The Whisperer by Karin Fossum (a most excellent mystery, translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson)

“The voice is a powerful tool,” Sejer said. “And you’ve lost yours. I used mine for all it is worth” (p. 208)

How is it I have never read Karin Fossum before? She has won the Glass Key Award for the best Nordic crime novel, an honor shared with Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo. Her Inspector Sejer series has been published in more than forty countries, and this is the first I’ve ever heard of him.

One of the things that compelled me about this book is the amount of compassion I felt toward each character. Ragna Reigal lives alone in the home she lived in as a child. Her parents are dead. Her son has moved to Berlin. She is all alone without a voice because surgery on her throat went awry, and all she can do is whisper.

She had the bag in her left hand, and with the right she opened the mailbox. Took out the local paper and church weekly, a brochure advertising furniture, and a very ordinary envelope. It was not often she got letters. Her surname was on the front fo the envelope: RIEGEL. Written in capital letters. She put her bag down on the ground. No address. No stamp. No sender. She stood under the street lamp and turned the envelope back forth. The paper was coarse, maybe recycled – it was thinner and grayer than normal paper. Goodness. A letter with no sender…she opened it and pulled out a folded sheet of paper with a short message.

YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.

How very alarming to receive such a message, which is only compounded when more of the same appear in her mailbox.

IT’S NOT LONG NOW.

I’M WATCHING YOU.

Interspersed with these messages we learn of her job at the Europrix, and her son, Rikard Josef, who does not live in Berlin after all. Nor does he manage an extravagant hotel as she has believed.

The most tender part is the way that Inspector Sejer questions her, gently helping her open up and reveal her story. Until he is not gentle anymore, but firm. She senses the change in his demeanor one day, and it is undeniable. Their relationship has taken on a suspicious edge.

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this novel. More than a mystery, it was written with a fabulous ability to bring characters to life, to create an aura of compassion, to gradually build the tension from a whisper to a scream. It is the second book I have read for the R.I.P. XIV, and it is well worth looking for and reading as it has none of the typical American drama or anticipated conclusion.

The Chain by Adrian McKinty

The FBI are professsionals, but the woman holding her daughter isn’t afraid of the criminal justice system; she’s afraid of The Chain. The person above her on The Chain has her son. And if Rachel is perceived as a defector, this woman’s instructions are to murder Kylie and select a new target. The woman is sounding increasingly on edge. Rachel has no doubt she will do anything to get her son back… (p. 63)

I read this book in two days, something I have not done in weeks. “Are you coloring now, instead of reading?” my husband asked, because I seem more enthused about the pages I’ve finished in Johanna Basford’s Magical Jungle than I am about what I’ve read. Which isn’t much of anything, lately.

The premise of The Chain is much as is described in the quote above: parents must kidnap a child, and pay an exorbitant ransom, in order to get their own child back. It involves technology and spyware to a terrifying extent, and worse yet, explores what a person might do which is against his or her principals. In theory.

I read breathlessly until the end, which seemed just a little stretched; yet, I had to know how it would turn out.

There is the now-typical strength of a female protagonist, a strength I never doubted women having especially when it comes to mothering. But, what truly fascinated me was the author’s note at the end. Having grown up in Ireland, whose people apparently hang on to superstitions, he remembers his fifth grade teacher asking her students to bring in anything that frightened them. What he brought in was a chain letter, and the teacher burned these items from her students, effectively destroying whatever power they imagined was held over them. The seeds for The Chain were planted with the chain letter, and I found that background fascinating. Especially the teacher’s role, in helping her students conquer their terror.

The Chain was an interesting psychological thriller, with an original idea, which kept a fast pace. I read it for the Readers Imbibing Peril Challenge XIV.

SPOILER: The woman who masterminded the Chain with her twin brother was raised in a commune type of place, surrounded by drug addicts. It didn’t bode well for their emotional well-being. She discovered the negative power of a chain letter in school, using it to manipulate her classmates. As an adult, she and her brother formed the kidnapping chain largely for money, but also for power and control. Our protagonist, together with her brother in law who was in the Marines, work to beat the Chain and get her daughter/his niece back from the kidnappers. Which they do, but of course there is emotional residue from which one can barely recover…untold fears and nightmares keep recurring. Ultimately, with the help of another victim of the Chain, they locate the twins and bring them down.

