18 January 2018

Library Limelights 150

Graeme Macrae Burnet. His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae. Large print. USA: Thorndike Press, 2015.
Fiction ... it's fiction ... but so skillfully presented as historical truth that it made the Man Booker short list last year. Burnet allegedly uncovered the 1869 story when researching his ancestors in Wester Ross, Scotland, and it's written in nineteenth century style. Teenager Roddy Macrae murdered three people in his little village; he calmly admits to it. Waiting in jail for his trial, he pens his memoir of events as suggested by his lawyer, Sinclair — giving a full picture of life in a Highland village. Or is it full? Other documents relating to the tragedy and the trial indicate discrepancies or omissions in Roddy's account. His more than adequate literacy contrasts with his being verbally inarticulate, for example his awkward, mute feelings for neighbour Flora. It is puzzling to me that he says he is "close" to his sister yet oblivious to changes in her life.

One can easily understand how the hard circumstances of that time and place, as described by the boy, drove him to such an extreme. Yet the judges do not allow Roddy's memoir into evidence at the trial. Whether his family was maliciously persecuted by local authorities, Constable Mackenzie in particular, is viewed subjectively and differently by those involved. But there seems little doubt about the sour pall of inflexible, humourless Presbyterianism permeating Roddy's father and his home; equally palpable is the condescension of the "educated class." Opposing arguments about moral insanity by precursors of modern psychology bring the trial to a climax. No question, the book is a tour de force.

One-liners (from Roddy's memoir):
Archibald Ross replied that for folk like us there was no other ship but the hard ship. (95)
Ever since I was a child I have found it hard to dissemble. (165)
It was written in an elegant hand and headed with the words, underlined, "Notice of Eviction." (246)

One-liners (from others):
He sometimes seemed like he was in a world of his own. (359)
A pattern emerged whereby the Crown sought to establish rational motives for the murders, while Mr Sinclair attempted, with varying degrees of success, to portray the accused as not being in his right mind. (362)
"In summation, I would say without hesitation that the prisoner is derived from substandard physical stock." (432)

The parish minister:
I fear the wicked deeds lately committed in this parish only represent a bubbling to the surface of the natural state of savagism of the inhabitants of this place, a savagism that the Church has of late been successful in repressing. The history of these parts, it has been said, is stained with black and bloody crimes, and its people exhibit a certain wildness and indulgence. Such traits cannot be bred out in a matter of generations, and while the teachings of the Presbytery are a civilising influence, it is inevitable that now and again the old instincts come to the fore. (22-3)

The teacher:
Mr Gillies put down his pen and asked me what my plans were. It was not a question which a person from our parts would ask. Making plans was an offence against providence. I said nothing. Mr Gillies took off his little glasses.
"What I mean," he said, "is what do you intend to do when you finish school?"
"Only what is meant for me," I said.
Mr Gillies frowned. "And what do you think is meant for you?"
"I cannot say," I replied.
"Roddy, despite your best efforts to conceal them, God has granted you some uncommon gifts. It would be sinful not to make use of them."
I was surprised to hear Mr Gillies couch his argument in these terms as he was not generally given to religious talk. As I made no reply, he took a more direct approach.
"Have you thought of continuing your education? I have no doubt that you have the necessary ability to become a teacher or a minister or anything you choose."
Of course, I had considered no such thing, and said so.
"Perhaps you should discuss it with your parents," he said. "You may tell them that I believe you have the necessary potential."
"But I am required for the croft," I said. (50-1)

Village witness:
"Crofts are not divided up this way. Each family works their portion of land and it passes from one generation to the next."
"I see. So Mr Mackenzie's action was unprecedented?"
"It was vindictive."
"Ah!" said Mr. Gifford, as if he had finally succeeded in reaching the nub of the matter. "'Vindictive' is a strong word, Mr. Murchison. So rather than using his powers for the general good, Mr Mackenzie was perceived to be pursuing some kind of vendetta against Mr Macrae?"
"Correct." (358)



C.J. Tudor. The Chalk Man. "Advance reader's edition." USA: Crown Publishing/Penguin Random House, 2018.
A first-novel freebie from Bouchercon, what a find! It even involves kids and I don't mind! The story told by narrator Eddie flashes back and forth from adulthood to the days of five close childhood friends. In the carefree time of youth they invented their own code of chalk drawings to signal each other. The kids are portrayed as so natural that we are willingly captured. Yet secrets lurked in their families, in their own consciences then. A boy died; a girl died; a man died; and Eddie is still asking questions about the unsolved crimes thirty years later. His friends Hoppo and Gav live nearby; Nicky and Mickey have moved away.

Nowadays a strange but likeable young woman called Chloe is renting a room in Eddie's home. Then pieces of the past begin to manifest in disturbing ways. Issues of trust and honesty are paramount as Eddie tries to unwind old and new tangles. One of his old friends dies. The story is full of mysteries and becomes more complicated with each page. Parents ― the father endlessly seeking freelance writing jobs, the mother who runs an abortion clinic, the rigidly fundamentalist minister, the sad cleaning lady, and so on ― we can't be sure who is hiding what. The plot and characters move along so smoothly it's a master lesson in how to build suspense. C.J. Tudor ... more please!

