bjorn is the chief forensics expert; their boss Bellman is playing politics; Mona is the reporter receiving leaks from someone on the team; Harry's wife Rakel is treated for a mysterious blood disease; her son Oleg is a police college student. A thirst for blood has more than one meaning. Before midway, the tension is freeze-gripping.

The victims had an online dating website in common. While that leads to a complicated but successful solution, the surprises have only begun. As has Harry's guilt mechanism. He constantly fights the desire to drink as the killer evades them, until his precious personal happiness is disturbed. Things look bad for him ― what else can we expect, but Harry has a way of making us live his life with him. The climax is a bit over the top while the aftermath leaves me with one unanswered question for Harry: what about the psycho quietly being released from prison?

In the gap between the bottom of the door and the floor she saw the toes of a pair of pointed snakeskin boots. (54)
The new media environment, with its increasingly banal focus on celebrity, had reduced the role of journalists to that of the town gossip. (138)
"You and me, we think we're clever bastards, but we all get fooled in the end, Harry." (334)

First victim fallout:
But Mikael Bellman could feel the ground shaking now.
And now―just as he, as victorious Chief of Police, had a chance to enter the corridors of power―this was already starting to turn into a war he couldn't afford to lose. He needed to prioritise this single murder as if it were an entire crime wave, simply because Elise Hermansen was a wealthy, educated, ethnically Norwegian woman in her thirties, and because the murder weapon wasn't a steel bar, a knife or a pistol, but a set of teeth made out of iron.
And that was why he felt obliged to take a decision he really didn't want to have to take. For so many reasons. But there was no way around it. (59)

"Is it going to be better tomorrow?"
Harry looked at him. The brown-eyed, black-haired buy didn't have one drop of Harry's blood in him, but it was still like looking in a mirror. "What do you think?"
Oleg shook his head, and Harry could see he was fighting back tears.
"Right," Harry said. "I sat here the way you are now with my mother when she was ill. Hour after hour, day in, day out. I was only a little boy, and it ate me up from inside."
Oleg wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and sniffed. "Do you wish you hadn't done it?"
Harry shook his head. "That's the weird thing. We couldn't talk much, she was too ill. She just lay there with a weak smile, and faded away a little bit at a time, like the colour from a photograph left out in the sun. It's simultaneously the worst and the best memory from my childhood. Can you understand that?" (220)

Harry shrugged. "An alcoholic hates and curses drink because it ruins his life. But at the same time it is his life."
"Interesting analogy." Steffens stood up, went over to the window and pulled the curtains open. "What about you, Hole? Is your calling still ruining your life, even though it is your life?"
Harry shaded his eyes and tried to look at Steffens, but was blinded by the sudden light. "Are you still a Mormon?"
"Are you still working on the case?"
"Looks like it."
"We don't have a choice, do we? I need to get back to work, Harry."
When Steffens had gone, Harry called Gunnar Hagen's number.
"Hello, boss, I need a police guard at Ullevål Hospital," he said. "Immediately." (243)

Peter May. The Blackhouse. USA: SilverOak/Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2012
May is on home ground, so to speak, setting his tale on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland where a murder has stunned the local populace. DI Finlay Macleod is sent from Edinburgh to assist the investigation; it's twenty years since he'd seen his native island. Everywhere he turns, his memories of childhood and youth flood back, blending with his present enquiries. And although some of them explain current tensions, others peel back layers of old grudges. In a low-key way, traditional life on the island becomes more forboding than comforting. Fin's first love Marsaili is married to his once-best friend Artair. Fin relates his memories in the first person, alternating with third person accounts of the ongoing investigation.

The unique annual Lewis trip to the stark rocky island of Sula Sgeir for the cormorant chicks (gugas) is a rite of passage for young men. Fin's and Artair's first trip proves to be a disaster of lasting consequences. In fact, the story involves two trips, both absolutely hair-raising. Island relationships are inextricably entwined in custom and religious disapproval. I thought I'd figured out who the murderer was, among the complicated motives unfolding. But I was wrong. Since The Blackhouse is the first book of an Isle of Lewis trilogy, I can hardly wait to read more.

Words: anaglypta ‒ textured wallpaper; desuetude ‒ a state of disuse.

It was not illegal to drink on the Sabbath, just unthinkable. (31)
He had long ago discovered that dumb insolence was the only way to deal with sarcasm from senior officers. (96)
A sense that they had all wasted their lives, that they had somehow missed their chances through stupidity or neglect, lay heavy on his shoulders, pulling him down into deep dejection. (270)
I think sometimes there are folk who take an unhealthy interest in death. (277)

In his head, Fin could almost hear the singing of the Gaelic psalms. A strange, unaccompanied tribal chanting that could seem chaotic to the untrained ear. But there was something wonderfully affecting about it. Something of the land and the landscape, of the struggle for existence against overwhelming odds. Something of the people amongst whom he had grown up. Good people, most of them, finding something unique in themselves, in the way they sang their praise to the Lord, an expression of gratitude for hard lives in which they had found meaning. Just the memory of it brought him out in goose pimples. (79)