Moby Dick: Chapters 61-70

Chapter 61: The red tide now poured from all sides of the monster like brooks down a hill. His tormented body rolled not in brine but in blood, which bubbled and seethed for furlongs behind their wake.

Chapter 62: No wonder, tsking the whole fleet of whalemen in a body, that out of fifty fair chances for a dart, not five are successful, no wonder that so many helpless harpooneers are madly cursed and distracted…no wonder that to many ship owners whaling is but a losing concern.

Chapter 63: Furthermore: you must know that when thr second iron (harpoon) is thrown overboard, it thenceforth becomes a dangling, sharp edged terror, skittishly curvetting about both boat and whale, entangling the lines, or cutting them, and making a prodigious sensation in all directions.

Chapter 64: Nor was Stubb the only banqueter on whale’s flesh that night. Mingling their mumblings with his own mastications, thoisands on thousands of sharks, swarming round the dead leviathan, smackingly feasted on its fatness.

Chapter 65: The fact is, that among his hunters at least, the whale would by all hands be considered a noble dish, were there not so much of him; but when you come to sit down before a meat-pie nearly one hundred feet long, it takes away your appetite.

Chapter 66: When in the Southern Fishery, a captured sperm whale, after long and weary toil, is brought alongside late at night, it is not, as a general thing at least, customary to proceed at once to the business of cutting him in. For that business is an exceedingly laborious one; it is not not very soon completed and requires all hands to set about it.

Chapter 67: The ivory Pequod was turned into what seemed a shamble; every sailor a butcher. You would have thought we were offering up ten thousand red oxen to the sea gods.

Chapter 68: Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it.

Chapter 69: There’s a most doleful and most mocking funeral! The sea-vultures all in pious mourning, the air-sharks all punctiliously in black and speckled…Oh, horrible vulturism of earth! from which not the mightiest whale is free.

Chapter 70: Do you not marvel then, at Stubb’s boast, that he demanded but ten minutes to behead a sperm whale?

I never expected humour (a meat pie one hundred feet long!) to be intertwined with sage advice (live in this world without being of it). Melville’s writing amazes me at every turn of the page.

A Long Story for a Simple Solution

My Nook Glowlight died the other day. I plugged it in, only to receive the message that my battery was dead, and it remained dead a full twelve hours later. So, I determined it was time to buy a new nook.

“You can’t read on any of your other devices?” my husband gently inquired.

“No,” I said. “I can’t.”

When I looked at the Barnes and Noble site I saw that their new and improved GlowLight Plus was almost $200.00. Their GlowLight 3 was $119.00. And, their Nook Tablet 7” was $49.99. That seemed the best option, as I seem to go through my devices like mints.

I bought the tablet at 1:00 p.m., as we have a Barnes and Noble within walking distance of our house, and had it plugged in by 1:30. Surely, I could have it set up by the time I needed to start dinner.

After it sufficiently charged, I attempted to log in to my wi-fi. I kept getting a message that there was a password error, and after many, many attempts I was told I was locked out. So, I called Nook Support, and was told by a person in a faraway land that clearly, the problem was with my service provider, and my memory, not Nook. But, since I had never registered my Nook, it was not possible for her to help me. I should contact Wowway, she said. Or, with whomever I held our internet agreement.

Thanking her for her no help whatsoever, I made dinner, and informed my husband of the situation. “It will be 24 hours before you can try again,” he said. “They lock a device for your protection, in case it gets stolen.”

Surely, I thought to myself, somebody at the physical store will be able to help me. So, I found myself standing once again before the counter at which I’d purchased my Nook seven hours earlier. The appropriate manager was called, and when he came he immediately began punching buttons.

“Hmmmmm,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this. Well, you get what you pay for.”