One-liners:
There was a streak running through him that was as cold and ugly as the braces that ran around his mouth. (7)
Often, what comes with age is not wisdom but intolerance. (21)
There's nothing like dealing with another drunk to put you off the idea of getting wasted yourself. (122)
Despite my insomnia and sleepwalking, I am not a night creature, not really. (262)

Mickey seeks truth:
I stare at him. Then I shake my head. "No." 
"Just hear me out." 
"I'm not interested. I don't need to drag it all up again." 
"But I do." He throws back the bottle. "Look, for years I've tried not to think about what happened. I've been avoiding it. Shutting it away. Well, I've decided it's time to look at all that fear and guilt in the eye and deal with it." 
Personally, I have found it is much better to take your fears, lock them up in a nice, tightly shut box and shove them into the deepest, darkest corners of your mind. But each to their own. 
"And what about the rest of us? Have you thought about whether we want to face our fears, go back over everything that happened?" (60-1)

A milestone of passage:
Death happened to other people, not kids like us, not people we knew. Death was abstract and distant. Sean Cooper's funeral was probably the first time I understood that death is only ever a cool, sour breath away. His greatest trick is making you think he isn't there. And death has a lot of tricks up his cold, dark sleeve. (106)

Cynical Chloe:
She stares into her glass. "Friends, eh? More trouble than they're worth. Although not as bad as family." 
"I suppose," I say cautiously. 
"Oh, trust me. Friends, you can cut loose. Family, you never lose. They're always there, in the background, screwing with your mind."She throws back the gin and pours another. (121)

Losing your mind:
My own dad didn't used to get people confused. But sometimes he would resort to calling me "son," as if I wouldn't notice that he had forgotten my name again. 
Gwen settles back in her chair, staring at the TV, lost once more in her own world, or maybe some other world. Thin, I think, that fabric between realities. Maybe minds aren't lost. Maybe they just slip through and find a different place to wander. 
Hoppo offers me a brief, bleak smile. "Why don't we go into the kitchen?" 
"Sure," I say. 
If he'd suggested swimming with sharks I would have agreed just to get out of that hot, stinking living room. (173-4)


John Lescroart. The Suspect. USA: New American Library/Penguin, 2007.
Lawyer Gina Roake is recovering from the death of her soul-mate David, undertaking her first murder defence case. The accused is writer Stuart Gorman, whose surgeon wife Caryn drowned in a hot tub ‒ while he was elsewhere, he insists. Naturally, police are looking at all the suspicious details. The dissection of Stuart's failed marriage reveals much more about Caryn's high-powered activities; they were parents who more or less ignored their bipolar daughter's problems. When Caryn's medical lab technician is found dead a few days later, the police call it suicide. Gung-ho police detective Devin Juhle seems to have tunnel vision, focusing only on Stuart.

Gina's biggest personal challenge is the pre-trial hearing where the legal standard is probable cause; she needs an alternative theory credible enough to convince the judge to release her client. This is vintage Lescroart in his fictional San Francisco world (somehow I missed it in the publishing order). Court room tactics and scenes are a must. No matter which character leads the case/story, token appearances by the other familiar figures are always pleasing to us fans, here e.g. Wes Farrell, Dismas Hardy, investigator Wyatt Hunt. Gina does manage to unravel the truth at some cost of injury to both her and Gorman. Lescroart always weaves a good tale, always satisfying.

One-liners:
And suddenly, as she stared through the prisms of her engagement ring, she felt her shoulders relax as though relieved of a great load. (14)
"Now, Gina," he began with the voice of God, "how may I help you?" (285)
But why, she wondered, was it always these guys with a kind of slippery morality who got drawn to high level politics? (312)

The courthouse:
In front of them, unmarked as well as black-and-white police cars and taxicabs were double-parked in the street all the way up to the front steps of the Hall. Someone had chained a large Doberman to one of the handrails in the middle of the wide and shallow stairs, and his barking competed with the Jamaican in dreads who was exhorting all and sundry to embrace Rasta as their salvation and Haile Selassie as the one true God. A homeless man wrapped in newspaper slept just beyond the hedge that bounded the steps. A full dozen attorney types stood talking with clients or cops in the bright sunshine while regular citizens kept up a stream in and out of the glass doors. "Can you believe? I think I've actually missed the place," Roake said. (39)

Who's out of line?
Hunt tapped idly at the keyboard. "Has somebody we know impeded an investigation?" 
"Briefing a suspect's lawyer on the progress of an official investigation might even fall under aiding and abetting." 
Hunt stopped with the keyboard, turned around. More impatient than angry, he laid it out straight. "Give it a rest, Dev. You know I work for Gina's firm, you knew she was representing Stuart. If you chose not to put that together, that's your problem, my friend, not mine. I never admitted nor denied anything about my involvement or lack thereof with Gina when we talked the other night, and you never asked, so what's the issue?" Juhle started to say something but Hunt held up a finger, stopping him. "And you didn't give me any information I wouldn't have known by the next day, anyway. None of which, I might add, convicts Gorman of anything." (192)

Cynicism or realism?

Perhaps this was what Wes had been warning her about all along. You don't get involved with people you believe to be innocent, because the fundamental function of the law wasn't to dispense justice. She'd said it herself not long ago: It was about conflict resolution.You say he's guilty, I say he's not. Let's decide this case and get on to the next one before lunch, because we've got five more of them this afternoon. Justice was nice. Something everyone hoped for and even usually attained. But it was fundamentally a by-product of a system designed effectively to settle disputes short of clan warfare. If a conflict could be resolved by a conviction, and that was apparently the case here, then a warm body who could be convicted was all the system demanded. And once those wheels were set in motion, they inexorably rolled on. (362-3)


11 January 2018

FEC Recycling

Urban recycling came to FEC. The Recycling Room is a grey-ish area. Nominally under the supervision of Sandor the Super who reports to Simon the Manager, it lures Mr OCD to upgrade reinforce the civic-minded influence of the IC. And particularly because he admires the inherent and logical Rules of recycling. Rules that must be explained carefully to the hard of hearing, the slow of mind, and the just plain ignorant.


Therefore the IC conducts an information session at which Sandor the Super sits bursting with pride over the worthy new project he'd initiated. Mr OCD, wishing to share the credit, undertakes to explain the system assisted by the colourful posters Sheila and Luana made. Patiently he handles excited interruptions from Sandor whose language skills deteriorate even further when emotional.