Ingrained reserve:
She looked tiny from here, lonely somehow in a way that it's hard to explain. Something in her gait, something leaden in her step that suggested unhappiness. I suddenly felt unaccountably sorry for her and wanted to run down the hill and give her a big hug, and tell her I was sorry. Sorry for being jealous, sorry for being hurtful. And yet something held me back. That reluctance to ngive expression to my feelings that has dogged me most of my life.
She was almost out of sight, lost in the winter dusk, when for once something overcame my natural reticence and propelled me down the hill after her, arms windmilling for balance as I stumbled clumsily in my wellies across the squelching moor. (131)

Tea and sympathy:
"I'm not going," I said in a voice so small it was little more than a whisper. I was still drunk, I suppose, but the shock of falling in the ditch had sobered me up a little, and the tea was helping, too.
Gigs did not react. He puffed gently on the stem of his pipe and watched me speculatively. "Why not?"
I have no recollection now of what I said to him that night, how it was that I expressed those feelings of deep, dark dread that the very thought of going out to the rock had aroused in me. I suppose, like everyone else, he must have assumed it was fear, pure and simple. But while others might have displayed contempt for my cowardice, Gigs appeared to understand in a way that seemed to lift that enormous weight that had been bearing down on me from the moment Artair's dad had given me the news. (185)

29 July 2017

Library Limelights 138

Scott Turow. Identical. USA: Vision Paperback, 2013.
It's a great day when Turow comes out with a new book; I'm a little late for this one. Once again his fictional Kindle County comes alive as state senator Paul Gianis campaigns in a race for city mayor. Paul's identical twin Cass is being released from prison after twenty-five years for killing his then-girlfriend Dita Kronon. No-one knows, or is telling, the truth of exactly what happened the night Dita was murdered and it all becomes headline news again as Hal Kronon publicly accuses Paul of being implicated. Their mutual Greek heritage is writ large across three generations of inter-family relationships.

Kronon employees Evon Miller and Tim Brodie are charged with unearthing more evidence against Paul. As they proceed, a great deal of background is peeled away on key figures in the old drama and the present day. Even the private lives of both Tim and Evon as outsiders play into a bewildering mass of information, sometimes almost TMI. This is a true forensic work ― fingerprints, blood typing, DNA; Turow is impeccably detailed in his legal knowledge. It seems there are no heroes as such, and who will guess the ultimate double (or triple?) twist?

Phrase: "this bag of loose nuts and bolts" describes a habitually out-of-control emotional person.

Life was much too cruel to go through it alone. (68)
He didn't feel it made sense to waste the energy on relationships that would only pull him under some emotional waterfall in which he'd never catch his breath. (93)
The closest thing to changing the past is to leave it unspoken. (390)

Campaign advice:
Mark stood up, all five-six of him, but still looking, from the hard set of his face, like somebody you wouldn't want to mess with. He was done wasting time. 
"You have to sue. Period. Personally, Ray, I'm not spinning my wheels asking what Hal's got. Because if he's got anything real, Paul's not gonna be mayor anyway." Crully turned toward his candidate. "So, Paul, either quit now or sue." 
Crully flipped his pencil in the air and let it bounce on the table and left the room. (38-9)

Courtroom tactics:
"Your Honor," said Tooley, "we still haven't heard any answer to our request for DNA."Du Bois raised his hand toward Ray, who responded. 
"Judge, we're eager to come forward with all probative evidence, but this request for a DNA test is clearly a bridge too far. In order to be entitled to discovery, a party must show that there is a reasonable likelihood that whatever proof is sought is potentially relevant. Dr. Yavem concedes that there is no better than a one in one hundred chance that an examination of DNA will lead to admissible evidence in a case like this with identical twins. So that part of the motion is little more than the effort to embarrass and harass Senator Gianis." (153)

Never giving up:
"I'm not letting him get away with it." 
"With what?" Tooley asked."Hiding whatever he's hiding." 
"Hal, what could he be hiding if the test is 99 percent likely to be inconclusive? Don't smoke your own dope." 
Hal's bulging eyes ran back and forth behind his glasses as he considered his friend's advice. 
"I want the DNA." 
Mel dropped his glance to his hands, then tried another approach. 
"Hal, you won. Don't you see this? You won this motion. You made a convincing case that this guy knows more than he's telling. And Paul said uncle. Accept victory, Hal. Celebrate for a second." (206)

Greg Iles. Mississippi Blood. USA: William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2017.
Emphatically: the most amazing courtroom trial, ever. Mississippi Blood is the final, culminating drama in an acclaimed trilogy of recent American history in the deep south ... so much more than "merely" crime genre. It's a stand-alone novel and you'll be fine if you missed the first two books,* but I highly recommend them. The Cage family and a large cast of characters continue in a complicated mass of relationships. Natchez mayor Penn Cage stands almost helpless while his father, Dr Tom Cage, is tried for murder. Defence lawyer Quentin Avery seems strangely mute as the trial spins out of control. The suspense at strategic points becomes unbearable.

