Secrets and the Novels of Tana French

In the last few years TV detective series have often filled our evenings – “The Fall,” The Killing,” “Jack Taylor,” “Happy Valley.” There is something silent about these procedurals – you have to guess what’s going on in the minds of complicated detectives with craggy or beautiful, always expressive faces.

But we get inner narration by observant detectives in Tana French’s “The Dublin Murder Squad Mysteries.” These books are mysteries for sure, but even more they tell of place (Ireland) and the doings of complex characters.

In the first book, “In The Woods,” murder detective, Rob Ryan, investigates a crime that takes place near the woods where, when he was 12, he was traumatized and his two best friends disappeared forever. Memories and secrets from that mystery impinge on the present.

The woods are central, “I remembered, too, the three of us finding a secret garden, somewhere in the heart of the wood. Behind some hidden wall or doorway, it had been. Fruit trees run wild, apple, cherry pear: broken marble fountains, trickles of water still bubbling along tracks green with moss and worn deep into the stone; great ivy-draped statues in every corner feet wild with weeds, arms and heads cracked away and scattered among long grass and Queen Anne’s lace. Gray dawn light, the swish of our feet and dew on our bare legs.”

Characters appear in one book and float into the next (six so far). Cassie Maddox, Rob’s partner, becomes the protagonist of the second book, “The Likeness.” She goes undercover to join a group of students living in an old house – the house nearly a character in the book. Years later Cassie still dreams of it: “The house is always empty. The bedrooms are bare and bright, only my footsteps echoing off the floorboards, circling up through the sun and the dust motes to the high ceilings. Smell of wild hyacinths, drifting through the wide-open windows, and of beeswax polish. Chips of white paint flaking off the window sashes and a tendril of ivy swaying in over the sill. Wood doves, lazy somewhere outside.”

And it’s Ireland – where wind blows “rain-spatter in your face…,” the economic bubble has burst, but the language is still rich. French gives us bucolic rural settings and Dublin’s police headquarters, all modern garish office spaces inside, and then outside: “…old, ornate red brick and marble with battlements and turrets and worn carvings of saints in unexpected places. In winter, on foggy evenings, crossing the cobblestones is like walking through Dickens – hazy old streetlamps throwing odd-angled shadows, bells pealing in the cathedrals nearby, every footstep ricocheting into darkness….”

Coincidences and narratives of friendships that mightn’t ring true for every reader occur in these books, but I’ll accept those improbabilities in exchange for the descriptions and the action. And it’s rare to have books both so literate and so deliciously moreish.

Here is winter reading!

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The Grand VIPs

Recently I spent the best part of three weeks traveling north and south to visit these important people:

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Sweet Baby, who is 20 months old now, wraps her arms around my neck and legs around my waist in exuberant hugs – she expresses sheer delight and love better than anybody.

She speed walks through her house, curving gracefully around obstacles, but is never faster than when she spots an open gate or unlatched drawer. She’s a tiny detective with the legs of a sprinter.

Sweet Baby identifies animals in her books (in both Thai and English), and can repeat any word back to you. She asks her mom for nam and me for milk. She has phrases that are particularly her own, “no-me, no-me, no-me” might translate as “do it myself.” And she names all of us in photos – her uncle, Mr. Carson, is “Cheddar” – and Lady Baby rates a handclap along with her name.

Books fill a long, double-decker set of cubbies in her bedroom. Sometimes when we read she slides off my lap and picks a different book, other times she sits and listens to many long stories. (In the “Lion in The Library,” she begins to anticipate his roar when she sees the picture of the lion’s mouth wide open.)

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Baby Brother sleeps, eats, smiles, and enjoys – watching with fascination his sister and the menagerie. I’m convinced he will always be this way, good-natured, strong and tall, beloved.

Privileged grandmother moments filled this visit – time holding him as he slept (a huge warm bundle against my chest), and daily walks – his sturdy stroller an anchor on slippery streets. Now, when he catches your eye, he breaks into a huge grin, and love washes over his face at the sight of his mom. In a totally distinguishing feature, he grunts and makes loud noise – while sound asleep (!) in the early morning. It’s so him.

On Halloween evening with Lady Baby’s help, Mr. Carson put a huge, moving spider in the front yard, and Mrs. Hughes added bones and a skull, and black paper rats to the porch. While the others followed Lady Baby, a waddling penguin, as she trick or treated, I stayed behind wearing Baby Brother in the Ergo and answered the door at Downtown Abbey. (One puzzled pirate asked, “Is that a real baby?”)

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Lady Baby’s daily routine is specific now, and when I visit I try to fit in – take her to school in the morning, stay home with her brother while her mom picks her up, and still make time for “doing not much” together.