The handful of inmates residents in attendance are skeptical about the little compost bins being issued to each suite.
Archie: "Wet garbage? We're supposed to wash it?"
OCD: "No, no—"
Mouthy Monica: "Food scraps, you jerk."
Archie: "Who has scraps?"
Luana: "Ignore him, the pig."
Sandor: "World needs not wasting, we fight, we—"
Dan: "The whole system smacks of Nazi."
Rose: "How smelly is that thing going to be?"
OCD: "Compostable bags in the little compost bins, please."
Sandor: "NAZI?!! who is saying that?!!

And so on. And yet all of FEC was impressed with the first sight of Sandor's remodelled Recycling Room as their visits to dump the little white bucket became necessary. Green bins, blue bins, black bins. Shelves. Labels. Posters. Immaculate. A place for everything and everything in its place.

Flash forward. The Recycling Room bins are never empty. Mercifully the green bin has a tight lid on it to give the fruit flies some privacy. There's possibly some misunderstanding about the difference between paper and plastic even though Sheila desperately adds new signs and arrows every week. The newspaper overflow hides pizza crusts and light bulbs. Discarded bits of crockery and self-help books cram the shelves. Someone spilled half a pound of what looks like turmeric along the floor toward the green bin. Broken picture frames compete for floor space with a moth-eaten carpet and a dead computer monitor.

Hanging from a horizontal pipe is FEC's version of a thrift shop. Today's specials are a well-worn pair of size XXXL jeans, some blotchy linen dinner napkins, a red sweater, a blazer that was popular in the 1940s, and a torn dress size small that reeks suspiciously like Sally. Three pairs of unbelievably ugly shoes. Rumour has it that Wanda is patiently collecting some of the better specimens to sell; she waits in hope that Glory Overdole will some day donate a few of her couture cast-offs.

The crowning effect in the Recycling Room is a stunning display of empty booze bottles. Every day. Sam the still hunky ex-Kitchen Subcommittee Assistant has arranged with Sandor and the use of Luther's car to make daily runs to the liquor and beer stores. Healthy refunds for the bottles are split amongst them, although share percentages are often subject to squabble. Nevertheless, Sam's portion ensures he can pay his rent without being forced to seek righteous employment.

Most evenings Sandor can be heard in the workshop next door, crooning in his native language and playing opera full blast. He has a facile skill for repairing broken electrical items (he draws a firm line against electronics). Not everyone (maybe the insomniacs) knows that Sandor also uses this time to fight the good fight against raccoon nation. FEC is a magnet for raccoons who know how to climb balconies like the time one of them scared the wits out of Blanche who had to be sedated by the paramedics. Lately they are craving fragrant FEC garbage therefore Sandor is waging war. Jiminy Crick says Sandor is secretly inventing an electrocution system for the Recycling Room's outside door. Don't tell Sheila.

  Another feckless room day in the life ...

31 December 2017

Library Limelights 149

David Lagercrantz. The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye. Toronto: Viking/Penguin/Random House, 2017.
Who is this detached, passive Lisbeth Salander? The girl who is mostly peripheral to the story and allows herself to be beaten up twice? Salander is in prison at the beginning for reasons from the last novel (The Girl in the Spider's Web) but she sets old friends Mikael Blomkvist the journalist and Holger Palmgren to find answers to her childhood. As we might expect, Blomkvist uncovers murky psychiatric dealings in the past while we are also privy to the ongoing story of now-adult twins Leo and Dan this novel is really their story. A secondary thread involves a female Bangladesh immigrant whom Salander vows to rescue, but only in a strangely complicated way.

Shifting the chronology back and forth works beautifully for many deft authors, but not this time. Disjointed comes to mind. Also, too much awkward exposition fails to enliven the action; many lost opportunities, it seems to me, where dialogue would have delivered engagement with the characters' feelings. Few of them elicit sympathy or a momentum of caring. Benito the bad girl is a cartoon, not a scary monster; sorry to say, her climactic scene was so silly it made me laugh. The focus has drifted away from a faded imitation of Steig Larsson's girl onto Blomkvist. I'd given Lagercrantz the benefit of the doubt last time but sadly, thumbs down. That's my take and I'm sticking to it.

One-liners:
He realized to his horror that she was trying to hack into the prison's computer system. (27)
The family had acquired a new enemy, and that enemy was her brother Khalil. (158)
Life always seemed to be happening elsewhere, a party to which he had not been invited. (224)
He stood with his guitar and felt like a beggar, a street musician who had strayed into an elegant drawing room and was hoping to be accepted. (231)

Childhood talent:
His first compositions were too pompous. He was not yet sophisticated, and he still had to discover jazz, which would make his harmonies grittier and more spiky. Above all, he had not yet learned to handle the amplified sound of insects, rustling bushes, footsteps, distant engines, voices, fansall those things which only he could hear.However, he was happy at the grand piano that day, as happy as a boy like him could be. Despite the fact that somebody was always keeping an eye on him, he was a solitary child, and he loved only one personhis psychologist Carl Seger. (86)

Nature or nurture, or ...
Hilda observed that science always loses its way when guided by ideology or wishful thinking. There was a note of anxiety in her introductory passage, as if she was about to propose something shocking. But the article was balanced: it held that we are affected by genetics and social environment to the same degree, which was more or less what Blomkvist had expected.
One thing did surprise him, however. The environmental factors said to be most influential in shaping us were not those he had predicted. The essay suggested that mothers and fathers are often convinced they have a decisive influence over their children's development, but they "flatter themselves."
Hilda argued that our fate is more likely determined by what she called our "unique environment"―the one we do not share with anyone, not even our siblings. It is the environment we seek out and create for ourselves, for example, when we find something that delights and fascinates us and drives us in a certain direction. Rather like Blomkvist's reaction as a young boy, perhaps, when he saw the film All the President's Men and was struck by a strong urge to become a journalist. (190)