Viola Turner was the victim in the case ― Dr Cage's lover, mother of his child, terrorized by racist killers. A parade of witnesses reveals one surprise after another. Some are lying for venal gain, some to protect others. Penn himself risks death by seeking the truth of the night in question, despite threats from the vicious Double Eagles, desperately hoping his hired security will keep his mother and daughter safe. There's not much room to catch your breath in the close to 700 pages. Iles' finely-tuned gift for nuance never misses a beat; what more can one say about a masterpiece?
* Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree.

The people on this jury represent a divided city, a fractured state, a wounded nation. (176-7)
My mother gives me a glare that could freeze vodka, and I face forward again. (314)
"Mr Johnson, don't piss on my leg and tell me it's raining." (500)

Find the witnesses:
His suggestion has stunned me. "Testify in open court? You've got to be kidding. The FBI has been working that angle all along." 
"You're not the FBI. You're my son." 
"Do you think that grants me some kind of superpower? These aren't grateful black patients, Dad. These are pissed-off, defiant old rednecks." 
Dad's eyes flicker with conviction, even excitement. "I believe you can do it. You've got a gift with people." 
"Hell, you couldn't even do it! You got up at Henry Sexton's funeral and asked everyone in the community to break their silence and tell what they knew about the Double Eagles. But nobody has come forward. Have they?" (46)

Strong Blood:
A distant fondness comes into Serenity's eyes, and she quotes her uncle word for word: "I been all over the south, man. Cutting pulpwood and playing the blues. Mississippi blood is different. It's got some river in it. Delta soil, turpentine, asbestos, cotton poison. But there's strength in it, too. Strength that's been beat but not broke. That's Mississippi blood." 
"That says it, right there," I tell her. "Beat but not broke." (97)

Crowd suspense:
When the big back doors open, I don't see the witness, but two federal marshals. One holds open the dorr while the second stands a few feet inside it, awaiting their charge. With a jangling clink of metal on metal, a black man of medium height enters the courtroom with a graceful walk and a twinkle in his eye. Junius Jelks's hair is gray, but he still looks virile, and he seems to draw keen pleasure from the hundreds of eyes now riveted upon him. As he walks down the aisle, an audible hiss arises from the gallery. The sibilant rush is soft, snakelike, but when it continues without break I realize it must be coming from many mouths at once. This crowd clearly remembers Lincoln's testimony about how cruel this man was when he acted as Lincoln's pretend-father. And if the crowd remembers that description, the jury does, too. (451)

When shit happens:
The irrevocable events of our lives happen in seconds, sometimes fractions of seconds. [...] 
As a prosecutor, I dealt with countless people who suffered from split-second breaks of fate, and most never stopped wondering: What could I have done to avoid that? If only I'd locked my car doors, if only I'd turned left instead of right, if only I'd skipped that last drink, if only I'd listened to my instinct and given that guy a fake phone number, if only I'd remembered my pepper spray or bought that gun I looked at in the sporting goods store ... 
Hindsight is always 20/20; foresight rarely better than a blur. (504)

Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke. The Cinderella Murder. USA: Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster, 2014.
To fill a gap while waiting in a TPL lineup for bestsellers, I grabbed this book because of Burke. But the pedestrian prose seems all Clark, a popular author who never appealed to me. Alafair's contribution is the real mystery. OK, so the 20-year-old cold case murder of a college girl is revived by a television program that sics the former suspects on each other. More people die. Laurie, the producer, is in danger. Her father is conveniently an ex-cop. Aspiring actors, evangelistic quackery, computer geekery. It's hard to feel engaged by mostly cardboard characters. Under Suspicion, the name of the TV show, seems also to be a book series from the two writers.

One-liner: Laurie could empathize with Nicole, but she couldn't sympathize. (305)

The show goes on:
Laurie wasn't sure how she felt about living with all her coworkers, but from a financial perspective, she couldn't argue with Jerry's logic. "Sounds like a plan," she said. "If nothing else, I'd say we've already earned this delicious lunch." 
As the waiter recited elaborate food descriptions from memory, Laurie nodded along politely, but her thoughts were spinning as she envisioned all the work they had in front of them. She had guaranteed Brett Young the best Under Suspicion possible. And just this morning, she had given her word to her nine-year-old son that she would do it all while being a full-time mother. 
How could she possibly keep both promises? (129)

Janwillem Van de Wetering. The Hollow-Eyed Angel. USA: Soho Press Inc., 1996.
An odd little piece from the in-house library: the author indulges in extravagant whimsy among his characters in a mystery on a level of its own. Amsterdam detectives Grijpstra and de Gier are appalled when their commissaris goes off to New York to investigate Dutchman Bert Termeer's death in Central Park. De Gier follows at a decent interval. All three have theories about the death, fodder for psychological and philosophical debate. Whether it is even a murder is anyone's guess, what with red herrings thrown around amid absurdist conversations. Every New York inhabitant they meet seems off-the-wall eccentric while the commissaris' dream of a sightless but sexy tram driver recurs aimlessly. Often the book reads something like bipolar musings on an acid trip ― not to everyone's taste but plenty of sly humour.