(My mother, upon hearing this story, suggested I mention to him that I was getting nothing, for which I had paid $49.99.)

After multiple attempts without success, he said he would replace this tablet with a new one, and went back to get a second device. He began filling in the paperwork for a return, or exchange, and I went back to standing there waiting, when he suddenly shoved the box under my nose.

“Demo,” it read, on the end of the box. I had been trying to get a Demo model to accept my password for almost an entire day.

Now, I’m curious. Is it my fault for not reading the end of the box? Is it the person in Asia’s fault who insisted I didn’t know the password to my own internet? Is it the clerk’s fault at Barnes and Noble who sold me the Demo in the first place? Is it the fault of all the thieves who made locking one’s device a necessity? All I know is that I should have followed my husband’s suggestion in the first place and used one of my other devices.

Like a book.

Moby Dick: Chapters 51-60

French engraving by Ambrose Louis Garneray

Chapter 51: ‘There she blows!’ Had the trump of judgement blown, they could not have quivered more; yet still they felt no terror; rather pleasure. For though it was a most unwonted hour, yet so impressive was the cry, and so deliriously exciting, that almost every soul on board instinctively desired a lowering.

Chapter 52: But in pursuit of those mysteries we dream of, or in tormented chase of that demon phantom that, sometime or other, swims before all human hearts; while chasing such over this round globe, they either lead us on in barren masses or midway leave us whelmed.

Chapter 53: Gam: noun – a social meeting of two (or more) whale-ships, generally on a cruising-ground; when after exchanging hails, they exchange visits by boats’ crews; the two captains remaining, for the time, on board of one ship, and the two chief mates on the other.

Chapter 54: ‘Now, as you well know, it is not seldom the case in this conventional world of ours – watery or otherwise; that when a person placed in command over his fellow-men finds one of them to be very significantly his superior in general pride of manhood, straightway against that man he conceives an unconquerable dislike and bitterness; and if he have a chance he will pull down and pulverize that subaltern’s tower, and make a little heap of dust of it.

Chapter 55: For it is one of the more curious things about this Leviathan, that his skeleton gives very little idea of his general shape.

Chapter 56: The natural aptitude of the French for seizing the picturesqueness of things seems to be peculiarly evinced in what paintings and engravings they have of their whaling scenes. With not one tenth of England’s experience in the fishery, and not the thousandth part of that of the Americans, they have nevertheless furnished both nations with the only finished sketches at all capable of conveying the real spirit of the whale hunt. (See an example of a French engraving at the top of this post.)

Chapter 57: With a frigate’s anchors for my bridle-bits and fasces of harpoons for spurs, would I could mount that whale and leap the topmost skies, to see whether the fabled heavens with all their countless tents really lie encamped beyond my mortal sight!

Chapter 58: That same ocean rolls now; that same ocean destroyed the wrecked ships of last year. Yea, foolish mortals, Noah’s flood is not yet subsided; two thirds of the fair world it yet covers.

Chapter 59: ‘What was it, sir?’ said Flask.

‘The great live squid, which, they say, few whale-ships ever beheld, and returned to their ports to tell of it.’

Chapter 60: As the least tangle or kink in the coiling would, in running out, infallibly take somebody’s arm, leg, or entire body off, the utmost precaution is used in stowing the line in its tub. Some harpooneers will consume almost an entire morning in this business, carrying the line high aloft and then reeling it downwards through a block towards the tub, so as in the act of coiling to free it from all possible wrinkles and twists.

I am intrigued by the references to the Bible which Melville so often inserts. “Noah’s flood is not yet subsided…” is one of them. They give a beautiful connection to me of the Old Testament stories and Melville’s tale. And, his observations on human character could apply to many circumstances, not only whaling. One man finding another to be superior, and then reducing his “tower” to a heap of dust? Isn’t that what all the cowboy stories from the West are about? It seems to me that man is constantly trying to prove his superiority over another man. Or, beast, as in the case of Moby Dick.