Epic fail:
" ... I called you in the middle of a crisis, when I had nothing, and what did you say then? Not one word. You let me grow up without knowing the most important thing in my life. You've robbed me ..."
He struggled for words, but found nothing which would do his feelings justice.
"I'm sorry, Daniel, I'm sorry," she stammered.
He yelled abuse at her, then hung up. He ordered some beer. A whole load of beer. He had to get his nerves under control, because already it was clear to him that he must get in touch with Leo. But how? Should he write, call? Simply show up? (213-4)



Megan Abbott. The Fever. USA: Little, Brown and Company, 2014.
Abbott is a highly regarded author who was honoured at BoucherCon, so it was my duty to try at least one book. My impression is that many of her subjects involved teenagers, not my favourite characters, so I chose this novel hoping for the best. Oops. It's 90% about high school students in a town called Dryden and their insecure predilections for gossip, rumour, and the drama of relationships and sexual exploration. Deenie, her brother Eli, and their teacher-father Tom lead us with observations of the frightening physical seizures sending their friends to hospital. The unknown menace could be viral, bacterial, or something even scarier. Enter the suspense of who's next and how to identify the problem spreading through the school.

You can understand why Abbott wins coveted mystery awards she builds her plot ever so skillfully and gracefully, from one potential cause of the affliction to another as the kids agonize over each other and their parents work up to mob hysteria. No criticism whatsoever regarding style or development or atmospheric tension. It's just me — the endless teen texting, the photos posted to social media, the tedium of parenting history — is not of particular interest. I'm not likely to pick up another Abbott, but her psychological insights and perfect prose are totally admirable.

One-liners:
One afternoon two years ago, he came home and found her at the dining-room table drinking scotch from a jam jar. (10)
Some of these girls never seemed to eat, floating through the hallways like wraiths, drooping under the bleachers during gym. (31)
When you thought about your body, about how much of it you couldn't even see, it was no wonder it could all go wrong. (59)
She saw the car, the only car in the world, the streets desolate and haunted, like a town during a plague. (269)

Yet another one falls:
Deenie looked at the words, which seemed to float before her eyes.
But I'm okay, she wanted to say, to type. But she just looked at the screen instead.
That was when she heard the funny pant, someone rushing up to her, the hall echoing with new noise.
Keith Barbour was charging down the hall with another senior boy, both their necks ringed by monster headphones.
"Did you hear?" he barked, shoving Deenie in the arm. "Kim Court's getting wheeled out on a gurney."
"Kim?" Deenie asked, her phone smacking the floor. "What happened?"
"You're all going down." The other boy laughed, beats thrumming through the open mouths of his headphones. "One by one." (121)

Awakening:
"You're hiding too," a voice beside him said.
It was the French teacher, Kit, walking toward him, sliding off a tiny leather jacket, tomato red, like her Vespa.
Where did this woman come from? he wondered. And where had she been when he was single? Then he remembered he was single. (204)

Everything:
"I know what it is," Lara had said as he was halfway out the door, still buttoning his shirt with one hand, the other hand crushed over his car keys.
"What?"
"Everything happening," she said, standing in the hard light of the entryway. Saying it quietly, barely a whisper.
"It's what we put in the ground," she said. "And in the walls. The lake, the water, the things we say, the things we do. All of it, straight into their sturdy little bodies. Because even if it isn't any of these things, it could be. Because all we do from the minute they're born is put them at risk."
He felt his keys cut into his fingers.
"We put them at risk by having them," he blurted, not even knowing what he meant. Touched by her words, frightened by them. "And the hazards never stop." (252-3)


Joe Ide. IQ. USA: Hachette Group/Mulholland Books/Little, Brown, 2016.
What a refreshing change ... an entertaining take on the PI image. Young Isaiah Quintabe has a growing reputation for solving problems and finding justice for all manner of domestic and financial abuses. He is making amends for the life of crime that almost trapped him; he also needs to live up to the promise his brother Marcus saw in him. Helping others becomes a job that doesn't always pay the rent, so he can't refuse a dubious offer from erstwhile friend Dodson. These two have a shady history which is told in tandem with their mission to stop whoever is trying to kill rap star Black the Knife aka Calvin Wright. Always in the back of Isaiah's mind is finding the hit and run driver who killed Marcus.

That's the introduction to a mix of deluded music sycophants, street gangs, a lunatic hit man, a gigantic pit bull, and hilarious dialogue, held together by the earnest and steady Isaiah. It's a unique immersive experience; perhaps only Carl Hiassen comes to mind on the same wavelength of humour. Sure, the street slang and colloquialisms of black life in the extended suburbs of L.A. (Long Beach) take some mental adjustment but you can't help loving how Isaiah navigates his world. The man is innately decent and immensely appealing. The author has wrought something remarkable here; long may he write!

One-liners:
Most of his love life was curiosity sex. (9)
"God didn't give you a gift so you could be a hedge fund manager." (43)
Bobby looked like he'd opened his safe and found a head of cabbage. (175)
Tudor smiled like he'd farted in a crowded elevator. (304)

Two-liner: "It's a hustler's world, son," Dodson said, "and if you ain't doing the hustlin'? Somebody's hustlin' you." (58)

Career Day:
Dodson was sitting in a metal folding chair on the auditorium stage at Carver Middle School. He vaguely remembered being a student here, although calling him a student was a stretch. His attendance was so bad his history teacher said he should wear a visitor's badge. Homework was like a strange ritual they did in some foreign country where everybody was blond and wore wooden shoes.
Dodson was sharing the dais with a firefighter in a big canvas coat, a Filipina nurse in green scrubs, a bulky-looking woman who worked as a prison guard, and an old man in oil-stained coveralls and an STP cap who owned a wrecking yard. Above them hung a banner in blue and green tempera that said: CAREER DAY. Dodson saw Isaiah slip into the back of the auditorium and he smiled to himself. This could only mean one thing, Isaiah needed money and he needed it bad. (55)