One liner:
His boots were suede, recently steelbrushed to straighten the little hairs. (13)
"Well now," Grijpstra said, "adultery, adultery...I'm afraid that idea is extinct now, Simon." (240)

Chance meet of two poets:
"You speak good Dutch," Grijpstra said. 
"Not all that difficult," the Turk said peevishly. "Not too many words, no grammar to speak of." 
Grijpstra liked that. He passed the Turk a croquette from a paper bag. 
"Pig?" the Turk asked suspiciously. 
"Calf," Grijpstra said generously. 
The Turk said that he had been known to eat pig. Not by mistake either. The Turk was against religious rules that bully. The Turk would consume, Allah be praised, whatever he liked, but if he did eat pig it would be nice to be aware of his sinning. His eye caught the flash of a car's brake lights. The Turk swallowed, smiled, straightened his back, recited: "At alien streetcar stop in slashing darkness my soul glows sudden red, lit up by sin." 
Grijpstra applauded a fellow artist. (26-7)

Permission to go to New York:
"How is the old man doing?" 
Grijpstra thought that the commissaris was ill. 
"He has been ill for years now," the CC said. "He could have been on permanent sick leave since he started using a cane." He looked at his long slender hands, then dropped them under the desk top. "But maybe my respected colleague doesn't like doing nothing." 
"What are you going to do, sir? Grijpstra asked. "When you retire?" 
The chief constable smiled. "I will just fade away, Adjutant. I am good at that. I have been practicing for years." 
Grijpstra, as he left the room, remembered the commissaris saying that lack of substance makes people float to the top. (131)

Futuristic visions from airplane:
Would the New York skyscrapers degenerate into crumbled shapes leaning across each other, with skeletons staring out of broken windows? Would vines, mold, lichens and mosses gradually smooth their jumbled lines? 
Maybe, de Gier thought, it will all slide into the ocean, to the bottom of the sea, like Atlantis, like Amsterdam. With Amsterdam there is the certainty, in a foreseeable, calculable future, that the sea will flood the city. Ice caps melt and ocean levels rise and dikes cannot be built up forever. 
There would be fish again, huge schools, unbothered by hunger at the top of the food chain. De Gier imagined fish swimming through his apartment. (133)

18 July 2017

Library Limelights 137

Peter May. The Firemaker. UK: Coronet Books, 1999.
This mystery has everything: exotic locale (Beijing); strange murders; corrupt officials; genetically modified foods; and star-crossed lovers. For police deputy section chief Li Yan, the three men slain differently but with one common clue at each site had no known connections; thus no motive is apparent. Only one of the men had an important government job. Dr Margaret Campbell is a visiting American pathologist teaching at a local university. Burn victims are her specialty. The customs and culture of China are a vast unknown to her when she arrives, and her brashness initially pisses off several colleagues. Very soon Margaret is asked to autopsy one of the victims, and finds herself drawn into the investigation ― to the mutual discomfort of Li and herself.

The author portrays the distinctions and nuances of daily life in China as if he were a native. Margaret sees large slices of this as she accompanies Li around the city, meeting regular people, even sampling night life and food. Acquiring some history this way, Margaret is humbled and shares her expertise willingly. But insidious forces are trying to block the investigation, targeting this odd couple; someone is desperate to keep a big secret covered up. And the revelation is all too credible. Peter May is one of those crime authors with a beautiful command of language and craftmanship. In addition he has an empathic, encyclopaedic knowledge of Beijing and present-day China. Sheer pleasure!

At the top of the rise, Li stepped over the line of powdered chalk that ringed the potential crime scene and caught his first scent of burnt human flesh. (48)
She had exorcised ghosts from her past tonight, she had trusted him with her pain. (277)
Perhaps she was just cynical, but she couldn't help believing that the diseased, the dying and the hungry were simply meal tickets for scientists anxious to grab as big a slice of the research cake they could get their hands on. (312)

He smiled to himself as he heard her gasp of exasperation. Perhaps he was finally beginning to get her measure. (206)

Advice from an ex-pat:
"Not the most auspicious of starts," he said through clenched teeth.
"I didn't invite him," she said.
"You didn't have to engage him in open warfare."
"I wouldn't have had to if you people had the balls to tell him where to go."
"We couldn't!" Bob was in danger of raising his voice. He stopped himself and lowered it again. "McCord has connections in this town. His whole rice project had the backing of Pang Xiaosheng, former Minister of Agriculture, now a member of the Politburo ‒ and a national hero. It was Pang who persuaded the leadership to do the deal with Grogan Industries, and it's Pang who's reaped the rewards. He's the bookie's favourite to be the next leader of the People's Republic." Bob stopped to draw a grim breath. "And you don't fuck with people like that, Margaret." (40)

Her first class:
He grinned. "Don't take it personally. They're like that with everyone at first."
"What do you mean?" She sat up.
"Well, let me guess. You found them unresponsive, reluctant to answer questions, even more reluctant to ask them or discuss a point?" She nodded dumbly. "Chinese students aren't used to the kind of interactive classes we have in the US. Here, they tend to be lectured to."
I know the feeling, Margaret thought bitterly.
Bob continued, unaware of her growing desire to stuff her trainers down his throat. "The voice of the teacher is the voice of authority. Most students believe there is only one right answer to any question. So they just memorise stuff. They're not used to discussing, or debating, or expressing a view. But I'm sure you''ll win them round."
Margaret searched his face for that sarcasm she heard in his voice again. But again there was no sign of it. (65)