Moby Dick: Chapters 41-50

Chapter 41: For it was not so much his uncommon bulk that so much distinguished him from other sperm whales, but, as was elsewhere thrown out – a peculiar snow-white wrinkled forehead, and a high, pyramidical white hump. These were his prominent features: the tokens whereby, even in the limitless, uncharted seas, he revealed his identity, at a long distance, to those who knew him.

Chapter 42: …he (the mariner) feels a silent, superstitious dread: the shrouded phantom of the whitened waters is horrible to him as a real ghost; in vain the lead assures him he is still off sounding; heart and helm they both go down, he never rests till blue water is under him again.

Chapter 43: ‘Say what ye will, shipmate; I’ve sharp ears.’

‘Aye, you are the chap, ain’t ye, that heard the hum of the Quakeress’s knitting-needles fifty miles at sea from Nantucket; you’re the chap.’

Chapter 44: Besides, when making a passage from one feeding-ground to another, the sperm whales, guided by some infallible instinct – say, rather, secret intelligence from the Deity – mostly swim in veins, as they are called, continuing their way along a given ocean-line with such undeviating exactitude that no ship ever sailed her course, by any chart, with one tithe of such marvelous precision.

Chapter 45: For God’s sake, be economical with your lamps and candles! Not a gallon you burn, but at least one drop of man’s blood was spilled for it.

Chapter 46: Had they been strictly held to their one final and romantic object (giving chase to Moby Dick) – that final and romantic object, too many would have turned from in disgust. I will not strip these men, thought Ahab, of all hopes of cash – aye, cash.

Chapter 47: The sperm whale blows as a clock ticks, with the same undeviating and reliable uniformity. And thereby whalemen distinguish this fish from other tribes of his genus.

Chapter 48: The air around suddenly vibrated and tingled, as it were, like the air over intensely heated plates of iron. Beneath this atmospheric waving and curling, and partially beneath a thin layer of water, also, the whales were swimming.

Chapter 49: There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own.

Chapter 50: ‘Who would have thought it, Flask!’cried Stubb; ‘if I had but one leg you would not catch me in a boat, unless maybe to stop the plug-hole with my timber toe. Oh! He’s a wonderful old man!’

And, there’s one other quote from Chapter 48 that I am pondering:

There, then, he sat, holding up that imbecile candle in the heart of that almighty forlornness. There, then, he sat, the sign and symbol of a man without faith, hopelessly holding up hope in the midst of despair.

I believe, with all my heart, that we ought to hold up hope in the midst of despair. But, is he “hopelessly holding up hope” because he is a man without faith? I suggest that is the case, for it is only from faith that I am able to continue in hope.

Moby Dick (Chapters 31-40)

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Chapter 31: ‘Mast-head, there! Look sharp, all of ye! There are whales hereabouts! If ye see a white one, split your lungs for him!’

Chapter 32: Next: how shall we define the whale, by his obvious externals, so as conspicuously to label him for all time to come? To be short, then, a whale is a spouting fish with a horizontal tail.There you have him. However contracted, that definition is the result of expanded meditation.

Chaphter 33: Nevertheless, as upon the good conduct of the harpooneers the success of a whaling voyage largely depends, and since in the American Fishery he is not only an important officer in the boat, but under certain circumstances (night watches on a whaling gourd) the command of the ship’s deck is also his…

Chapter 34: Over the ivory-inlaid table, Ahab presided like a mute, maned sea-lion on the white coral-beach, surrounded by his warlike but still deferential cubs.

Chapter 35: The three mast-heads are kept manned from sunrise to sunset; the seamen taking their regular turns (as at the helm), and relieving each other every two hours. In the serene weather of the tropics it is exceedingly pleasant, the mast-head; nay, to a dreamy meditative man it is delightful.

Chapter 36: “Whosoever of ye raises me a white-headed whale with a wrinkled brow and a crooked jaw; whosoever of ye raises me that white-headed whale, with three holes punctured in his starboard fluke – look ye, whosoever of ye raises me that same white whale, he shall have this gold ounce, my boys!”

Chapter 37: The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run…Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!