Calvin's front yard:
Bobby had called a meeting in Cal's circular driveway. He liked to do that, talk to people in driveways, parking lots, hotel lobbies, and on his way out of restaurants. It made him seem like he only had time for a quick word or two so you better let him say his piece. Bobby liked to say if you control how long you talk you control what's talked about. And the man could talk you into the ground. The best bullshitter Hegan had ever seen and he'd seen more than a few. Like he was doing now with that IQ kid, the one that crazy fuck Cal hired to investigate the dog attack; Bobby doing his busy-man-trying-to-be-patient routine in a sea-green Armani, suede slip-ons, and no socks, talking to the kid like a prosecutor, letting him know who was in charge. (172)

Calvin's back yard:
"Look at Bobby all down on the ground. Looks like the Taliban's shooting at his ass. And speaking of Bobby, why'd you go at him so hard? You lost your temper again, didn't you?"
"I don't care about Bobby," Isaiah said. "I care about my client."
"Well, you better get out your water wings. Your client is drowning again."
Despite his earlier experience, Cal had jumped in the pool and was thrashing around, swallowing water. "Help," he gurgled. "Somebody help Calvin." He went under, one hand waving like he was hailing a cab.
Charles and Bug were behind the gas barbecue, too disgusted to laugh. "How'd that fool ever get to be a star?" Charles said.
Anthony was sitting out in the open with his back against the house. He looked like a man who'd lost his dignity and was too tired to go get it. "Maybe we'll get lucky and he'll drown," he said. (178)



23 December 2017

Library Limelights 148

Jussi Adler-Olsen. The Scarred Woman. USA: Random House Large Print, 2017.
Inspector Carl Morck of Department Q in Copenhagen doesn't make his appearance for many pages; instead we are introduced to the defeating life of a social worker who handles one idle, vain, devious welfare recipient after another. Anneli deplores these young women to the extent that she plans to kill them. Yup — secretly rid the world of ungrateful parasites. Morck is debating the similarities of a recent murder with one of his cold cases while his entire team worries about their deteriorating colleague Rose. Ultimately Morck faces five cases with complicated but tenuous connections. Then there are the internal police politics, how a steel mill operates, and a mashup of wartime atrocities.

The serious underlying social issues lie heavily on the tangled plot lines. Scars as per the title are psychological and they are deep. The chemistry between Morck and assistant Assad is not as engaging as usual. Rose's breakdown is horrifying in its intensity; rescuing her induces frantic page-turning. Apart from that, the story is not as magnetic, not as light-humoured, as expected from past books in this series — so many threads; some characters not satisfactorily defined. Not up to Adler-Olsen's normally sharp snuff.

One-liners:
It almost felt as if a liquid had spread in her brain, killing her cells, and that there were membranes growing on her senses. (160)
Why the hell hadn't they been more involved in Rose's life? (176)
The choking feeling was so strong that her heart was beating like a pneumatic drill to oxygenate her body. (340)

Job regrets:
Why hadn't she just studied economics like her father had recommended? She could have been sitting with all the crooks in the parliament, enjoying the perks of the job instead of being burdened with this mismatch of dysfunctional girls and women. They were like dirty water in a bath, and Anneli wanted to pull the plug! 
She had called four very well-dressed girls into a meeting today, all of whom had been unemployed for a long time. But instead of humility and basic ideas about how they might improve their situation, she was met with shameless demands for handouts from the public purse. (58)

Avoiding the pestering press:
"Have you taken a wrong turn?" asked Carl. "The toilets are down the corridor." 
"Ha-ha. No, Lars Bjorn has spoken so highly of you that we decided together that Station 3 would shadow Department Q and watch you at work for a few days. Just a small film crew of three men. Me, a cameraman, and a sound technician. Won't it be fun?" 
Carl glared and was about to give him a piece of his mind but thought better of it. Maybe this would present him with an opportunity for sabotage and Lars Bjorn would be sorry. 
"Yes, it sounds like fun." He nodded with his eyes fixed on the notes Marcus Jacobsen had given him and which were now scattered unread on his desk. "Actually, we're investigating a case that might interest you. A very current murder case that could be perfect for your program, and which I happen to think is connected to one of our cold cases." 
That caught his attention. (156)

Dozy drunk:
Carl turned toward the woman. "You wouldn't happen to have an extra key to your mother's apartment, would you, Birgit?" 
She huffed a couple of times, as if he was putting her to a lot of bother. They needed to hurry things along before she fell asleep. 
Then she suddenly lifted her head, answering with surprising clarity that she did because her mother was always losing her keys. She had once had ten sets cut, and there were still four sets in the drawer.She gave them a single set but insisted on seeing their ID first. When she had scrutinized Carl's, he passed it behind his back to Laursen so she would see the same one again. She seemed satisfied with this. She forgot about Assad. 
"Just one final thing, Birgit Zimmermann," said Carl when they were standing in the doorway. "Denise Zimmermann, is that a relative of yours?" 
She nodded joylessly. 
"A daughter?" asked Assad. 
She turned awkwardly toward him. 
"She isn't home," she said. "I haven't spoken with her since the funeral." (203-4)



Jane Harper. Force of Nature. Sydney, Australia: Macmillan, 2017.
Oz author Harper's deft hand at suspense continues since her debut with The Dry. A forward-looking company sends some of its executives and others into the wilderness for a three-day teambuilding retreat. The inexperienced women's team of five gets lost; when they do stumble out much later to the rendezvous point, battered and scared, Alice Russell is missing. Not only is she now the subject of a search-and-rescue operation, she was an important secret informer for finance investigator cop Aaron Falk. Falk and his partner Carmen Cooper had been expecting Alice to hand them contract documents that would incriminate the company owners. Interviews with the remaining four women give few clues to how or why Alice disappeared. Stories of a not-so-long-ago human predator in the bushland begin to circulate.