Li and Margaret walked slowly east along the sidewalk past brightly lit barber shops, small stores selling shoes and underwear and throwing great rectangular slabs of light out into the darkness. The sounds of washing up in restaurant kitchens came from open windows up narrow alleys. Li's hand engulfed hers and she was happy to leave it there, comforted by its warmth and strength. He knew a bar, he said, at Xidan. They could get a drink there. They walked in silence, his mind full of what she had emptied from hers. (263)

Anders de la Motte. Memorandum. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2015.
You'll get dizzy from so many factors in play here. The setting is Stockholm where Detective David Sarac has an almost-fatal car crash with subsequent memory loss. It's a race against time to recall what his recent police work involved before assorted sinister individuals hunt him down. Only David has the key to the identity of an important police informant called Janus. Ministry of Justice people, different levels of the police hierarchy, criminal gangs, foreign fixers, and his caretaker Natalie all want to learn who the man is, for widely varying reasons and purposes. A panoply of characters appear and reappear at a fast clip.

The suspense element is clear ― will David remember in time to protect his informant and keep their secret? But the suspense seems directionless for some time because the motives of those chasing him are opaque; nearly all are hiding their own secrets. Who could be double-dealing? And David can only recall pieces, sometimes hallucinating; help is provided by his best friend Peter Molnar, also a detective. The violent, climactic shootout is over the top with weapons and duelling factions. Still, a complicated tale with an unusual conclusion. De la Motte has already made his mark in Scandinavian noir with previous crime novels.

He realizes that his body is in the process of shutting down, abandoning any process that isn't essential to life support until the meltdown in his head is under control. (2)
The dogs stared at him with bulging eyes and curled their lips back so far that he could see the pink flesh of their gums. (163)

Top of the slippery slope:
"What do you want?" Natalie's voice wasn't anywhere near as calm as she had been hoping it would be.
"Open your laptop," the man said.
"No way!"
"Just do as I say, Natalie."
She hesitated at first. then reluctantly did as he asked.
"What now?"
"Check your inbox!"
The icon for a new e-mail was lit up. No message, just a link to a web page.
"Click the link," the man said.
She did as she was asked. The page loaded. A dull grey background, covered by black text and a 1970s-style logo. It took her a few moments to realize what she was looking at. (42-3)

At the root of it:
Wallin gathered his thoughts quickly.
"Intelligence management," he said curtly. "You are doubtless aware that other departments in the county have their own informants. Cityspan, the licenced premises division, the narcotics squad, and plenty more besides. Not to mention my own former workplace, the Intelligence Unit of National Crime."
Wallin smiled toward Bergh, but the look in his eyes was icy. The older man squirmed slightly but was wise enough not to respond.
"Sometimes the same informant reports to a number of different handlers, without their being aware that this is the case. The means that erroneous information from one informant risks being accorded far too much attention because the information is con firmed by several different police units, when their source is actually one and the same. And our intelligence material becomes less reliable as a result, as I'm sure you would agree, Bergh?" Wallin went on staring at Bergh for another couple of seconds, waiting until he gave a curt nod before turning to Molnar.
"Apart from this, it sometimes happens that certain handlers withhold valuable informants. Some of whom could be exploited more efficiently." (80)

"You're not the type to execute a defenseless man, chop his body up, and burn the remains beyond all recognition?"
"Well, no." For the first time Hunter looked slightly less confident. But he quickly recovered. "You see, Atif, my mother's family is from Bosnia. A number of my relatives died in the war. Murdered by people who used to be their neighbours, their friends, even. Because I speak the language, I spent several years working for the war crimes tribunal in the Hague. We tracked down people who had participated in atrocities, made sure they were brought to justice. Monsters, you might think. Sick bastards ..." He shrugged again.
"But it actual fact almost all of them were perfectly ordinary people. Full of excuses but without any real explanations for why they did what they did. It became obvious to me that everything is about morals. Establishing clear boundaries for yourself, and never, ever crossing them." (174-5)

Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett. A House in the Sky. USA: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2013.
An astonishing memoir by born-to-travel Canadian photo-journalist Lindhout ― true life drama surpassing fiction. In 2008 Lindhout and Australian companion Nigel Brennan were kidnapped in Mogadishu, Somalia, one of the most dangerous places on the planet. Held for ransom their families could ill afford, they spent a horrific fifteen months being hidden from the world in the most primitive conditions. The rebels who held them were Muslims embroiled in the faction-striven chaos that was (and is) Somalia. Lindhout is quite frank about the abuses they endured.