One day we set out for a walk and after the first block she asked me to tell her some things I’d been doing (how often does anyone ask that!). While we ate our muffins at the bakery, we played hide and seek on the table top with the resident plastic animals (hiding them under napkins and behind the sugar container).

At the used bookstore, where she helped me find old favorites for Sweet Baby, Lady Baby selected books for herself about knights, insects, and polar bears. And back at home, I read all of “King Ottocar’s Sceptre” – a whole Tin Tin volume out loud in one sitting – not an easy thing to do, but a grandmother thing to do.

These three are very important to each other also, and for these Thanksgiving days, they’ll be together!

I wish you a peaceful, loving holiday with food and family and friends!

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“Sokay”

I flew to California on an Election Day. On the way to the airport, the taxi driver looked in the rear view mirror and asked me if I had voted, and for whom. He said, “Aah – a little white woman and a big black man, and we stand with Hillary!” He told me he’d think about me that night, and I him. And in a video that day, Lady Baby wore a self-assembled “pantsuit” and chanted “Hill-a-ry, Hill-a-ry.” Sweet Baby learned to say “Hillary” in her little voice, with a smile. Such a hopeful day.

I could list the reasons I feel sad and fearful at the Electoral College result and the dark possibilities this election presents to the majority who voted the other way, but you know them all too well.

So far we have seen a graceful Hillary speak and encourage keeping an open mind, and an eloquent and calm President Obama setting an example for the transition. He wants it to be as peaceful and orderly as it is inevitable. But successful transitions require a responsible person on the other side of the transaction.

I wrote this on the plane returning from Los Angeles to Seattle, the land below me all blue and ready to secede. After boarding, I sat down next to a woman and wondered, what does she think? Is she one of the majority of white women (53% by exit polls) who voted the other way? But I spotted her safety pin, and she mine.

It was good to laugh in our misery and confusion, be invited to join Pantsuit Nation, and enjoy the third woman in our row, our little bubble, as she chimed in with agreement.

Often when I start these posts I know where I want to go, but not how to get there. This time I started with a favorite expression of Sweet Baby, “sokay,” her verbal shorthand for “it’s OK.” I thought if I couldn’t write the exultant, thrilled for my granddaughters (and grandson) post, complete with a Madam President teacup, I might at least write that somehow it would be OK. But if anything I feel worse now than late last Tuesday night.

This is so not my desired outcome that I can’t think of any last paragraph right now that ends with it’s OK.

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The Teacup Project I

I could title this an escape into teacups. Autumn always brings the appeal of a drawing project on the blog – a month of penline drawings or flowered objects from the V&A. This year, more than ever, I want to refocus my mind away from the incessant and scary election palaver.

So, sourced from the Internet’s byways, I offer a selection of teacup encounters, planning to share them till Tuesday the 8th. (And daily on Instagram.)

Rather than fretting about what’s next in my real work (or for the country), I’ve loved being absorbed in thoughts of these comforting objects, as I sit under the circle of my desk lamp with pen, watercolors, and tea to hand!

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When They Go Low

Today, thrown against the house by wind from the south, rain pours down. In the middle of two storm systems, I’m grateful to be home, enjoying each and every lamp lit against the gloom, relishing a warm house, and all the easy comforts of electricity – knowing a power outage could darken us at any time.

Yesterday, having business on Bainbridge, (last Thursday by the time this reaches “Her spirits rose…,”) I left home early and spent the day in the car listening to the news cycle, and found myself in tears more than once.

That morning’s announcement of the death of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol colored my thoughts. I knew the Sweet Bride would be so sad, I kept thinking how she, and even her mother, had known this good king their entire lives. As I drove, BBC told stories of his benevolence and concern for his people, a kind and respectful leader.

And then closer to home, the ongoing, orange-tinged insanity continued. Offensive is much too mild a word to describe the disrespectful spewings of venom toward other human beings by the Republican nominee. We have endured this for months, but this day reached the nadir with revelations by his victims.

By midday, bits and pieces of Michelle Obama’s heartfelt, furious speech began to be broadcast. I want to link the whole thing here, because Michelle put into words what we felt, both her disgust at what’s happened and her belief that “real men, strong men” don’t do this. FLOTUS’s speech in New Hampshire.

Listening to the whole speech, I realized that even in her anger, she left me with hope as she described her involvement in the U.S. Government’s initiative to insure education for adolescent girls around the world – “Let Girls Learn.”

I keep picturing Michelle at the podium literally pushing up the sleeves of her navy-blue sweater as she spoke of her hopes for young women (some of their smiling young faces in the audience) – making us want to protect them (and all children) and help them, never, ever disrespect them.

The Nobel Committee also lifted me up that day. The car echoed with the music and memories stirred by the selection of Bob Dylan to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature!

The honorable King Bhumibol, Dylan, and Michelle Obama. I want to fill my mind with their lessons, encouraging us always to “Go High”!

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