But we the readers witness the dynamics among the women as the timeline shifts back and forth. Two are twins, working in separate areas of the company. Two have known each other since school days; also, their teenage daughters have been schoolmates. Under pressure to find out if Alice had actually obtained the documents, Falk and Cooper wonder if their secret somehow caused her to go missing. Slowly they identify the personal tensions driving each woman, managing to prevent a suicide ~ no spoilers here. Falk is a character worth watching, and it's a great setting in both the Australian bush and the story lines.

One-liners:
It had seemed wrong, running away to the city with the scent of fear and suspicion lodged in their nostrils. (91)
A slip of the foot and suddenly she was weightless as she plunged through the branches. (134)
"It hasn't been easy around here lately, but at least I got to come home." (236)

Not the first disappearance:
" ... And there was a Kiwi couple about ten years ago. That was a bit of a strange one. Early thirties, fit, fairly experienced. It came out quite a lot later that they'd run up some heavy debts back in New Zealand." 
"So, what, you think they disappeared on purpose?" Falk said. 
"Not for me to say, mate. But it wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world for them to fall off the radar. 
Falk and Carmen exchanged a glance. 
"So what's happened this time?" Carmen said. 
"Alice Russell was in a group of five women dropped off at the start of Mirror Falls trail on Thursday arvo ‒ someone can show you that later if you want ‒ armed with your basic supplies. A map, tents, compass, some food. They were supposed to head pretty much due west, complete some of those bloody teambuilding obstacles during the day, camp for three nights." (33)

Painful past:
Carmen was saying something. 
"Sorry?" 
"I asked what your mum made of it all." 
"Oh. Nothing. She died when I was really young." 
Giving birth to him, in fact, but Falk avoided specifying that where possible. It seemed to make people very uncomfortable, and prompted some ‒ women, usually ‒ to look at him with an appraising glint in their eye. Were you worth it? He avoided asking himself the same question, but at times caught himself wondering what his mother's thoughts had been. He hoped not entirely full of regret. (92)

Unhappy colleagues:
After twenty minutes, Alice had unfolded her arms from across her chest and came over to help. She was obviously more cold than she was angry, Lauren thought. Jill and the twins had retreated into the cabin. Eventually Alice had cleared her throat. 
"I'm sorry about before." Her voice had been hard to hear. Alice's apologies, when they came at all, always managed to sound begrudging. 
"It's okay. We're all tired." Lauren had braced herself for another argument, but Alice had continued fiddling with the fire. She'd seemed distracted, putting sticks into small piles, then breaking them down to rebuild them. 
"Lauren, how's Rebecca?" 
The question had come out of nowhere and Lauren had blinked in surprise. (237-8)


Terry Hayes. I Am Pilgrim. Gale/Thorndike Press (large print), 2014.
Recommended at the Bouchercon Conference by Lindsay Barclay as an excellent book he's read this year. Hayes has a stellar resumé in TV/film scriptwriting (e.g. Dead Calm, Mad Max) so the impact of his first novel should be no surprise. Our protagonist who begins adult life as Scott Murdoch is muy sympatico, quite a writing triumph in characterizing a top-level espionage agent with a licence to kill. Just when he's retiring in his thirties from a dangerous world, he can't refuse the job to find the terrorist called Saracen. Most fascinating is the detailed, essential background that moulded both opponents. From a resort town in Turkey to the restoration workshops of the famed Uffizi Gallery to the wild mountains of Afghanistan, the reader is swept on an epic tide. I mean epic.

The trail begins with a murder in New York, developing into a massive threat against America ‒ the great Satan. At first, no-one knows what form the deadly attack will take. Be warned: scenes of waterboarding; but you might as well know that any country will stoop to torture for information. Hayes makes it all real whether it's medical technology or conflicting personal feelings. I can't recall a more original or intricate story-telling in this genre, ever. The old saw ~ I couldn't put it down ~ applies. And for some odd reason the title recalls for me the classic John Bunyan hymn. Despite a few logistical wonders and an "off of," it's a long, engaging, intelligent read. Just get it!

One-liners:
Edmund Burke said the problem with war is that it usually consumes the very things you're fighting for — justice, decency, humanity — and I couldn't help but think of how many times I had violated our nation's deepest values in order to protect them. (73)
Late one afternoon, a few weeks hence, I would be dragged back into the secret world and any hope I had of reaching for normal would be gone, probably forever. (97)
I hadn't jumped anything like eighteen feet through thin air since training, and even then I was more wooden spoon than gold medal. (576)
I returned to my car and under a single streetlamp in a dark corner of a Bulgarian town nobody ever heard of, surrounded by farmland and young Gypsy hookers, where I made a call to a number with an area code that didn't exist. (598)

Two-liners:
"It's a Zen story, of course," he said, smiling again. "The point is — if you want to be free, all you have to do is let go." (82)
"You know your trouble, Bill?" she said. "You're a porter — you see anyone with baggage and you've always got to help them." (265)

Fine deceptions:
To the world at large I tried to be what I thought Bill and Grace wanted and ended up being a stranger to them both. 
Sitting in that room outside Langley I realized that taking on another identity, masking so much of who you are and what you feel, was ideal training for the secret world. 
In the years that followed — the ones I spent secretly traveling the world under a score of different names — I have to say the best spooks I ever met had learned to live a double life long before they joined any agency. (35)

Final solution:
It wasn't comfortable to hear, but he had a right to say it — he was my case officer. 
"If for some reason it all goes to hell and you're certain they're going to work on you, don't wait too long — hit the eject button." 
"Take myself out, you mean?" 
He didn't answer, not directly. "Ever get to Afghanistan?" he wanted to know. 
"No, I didn't," I said. 
"Lucky you. I did a few years in Kabul — twice. The Brits were there a hundred years before us, but things weren't much different. The used to have a song they'd sing — 
When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,And the women come out to cut up what remains,Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brainsAnd go to your God like a soldier." (390-1)