The most amazing and heartening aspects are the courage and survival extincts in the face of hunger, filth, physical deterioration, and constant threats. Lindhout's background is given as a prelude to her coping skills. As a woman she had even less respect, and worse treatment at times, than Brennan. They grew to know their captors quite well. Tiny kindnesses shown to them at rare intervals kept alive a small hope in humanity but deprivation and torture would increase as ransom discussions faltered. There are no apologies for their conversion to Islam in an attempt to ease their plight ... and no final word if it had a lasting outcome. Canada has a policy not to pay ransom for hostages. With only token government support and a great deal of fundraising, negotiations succeeded in releasing the pair in 2009. Heartbreaking.

I wondered sometimes whether it would have been easier if Nigel and I had not been in love once, if instead we'd been two strangers on a job. (2)
The chaos here felt edgy, dangerous, as if we couldn't keep ourselves outside of it and were breathing it in, as if it already sat in the lungs of every last person in that airport, the cyanide edge of a nasty war. (112)
They had figured out how to destroy me without totally extinguishing me. (340)

I'd like to say that I hesitated before heading into Somalia, but I didn't. If anything, my experiences had taught me that while terror and strife hogged the international headlines, there was always―really, truly always―something more hopeful and humane running alongside it. What you imagined about a place was always somewhat different from what you discovered once you got there: In every country, in every city, on every block, you'd find parents who loved their kids, neighbours who looked after one another, children ready to play. Surely, I thought, I'd find stories worth telling. Surely there was merit in trying to tell them. (105)

First contact:
Ahmed had put the phone on speaker. He gestured for me to hold it away from my head so he could listen. There was a split-second delay between what my mother said and when I heard it, causing our voices to overlap uselessly.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"Well, no, not really ... Are ... are you okay?"
"Yeah, we're okay," I said.
Her voice cut over mine. "Okay."
"We're okay."
It felt as if the two of us were swimming between enormous ocean waves, dropping in and out of each other's sight, shouting into wells of water. (160)

Learning the Koran:
The leaders―Ahmed, Adam, and a third tall man we'd come to call Romeo―appeared to be reasonably well-off, with cars and expensive-looking clothes. Captain Yahya and Ali seemed to be middle management, while the boys had been given little more than a weapon, housing, and food, plus the conviction that Allah was behind them.
"Jihad," in Arabic, means "the struggle." There are two types in Islam, the greater and the lesser. Both are seen as noble. The greater jihad is inward, the lifelong striving of any Muslim to be a better person, to ward off temptation and desire, to maintain faith. The lesser jihad is outward and communal and violent when called for―the struggle to defend and assert that faith. For our captors, this jihad involved fighting the Ethiopians, although our kidnapping was wrapped into the cause. Not only did we come from "bad" countries, as Ali put it, but any ransom money they got, he said, would get channeled back into the larger fight. (163-4)

Last contact:
I could hear the squawking of a phone on speaker being carried into the room. Skids held it to my face. Mohammed kicked one of my dead legs. The line crackled and spat, but my mother was on the other end.
"Amanda? Hello? Hello? Hello?" she said.
"Amanda ..."
"Mummy," I said, too drained to muster anything else, my need for her keener than it had ever been. "Mummy, Mummy, Mummy ... Mummy ... Mummy ... Mummy ... please."

12 July 2017

FEC: Moving Days

Today's agenda, after Mr. OC (obsessive-compulsive) calls the Inmates Committee (IC) to order:
Reviewing the FEC Handbook for incoming new inmates residents.

The first of each month normally signals a day of Chaos for Moving In (Moving Out only happens motionless on a gurney.) Occasionally some upstart will arrive mid-month, to the deep disapproval of Sandor the Super who is not known for a flexible disposition.

On any of those days Simon the building manager scurries from one floor to the next, chewing his fingernails to the bone. Simon has a nervous disorder. The elevators are tied up. Trucks jam the driveway and the inner courtyard. The walls and floors take a beating from the bashing of furniture. Never mind shrieks from overwhelmed owners. Stranger-danger: movers and their helpers wandering everywhere. Relentless dumb questions terrorize Simon as he tucks himself into a corner of a stairwell for a shaky smoke. Veteran inmates repair early to the Hearty Tartan Pub to avoid the damage and whine away the day ... a practice perfected on fire drill days.

To counteract the newcomers' Moving Day trauma, the FEC Handbook is a wonderfully useful tool for enjoying life once one's belongings are stuffed into a tiny suite. It lists the building amenities and where they are located. It also lists committees, services, and the Chain of Command for complaints ― all of which seem rather pointless since privacy legislation is interpreted as forbidding the giving out of any personal contact information.

The FEC Handbook also lists the Rules by which we are all expected to co-exist. Rules ― any of which are a regular source of dispute and confrontation ― for pets; parking; the art studio; the workshop; the crafts room; the newsletter; the library; the rehearsal room; the recycling room; security; elevator etiquette; the rooftop gardens; fire drills; management hours; and medical assistance. With a plea for volunteers everywhere!

