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.

One-liners:
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)

Belonging:
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 pรจre'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.

One-liners:
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)

Two-liner:
"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.

One-liners:
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)


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