Pessimism or reality?
His voice was quieter, but it wasn't due to fatigue or old age, it was resignation. "You know, we've outsourced everything in this country. Do we actually make anything anymore? When you rely on imports for so much, there's no security. Not real security. Who the hell would bother with vectors? 
"I'm not an alarmist, I'm a scientist, and I'm saying you can forget them. It's contamination. Find something ordinary and send your pathogen in from overseas — the new version of the blanket. That's how a modern, intelligent enemy would do it." (395-6)

A unique command of English:
"Some man of idiot brain broke into a house belonging to a cop of the female," he continued. 
"Broke into a cop's house? Yeah — what an idiot brain." 
"Probably a Greek people," he said, absolutely serious. 
"When did this happen?" I asked, trying to act normal, just kicking it along. Everybody else was standing near the desk, and the manager and I were in our own private world. 
"Last of the evening, while you were having your relax with the dinner of the fine quality. Just before you walk in with your bloody—" 
He paused as a thought occurred to him, and though he tried to haul the sentence back he couldn't. 
"They say the killer ran from the boat place with a trail-of-the-blood injury," he said. He stopped and looked at me. (591-2)


30 November 2017

Library Limelights 147

Peter May. The Chess Men. UK: Quercus, 2013.
Another Isle of Lewis pot boiler. May's style is to integrate the back stories of Fin Macleod's island life with present-day troubles. As with the cormorant hunt in The Blackhouse and the Iolaire disaster in this one, May incorporates true Lewis events into the plot. Fin has a new job as security head for the Red River estate, catching poachers. That means meeting up with some old friends like Whistler who carves oversize chessmen similar to the famous twelfth century pieces. In a barely accessible part of the island the two men discover a downed airplane with the seventeen-year-old remains of their schoolmate Roddy Mackenzie inside. All three, and more, in their college days had been involved with the still highly successful Celtic rock band called Amram.

Turns out Roddy was murdered all those years ago; now Whistler comes to a sorry end for no discernible reason. The man had been facing a custody hearing for his daughter Anna. Friend Donald the minister is about to be censured by a church court. Fin's son has gone off-island to university; the renewed relationship with first love, Marsaili, is scarcely mentioned. One-time girlfriend Mairead, the iconic singer with Amran, reappears in Lewis. In the midst of all this, it's a challenge for Fin to find motives, let alone perpetrators of the murders. Classic Peter May. The Hebrides have never been so well portrayed in scenic and human terms. To really enjoy the three-part "stand alones" I recommend starting with The Blackhouse and continuing with The Lewis Man.

One-liners:
"It was black as hell that night, boys, and we could all feel the presence of the devil come to take us." (95)
And all the lines I had been repeating in my head disappeared in a sea of hormones. (240)
This was theatre of a kind never before seen on the island, the playing out of a human drama that the Church itself would have frowned upon had it come from the pen of a playwright and been performed by actors. (362)

Beginnings of the band:
And then there was Whistler. So-called because he played the Celtic flute as if he'd been born with it at his lips. Pure, haunting liquid music it was that poured from that flute of his. Sounds that swooped and soared with a flick of his finger, or a curl of his mouth. Strange somehow, coming from such a big brute of a boy whose temper and black moods would become so familiar to me. A boy so clever that while I spent untold hours studying for end-of-term exams, Whistler was off trapping rabbits, or pulling trout from the Red River, and still got the best grades in the school. (78)

Neglect causes outrage:
"Look!" She lifted his socks. "They're full of holes." And as she held them up I saw that they were. Worn to holes at the heels and the ball of the foot, and wafer-thin along the line of the toes, almost at the point of disintegration. "And these." She held up his underpants, stretched out between fastidious thumbs and forefingers. It took a great effort of will for her even to touch them, and there was a look of extreme disgust on her face. "The elastic's perished." She dropped them. "And his trousers. Look how he keeps them up." She showed me the safety pin at the waistband where a button had once been. The zipper was broken. "And here." She turned them over and I saw where the seam between the legs had burst open, the stitching rotted and broken. 
Then she held up his coat and turned it inside out. "And this isn't much better. The lining's all torn and worn thin. And look at his trainers for God's sake." She stooped to lift them on to the counter. "You can't see it at a glance, but the soles have come away from the uppers, and it looks like he's used duct tape to stick them back together." She glared at me with accusation in her eyes. "How could you not notice?" (172)

Full circle for a day:
He had forgotten all about the gala day. The return of all seventy-eight Lewis chessmen to their last resting place for just one day. Sixty-seven of the chess pieces were permanently housed in the British Museum in London, that repository of stolen artifacts from around the world. The remaining eleven were kept in Edinburgh, but still a long way from home. He remembered Whistler's exhortation the day they had met at his croft for the first time since they were teenagers. They should be in Uig all year round. A special exhibition. Not stuck in museums in Edinburgh and London. Then maybe folk would come to see them and we could generate some income here. (335)



Ross Pennie. Tampered. Toronto: ECW Press, 2011.
Dr. Zol Szabo of the Hamilton (Ontario) public health unit investigates a serial illness at a seniors' facility. Actually, Zol's associates are more active and engaging than he is ― Natasha the lab technician and Hamish the epidemiologist. Some of the infected seniors at Camelot Lodge are dying, so the pressure is on to find the source of contamination. Zol enlists his girlfriend Colleen, a private detective. A group of seniors at Camelot also use their skills to assist. Pennie has created a tricky, clever plot with assorted issues thrown into it ― geriatrics, gayness, racism, the Balkan wars, illicit drugs, and more diseases or symptoms than you ever wanted to hear about. Zol could do with a little loosening up in character, though.

A freebie from the Boucheron Conference, this ‒ or any medical mystery ‒ is not a genre I would normally read. Medical terminology inserts itself everywhere possible and I end up examining my own manufactured symptoms of gut ailment, fierce headache, is that a fever I'm getting? Am I getting meningitis or C difficile? ... until a rash of itching makes me stop reading and go bleach my kitchen. I will never eat deli meats again. While it will be a treat for some readers, for me it's a gift horse I wanted to muzzle.