Mr. OC's plastic face reflects his distaste for the task of reviewing the rules. Mainly because the IC is about to bicker joyfully, endlessly, among themselves. As in:

Glory Overdole, star of stage and screen, selfishly held up two elevators for two days (no more celebrity mystique for her); need a new rule about that?
Newcomer Fitzharoldo has been screaming at the moving company that his box of 39 harmonicas is missing. We have guitar and drums echoing around the inner balconies as it is; we don't need no harmonicas. Rule to limit type and quantity of musical instruments?
Antagonists in the ongoing bitter 4th floor fight ― should the hall window be open or closed ― took it to a new standoff level by dialling the fire department to adjudicate. We have no rule for that.
Smoking weed is preferably done outdoors, not the 7th floor stairwell; can we say that? To be referred to Simon.
Incontinent dogs should be professionally euthanized; there are strong supporters on both sides of this issue. The more tender members of the IC are prone to argue a potential rule with sobs.

All revisions by the IC must be approved, of course, by Upper Levels in the Chain of Command. No-one ever reads the goddam Handbook anyway.

Another feckless meeting day in the life ...


30 June 2017

Library Limelights 136

Denise Mina. The Last Breath. UK: Bantam Press, 2007.
Rounding out the trilogy about Paddy Meehan, Mina presents our heroine some ten years after the last book. She is a respected and well-paid Glasgow journalist now; she has a five-year-old son Pete; her beloved sister Mary Ann is in a convent; her ex-boyfriend Sean is married with four kids; and her ex-boyfriend Terry Patterson has suddenly been murdered execution-style. Paddy seeks out the IRA who deny involvement in the slaying. Acting as Terry's executor, she quickly becomes a target herself but she doesn't know why. The killers will do anything to get hold of something Terry left behind and stop her from exposing it. He had partnered with Kevin to produce an apparently innocuous manuscript for a photographic coffee table book.

Meanwhile, she's sharing a flat with Dub whom she's known since her first newspaper days. Sean's cousin Callum is being released from prison after serving for a notorious murder. It seems most of the men in her life, including Pete's father, rely on her for strength and problem-solving. As the threats build up, she's terrified for her family but determined to figure out the sinister plot if it kills her. Somehow the villain did not come totally alive for me; maybe the scenario was a bit too obscure. The Last Breath is a fitting conclusion to the series; it would have been difficult to sustain more.

Around the women a puddle of children gathered, dazed from the boredom of mass, holding on to their mothers' legs, staring at each other or trying to eat stones from the ground. (68)
Sandra was blonde, tall, and so thin she could have opened letters with her chin. (77)
He was a small bald man and as such didn't like to be seen doing small bald things. (129)

Upstairs, a crowd, back from an early lunch and full of patter and drink, had gathered inside the newsroom doors. As she pushed through, they greeted her warmly; a sub-ed put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a couple of hearty squeezes. 
News of Paddy coming in in the middle of the night to write the copy about Terry had got around and everyone was assuming she'd done it out of decency and fellow feeling. Even being greeted on the basis of a misunderstanding it felt warm and welcome. She wanted to turn to someone and tell them she'd just met the most famous criminal in Scotland, and he was a car crash waiting to happen. But she didn't. She stood with them, smiling sadly as they talked about Terry, letting the sub-ed squeeze her shoulder again, drop his hand and try for the waist before she pulled away, saying she needed to get something out of her pigeonhole. (126)

Collateral ripples:
"And I'm sorry the book won't come out." 
"Are you joking?" Forsyth managed a weak smile. "With a story like this attached to it, it bloody well will come out." 
Paddy remembered Kevin sitting in his living room on a quiet Sunday night, proudly showing her the portfolio, saying Terry had offended someone in Lebanon and nothing would happen to him. 
"Joan, I'd keep that really quiet for a while if I were you." (271)

At Terry's memorial:
McVie was persuading everyone inside and nipped her elbow, muttering, "You're next to me at the front." Then he turned to greet Farquharson. "You look a hundred years old." 
McVie didn't like Farquharson. He had languished on night shift under him and only got out of it by convincing a grieving mother to let him document her son's death from a heroin overdose. 
She was worried that McVie was picking on a faded old man but Farquharson answered, "And I hear you're a nancy now." 
Insults met and meted, everyone settled into the company and headed towards the chapel doors. (293-4)

Reflection time:

She tried not to think about Pete or her mother or Terry Patterson, just to smell the crisp evening air and feel the nicotine pulsing softly through her, pushing the weariness away and making her skin tingle, but her thoughts kept flipping back to her house and her son and all the deeds left undone, all the kindnesses unrepaid. If she had been at home she would have wandered into the office and filled her mind by doing some work. (341)

Gary Troup. Bad Twin. (large print) USA: Thorndyke/Hyperion, 2006.
"Find my twin," was the job offered to Paul Artisan, not your stereotypical hard-boiled PI. The wealthy Widmore family of Manhattan wants to find its ne'er-do-well son Alexander. Identical twin Clifford hires him. Paul has few clues to go on but as he travels from Long Island to Key West to Cuba and back, murder is only a step behind him. A trusting soul at first, the detective begins to realize that something is out of kilter with the Widmores; the adult twins are not mirror images, nor are they polar opposites. Throw in a father ailing mentally, a glamourous stepmother, and assorted offbeat associates of Alexander, and you have enough to confuse a somewhat inexperienced PI. No expense is spared for Paul's further travels to California and Australia, unsure of what to expect if he finds the missing man.

