Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “bank robbery”

Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #18: Nemesis by Jo Nesbo

As a devout fan of the well-constructed murder mystery, I found Nemesis by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo quite intriguing. Of course, the hero is yet another alcoholic police detective who is as dogged in his pursuit of criminals as he is vulnerable in both his personal and professional lives. But this is a very convoluted murder mystery, with multiple plot twists, parallel stories, a huge cast of colorful characters, and a seemingly endless number of possible bad guys.

Detective Harry Hole is in what appears to be his first ever healthy relationship with a mature and loving woman and mother, but she is out of the country fighting a child custody battle with her ex during the course of the story. Hole succumbs to the lure of an old and highly unstable flame and spends an evening with her, only to end up in his own apartment building in the middle of the night, apparently stinking drunk and not remembering a thing. The next day, the old flame is found with a bullet in her head and Hole must cover up his involvement with the victim while pursuing her murderer.

At the same time, he is assigned to investigate a heist in which a cold-blooded bank robber murders the cashier-hostage when her boss is six seconds too slow in emptying the till. The investigation leads in multiple directions: to prison, where robber-king Raskol, a clever gypsy with a reputation for having criminal networks throughout Europe, has turned himself in to serve time; to a small town in Brazil which serves as a haven for international criminals and where the killer from the bank heist may be hiding out; and back to Hole’s own personal investigation, as Raskol turns out to be the uncle of Hole’s murdered lady friend. Chaos ensues as the two mysteries intertwine, each suspect Hole pursues ends up dead, and he starts to get creepy emails from someone who knows about his involvement with the dead woman.

Finally, complicating the story even further—if possible—is the tragedy of the unsolved murder of Hole’s former partner Ellen, which weighs heavily on Hole’s conscience and which he is determined to solve. We are shown in the course of Nemesis who in fact was behind Ellen’s murder, and watch with horror as this same individual targets an unsuspecting Hole while stalking his new partner Beate.

I pride myself on often solving mysteries before the author does, but must admit to being totally and repeatedly lost in the maze of Nesbo’s multiple and thickening plots. The end is clever and surprising, but by then I was so confused by who was doing what to whom, and why, that I think I was more relieved to get to the end of the novel than I was satisfied by a mystery well and truly resolved. Nesbo’s books are reportedly all the rage in Europe right now, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up another Hole mystery any time soon—at least, not until my head stops aching from this one.

rusha24’s #CBR4 review #3: Angels by Denis Johnson

Denis Johnson’s first novel Angels is a terrifying book. It’s scary how good someone can be in their first big swing at fiction, though his three previously published volumes of poetry surely helped to hone the crackle of his prose. But mostly, it’s scary to read a book that’s relatively short, seems small in scope, and ends up encompassing just about everything and everyone, in a way that leaves you utterly breathless. I know, I know—that sounds grandiose. But it is; it’s a walloping gut-punch of a book. And while most of Johnson’s fiction falls under the same category, it seems particularly distilled here in this slim novel, as if this story gave Johnson no choice but to tell it.

Angels picks up with the story of Jamie, a youngish mother of two small girls, as she hops on a Greyhound to flee her cheating husband with the two kids dragged along (very much baggage in more than one sense). That Jamie is so nonchalant in her disdain for having to take care of these kids is just one of the things that makes her hard to sympathize with—an interesting choice on Johnson’s part, to open the book with what appears to be a protagonist who is simply difficult to like. She’s poor, with little to her name and little to travel toward, yet so infantile and gratingly naïve that the only way to feel for this character is to pity her. Jamie meets a fellow pitiable on the bus, an ex-Navy washed-up con named Bill Houston, and the book follows their travels together as they bounce from Pittsburgh to Chicago to Arizona in a series of increasingly tragic acts.

It’s hard to say what draws Jamie and Bill together, besides a shared penchant for booze, drugs, and quick money. They love each other almost instantly, but it’s certainly not a kind of love that would be recognizable to most people—it’s not even recognizable to themselves. I think it’s more than just two broken people propping each other up with the bond of shared suffering; rather, they both sense in the other a desperate desire to become something better, something more than their circumstance, even while they can’t help but fuck it all up again and again and call it “living.”

The second half of the book sees Jamie float to the background a bit, as Bill Houston and his brothers take charge of the narrative with their small-bit criminal aspirations that, inevitably, go horribly wrong. The last thirty pages or so are written in a twisted, Expressionistic way and are horribly brutal—characters waiting to die, or enduring the gruesome wounds inflicted by a life lived too carelessly. And it’s here where Johnson is at his sharpest. These people have done awful things, have refused to accept the responsibilities of adulthood as we know it. They have lived in and among the fringes of society, scraping the bottom without a sense of shame, and yet they are never hopeless. Johnson never denies his characters the chance for redemption, and it’s the most beautiful thing about this book.

Johnson went on to receive a ton of critical praise for his books Tree of Smoke, Fiskadoro, and the short story collection Jesus’ Son, but Angels can really stand among those. It’s an impressive debut not because of implicit potential—you get the sense that he’d already arrived, was just waiting. This is the fierce announcement of a voice that speaks for those who most of us would walk past on the street without a look back. Johnson makes us stop and turn around; he makes us consider why they matter.

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