One-liners:
The crusty lesion was perched at the crest of the tattooed waterfall Zol could see cascading down Nick's forearm. (32)
"Albert Schweitzer said that happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory." (75)
Phyllis stopped him with her I'm speaking look, then bestowed Myrtle with her smile of approval. (115)
Fire lit Art's face, the patches of rosacea on his cheeks glowing more crimson than ever. (197)

Two-liner: "Old age is contagious, you know. The more you let people do for you, the less you can do for yourself." (74)

Not Martha Stewart's kitchen:
Natasha pulled a large plastic bag from the bottom of a chest freezer. She grunted at the effort of dislodging it. Frosty condensation obscured the bag's contents, but Zol could just make out what appeared to be a jumble of vegetables — corn, celery, broccoli, and a couple of beets.
"What's this?" Natasha asked. "This stuff should be labelled and dated."
"Hey —" Nick chuckled "— we use everything up so fast we don't waste time with dating."
"But what is it?" said Zol. "At least the bag should be labelled."
Nick shrugged. "I can tell they're veggies." (33)

Chewing it over:
Phyllis pulled a hanky from her sleeve and dabbed the drops of watery dribble from the tip of her nose. Her eyes narrowed and her hand jerked as she clutched her chest. "How's Betty?" 
"Just the same, I'm afraid," Hamish said. 
The others helped themselves to the bagels while Hamish washed his hands in Art's sink. There was no bottle of hand sanitizer anywhere in sight. Hamish took the unclaimed muffin and broke off a mouthful, taking care to leave the paper wrapping intact. 
"Maybe you don't have the correct diagnosis, Doctor," said Phyllis. "My sister's pulmonary embolism was misdiagnosed by four different doctors before somebody got it right." 
"For heaven's sake, Phyllis," Art said. "Of course Dr. Wakefield has got Betty's diagnosis right." 
Hamish chewed on the muffin and said nothing. Maybe Phyllis was correct. (105-6)

Job description interferes:
"Do you believe them?" 
"They say they've got pictures. Phyllis's camera. And part of a licence plate. SJJ something." 
Public health involved far more facets of modern life than Zol had imagined at the start of his training. But one thing was for sure: kidnappings were not part of his mandate. "Sorry. I'm drawing the line right here. I can't let myself —" 
He suddenly noticed Max's quizzical stare, pupils wide as hockey pucks. The boy was an unrivalled listening machine. 
"Just a sec, Hamish," Zol said, then cupped his hand over the phone and told Max to fetch a roll of paper towels from the kitchen. As soon as Max shuffled out of earshot, Zol whispered to Hamish, "For God's sake, I can't get involved in an abduction." (273)


Christopher Brookmyre. A Snowball in Hell. UK: Abacus, 2008.
Curious about this author's style after a previous novel (LL142) led to this find at Bouchercon, and yes, he's different! Here, Brookmyre savagely does black satire on the world of celebrity. The arrogant criminal, Simon Darcourt aka Black Spirit, retires from contract killing to kidnapping Brits of various claims to fame culminating in a special game contest. Broadcasting to the nation, he skewers the popular entertainment genre, not without some torture and killing. His motive is unknown to police, including super detective Angelique de Xavia. Intense complications ensue as Angelique finds herself in an impossible personal dilemma; she's secretly forced to betray her colleagues, co-opting the aid of her former lover Zal, a thief and magician.

Lonnng contempt-laden rants by Darcourt against society's superficial values and inadequate human beings are brilliantly expressed but so over the top the self-righteousness becomes tedious. Nonetheless, there's that hard core of black humour. He's fond of quoting others, and also makes good use of staging and technology that some may find hard to follow. Or swallow. Zal is not the only one practising deft sleight-of-hand activities. His relationship with Angelique is totally up in the air — oh no, more desperately inarticulate feelings once again! The cerebral Brookmyre is effortlessly ingenious if you appreciate invective-laden rage against modern inanities.

Word: zoetrope - A 19th-century optical toy consisting of a cylinder with a series of pictures on the inner surface that, when viewed through slits with the cylinder rotating, give an impression of continuous motion; also called thaumatrope (Oxford Dictionary).

One-liners:
But as Voltaire put it: once you can get people to believe absurdities, you can get them to perform atrocities. (39)
Jack Nicholson once remarked that when people said they wanted to be rich and famous, he'd suggest they try just being rich, and see how that works out for them. (72)
Angelique thinks about three adolescents gasping like landed fish, surrogate outlets for one narcissistic, self-obsessed psychopath's jealous rage. (171)
This sexually repressed little backwater of a country needs to undo a few buttons and confront reality. (331)
It was one of the most enduring truths of human deception: the harder it is to come by certain information, the more credibility you attribute it. (343)

Cynicism of the narcissist:
Al Qaeda is usually described as a network, but with 9/11 it was obvious that they had discovered global branding, corporate synergy and vertical integration. They would not be outsourcing any more, would not have dealings with anyone who was not a fellow fundamentalist headcase. and had in any event no need for mercenaries when there were thousands of idiots willing to do the work for free. 
My skills were not only redundant, they were arguably anachronistic. Any fucking lunatic can take out a target if he's prepared to sacrifice himself to do so. But never mind the skill, where's the fucking fun in that? (8)

Hazard of the job:
She hadn't actually announced her intention to quit before, but she'd been through the feeling that she couldn't go on, couldn't recover from what she had just been through sufficiently to pick herself up and head back into the fray. Yet every time, she had: no matter what she had witnessed, no matter what she had been required to do, no matter the danger or pain she had endured. The scar tissue, she knew, would soon form over what happened at the mosque like it had formed over so many previous wounds. Each time she went through something like this, she emerged just a little bit tougher, which meant that she was able to feel just a little bit less. (58)