Chapter 38: Will I, nill I, the ineffable thing has tied me to him; tows me with a cable I have no knife to cut. Horrible old man! Who’s over him, he cries; aye, he would be a democrat to all above; look how he lords it over all below!

Chapter 39: Because a laugh’s the wisest, easiest answer to all that’s queer…

Chapter 40: Oh, thou big white God aloft there somewhere in yon darkness, have mercy on this small black boy down here; preserve him from all men that have no bowels to feel fear!

Look at Chapter 38: “…tows me with a cable I have no knife to cut.” That phrase has jumped out in my reading! What cables are towing me? Sugar, for one thing, which seems as innocuous as a whale in the sea, and yet I seem unable to sever it completely. And surely, there are things which try as I might, I cannot cut away (judgement, perfectionism, a critical spirit).

Moby Dick (Chapters 21-30)

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While reading Moby Dick, I have been selecting a quote which seems particularly pertinent to each chapter, in the hopes that at the conclusion I will have a collective summary of all the important bits. A summary, I hope, that will help tie it all together in my mind. I am posting them in groups of 10, so as not to be overwhelming to any of us, and so here are the quotes from Chapters 21-30:

Chapter 21: It was now clear sunrise. Soon the crew came on board in twos and threes: the riggers bestirred themselves; the mates were actively engaged; and several of the shore people were busy in bringing various last things on board. Meanwhile Captain Ahab remained invisibly enshrined within his cabin.

Chapter 22: ‘God bless ye, and have ye in His holy keeping, men,’ murmured old Bildad, almost incoherently. ‘I hope ye’ll have fine weather now, so that Captain Ahab may soon by moving among ye – a pleasant sun is all he needs, and ye’ll have plenty of them in the tropic voyage ye go. Be careful in the hung, ye mates. Don’t stave the boats needlessly, ye harpooneers; a good white cedar plank is raised full three per cent within the year.’

Chapter 23: But in that gale, the port, the land, is that ship’s direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through.

Chapter 24: …many a veteran who has freely marched up to a battery, would quickly recoil at the apparition of the sperm whale’s vast tail, fanning into eddies the air over his head. For what are the comprehensible terrors of man compared with the interlinked terrors and wonders of God!

Chapter 25: But the only thing to be considered here, is this – what kind of oil is used at coronations? Certainly it cannot be olive oil, nor macassar oil, nor castor oil, nor bear’s oil, nor train oil, nor cod-liver oil. What then can it possibly be, but the sperm oil in its unmanufactured, in polluted state, the sweetest of all oils?

Chapter 26: Looking into his (Starbuck’s) eyes, you seemed to see there the yet lingering images of those thousandfold perils he had calmly confronted through life.

Chapter 27: What, perhaps, with other things, made Stubb such an easy-going, unseating man, so cheerily trudging off with the burden of life in a world full of grave peddlers, all bowed to the ground with their packs; what helped to bring about that almost impious good-humor of his; that thing must have been his pipe.

Chapter 28: More than once did he (Ahab) put forth the faint blossom of a look, which, in any other man, would have soon flowered out in a smile.

Chapter 29: Old age is always wakeful; as if, the longer linked with life, the less man has to do with aught that looks like death.

Chapter 30: How could one look at Ahab then, seated on that tripod of bones, without bethinking him of the royalty it symbolized? For a Khan of the plank, and a king of the sea, and a great lord of Leviathans was Ahab.

 

I can’t imagine ever being bored by this novel. I have heard it is lengthy, and tiresome beyond compare, but I have yet to reach those parts.

Bye, bye August.

If you lived in the town where I live, you would think Halloween is tomorrow. Every where you look there is Pumpkin Spice soap, Pumpkin Spice coffee, and Pumpkin Spice candles. I like autumn, I have even set out a few autumnal things myself. But, let’s not rush the seasons of our lives by so quickly.

You may have noticed the template, and header, has changed. I don’t know how long I’ll keep this painting by John Singer Sargent (Repose, from 1911), but I like her contemplative look. I like the way she lays against the back of the sofa, considering. It seems to fit this time in my life, of not officially teaching any more, but certainly of laying back a little.