The plot is good and tricky, emphasis being on the complex nature of the twins. Paul's friend Manny provides the sounding board he needs, complete with literary and historical references. Widmore père's infatuation with all things Scottish has some bearing on story direction, although it seems a bit facile. Paul's mission unexpectedly extends to the arms of a lovely woman. One odd thing made me question writer and/or editorial awareness: a man wearing a lavender shirt when minutes later the same scene refers to his mint green shirt. Nevertheless, a slightly different kind of mystery and a fitting final salute from a writer whose life was tragically cut short.

The detective was putting his fate into the hands of a tattooed stranger who could shoot him with a speargun or stab him with a filleting knife and dump his body in the ocean and probably get away with it. (198)
There was intimacy in waking up together, even fully clothed and in an airplane seat. (271-2)

"Love's the closest thing to an antidote for mortality. Or maybe it's just the DNA screaming to be passed along while there's still time." (219)

Professional growing pains:
Passing through the endless ribbon of suburbs and strip malls along the LIE, Paul Artisan tasted something metallic way back in his throat. It was fear, no mistaking it. If it was humbling and distressing, there was also something bracing about it. Feeling fear was the beginning of finding courage. Courage without fear was just a macho pose, a snarling attitude, little more than practiced bravado. It was fear that gave nerve its stature, its dimension. 
Feeling fear, and sensing that perhaps he'd be equal to doing the right thing in the face of it, Artisan had the odd but wonderful sensation of burgeoning within his own familiar skin, becoming somehow larger as he swelled to fill in his own outline. There was pride in this new vision of bigness, a pride that he had longed to feel and had barely noticed he'd been missing. (162)

Reporting to the client:
The detective said, "You've heard about Moth?" 
Absently, Widmore said, "Yeah. I saw it in the paper. It's a shame." 
Artisan said, "The man was killed, Cliff. And you're telling me tomorrow?" 
The client seemed surprised at the detective's vehemence. Paul Artisan was a bit surprised by it himself. 
Trying to keep things affable, Widmore said, "Hey, aren't you the laid-back guy who goes to work in tennis clothes?" 
"Not anymore. Not when people start getting murdered all around me." 
Perhaps not sounding quite as surprised as he might have been, Cliff said, "People, plural? Are you telling me there's more than one?" (222-3)

Philip Margolin. Executive Privilege. USA: Harper, 2008.
Echoing the title, it's a privilege to read a true master of the legal (and often political) thriller; Margolin has a stream of deserved bestsellers. The White House is at the centre of this novel, behind the scenes with the privilege and power of the USA's highest office. Two separate investigations reveal a connection to the President despite the murders of both teenage girls being attributed to serial killers. One investigation is by police and the FBI in Washington, DC; the other comes up in the legal defence for a serial killer by lawyer Brad Miller in Portland, OR. Brad has to fight his boss Susan Tuchman to persist. Will the disparate revelations connect with each other?

Peopled with cops, political aides, and lawyers of every stripe, the story is magnetic. These days anything strange can be believed about the highest office in America. Main detective Keith Evans has no choice but to follow where the scant clues lead, but can he prove anything? A third teenage death is discovered. We meet Dana Cutler, the epitome of a tough investigator (glad to see her character continues in a later book). Dana has evidence that professional hit men will kill her for. There's room for some romance; there is some retroactive violence; cynicism about politics is brimming below the surface. Complicated, intense story wisely constructed; cheers for excellence.

In the legal community, Dale Perry's reputation for viciousness rivaled that of Vlad the Impaler. (121)
Evans lost contact with his surroundings as he listened to Dana Cutler describe her walk up the cellar steps with Brady's Magnum in one hand and an ax in the other. (245)
Her eyes lasered in on Brad, and he could almost see the red dot marking his heart where Tuchman was going to shoot her death ray. (275)

Why me?
"This is just what I need," Brad muttered as he descended the stairs. Not only was he loaded with work for other partners but he knew absolutely nothing about criminal law and cared less. He'd taken the required course his first year in law school and a refresher course when he was studying for the bar, but he remembered almost nothing he'd learned. Then there was the added pressure of knowing that a person might die if he messed up. Of course, that person was a convicted serial killer, someone he had no interest in saving from the gallows. If the guy really did it, society would be better off if Little was executed. 
"Why me, God?" Brad muttered as he shoved open the twenty-seventh floor door. When he received no answer, he concluded that either the Deity wasn't interested in his problems or the Gods on the thirtieth floor were more powerful than whoever he'd previously considered to be the Big Boss. (62-3)

A shootout:
"Call for backup and an ambulance for your partner," Dana ordered as she ran to the policeman. 
"The cop is dead," she shouted at Evans, who was speaking into his cell phone. 
"So are the shooters," Dana said after checking the two riders. "How's your partner?" 
"I'm okay," Sparks said between clenched teeth. "This just hurts like hell." 
"The ambulance is on its way," Evans said. 
"Good. I'm out of here," Dana said. 
"Wait," Evans said as he aimed his gun at Dana. 
"You're going to have to shoot me because I'm not waiting for more of Farrington's killers to take me out." (235)