I have become a children’s leader for BSF (Bible Study Fellowship International), and I will teach the 4 and 5 year olds this year. It is a big change, as I am most familiar with public school ways and 8 or 9 year olds. But, I ask myself, “What is the use of having advanced degrees in education and not using them?” What better purpose than to teach the little ones about faith? We are studying the book of Acts this year, and the theme is Unstoppable. It seems a most worthy theme to focus on.

I didn’t finish 20 Books of Summer. In fact, I haven’t finished a book in who knows when. Berta Isla by Javier Marias? Abandoned half-way through, just as I did with One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Moby Dick has been temporarily laid aside for Franklin and Wilson by Joe Meacham for book club. I feel my reading is in great disarray, but I eagerly look forward to the books in my sidebar for review, and two titles recommended by one of my dearest friends: The Mistress of The Ritz by Melanie Benjamin and The Age of Light by Whitney Sharer.

And now, what are you reading? What is filling the last few days of August, and what are you looking forward to in September? The light is changing, and there is much to anticipate. (Such as Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury on audio with my friend, Carol.)

This Poison Will Remain by Fred Vargas; a review for Women In Translation Month and a Give-away

The rumors all over the internet, after five bites in three weeks and three fatalities -all old men- are starting to make people come up with theories and spreading panic. The police hierarchy doesn’t like panic, because it could lead to violence.

Recluse spiders are named just that because they are prone to hide away. How is it, then, that three deaths have occurred apparently from recluse spider bites? Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and his team work to uncover the reason behind these deaths which mounted to ten total, with six in the last month; exactly how and why are they occurring?

Like all beloved detectives, from Inspector Gamache in Louise Penny’s series, to Robert Parker’s Spenser, Adamsberg is brilliant and quirky and fascinating to read about. His team of lieutenants and commandants have their own peccadilloes, which he must manage, from Froissy knowing she is under the eye of a Peeping Tom in her apartment, to Danglard who is undermining every decision Adamsberg makes.

Fleetingly, Adamsberg thought that life in his squad was very complicated. Had he been too lax? Allowing Voisenet to litter his desk with magazines about fish, allowing the cat to dictate its own territory, allowing Mercedes to take a nap on the cushions whenever he needed to, allowing Froissy to fill her cupboards with food rations as if in wartime, allowing Mordent to indulge his love of fairy tales, Danglard to wallow in his encyclopedic erudition, and Noel to persevere in his sexism and homophobia? And allowing his own mind to be open to every wind.

Yet, they persist in trying to ascertain the reason why recluse spider venom has been used to kill, and how that can be when a recluse spider’s venom is flesh eating, but not always deadly.

You needed at least forty-four venom glands to kill a medium-sized adult man, so you had to find the impossible number of 132 spiders, then get them to spit out their venom. And how on earth did you do that?

Could the motive be revenge against a gang of youths from La Misericorde orphanage, now grown up, who were notoriously cruel by putting recluse spiders into others children’s beds and clothing? Could the meaning of “recluse” be expanded beyond that of applying to spiders in order to solve the case? I read eagerly to the conclusion, fascinated by the intricate web woven within this mystery to its brilliant and unexpected end.

Fred Vargas writes an intriguing story of an unusual nature, a welcome respite from the typical American murder mystery of The Woman In…or The Girl On…(fill in the blank). She is “a #1 bestselling author in France, Italy, and Germany. She is the winner of four International Dagger Awards from the Crime Writers’ Association and is the first author to achieve such an honor. In 2018, Vargas won the Princess of Asturias Award for letters.” ~Penguin

Penguin has offered a give-away of This Poison Will Remain (U.S. only, please). If you would like to enter to win a copy of this book, to be published August 20, 2019, please leave a comment below. I will choose a winner one week from today.

THE WINNER of a copy of The Poison Will Remain is KAY! I will contact you for your address, Kay, and thank you all for entering.