A girl detective who can speak a thousand languages, with her own personal Saint, New York City’s District Attorney as her father, and an ex Viet-Cong guerrilla as a nanny — only Robert Tanenbaum (and the City itself) could conjure up the sad, inscrutable Lucy Karp. As always when we step into Karpland we are stepping into the heart of Law, which is not only the territory of language, but the inherited traditions of men and the relationships these traditions imply.
Where men talk privately, they sit; where they sit, they eat and drink and cross identities. Over Marlene Chiampi’s kitchen table, we find lawyers, detectives, Indians and journalists…A student of Karp’s comes to him for help in defending a coach who has been debunked by his Association, robbed of the liberty to ply his trade. And as always in a Christian kitchen, food and tragedy mix. At the end of the second bottle of Chianti, the phone rings with news that Ariadne Stupenegel is injured in the bombing of a restaurant — where she was mixing food and words, food and information, food and secrets.
Short, spoiled and operatic is the 14 year old Persian Jewess who charms Gabe, the poor little rich foundling now living with Peter and Rena Decker. Gabe is a little lovable, a little weird, and very horny. But he is also a musical prodigy, with the lean blonde wits of his assassin father — the unforgettable and immemorial Chris Donatti. Once upon a time, long long ago, Chris Donati also went to highschool in L.A., fell in love in L.A., got in trouble in L.A.
Today L.A. is full of over-monied teenagers with guns, some suicidal, or maybe not. In between the clumsy romantic gropings of Gabe and his sobbing Persian Jewess are the good, old police investigations of Marge and Oliver, a little older, a little tired, a little weepy themselves. Are the high-school suicides really suicides? The whodunit falls by the wayside, unfortunately, and neither the fascinating Donatti nor his curious son can mobilize by this L.A. West Side story.
After the funeral, there is the family and the village. There is a batty aunt, a hysterical and heirless English lord, his ancient butler, and a smattering of inadequate and weak-willed in-laws, waiting for their share. These are the leftovers of the comfortable class, who married badly and relied on unreliable servants. Unlike Miss Gilchrist, who knew how to cook, and ran a pretty little teashop before the war.
A wagonful of new Agatha Christie audiobooks (“lesser” works?) shows us an Agatha knee-deep in Freud, perhaps, indeed, an “English Freud”. Here she experiments with the entire merde ridden hagiography of psychoanalytic terms: pathologies, neuroses, perversions, deviances, persecutions. Sarah has just finished her M.B. and is interested in psychology. She looks on as an old obese mother, an ugly wheelchaired figure wields a regime of psychological oppression over her “nervy” “nervous” unnerved family. The ugly Mrs. Boynton continues to perform her chores as the warden of a women’s prison, although she no longer performs them inside a prison. Instead she institutes prohibitions against the emotions, liberties, impulses, movements, of her step sons and daughters.
Sarah complains of the rudeness of Raymond Boynton, who ignores her in the presence of his mother, despite their earlier conversation. The tradition of English manners comes to Jerusalem not in opposition to rudeness but rather as a prophylactic to madness; madness is the excess of civilization, the bad habit of civilization. As the narrator in An Appointment With Death tells us about the horrific Mrs. Boynton: “In a savage tribe they would have boiled and eaten her up her years ago”.
Once upon a time, in a movie made long ago, there was a beautiful fairy who helped a poor little girl. You do not remember the movie. You remember the voice. It is the voice of Mary Peiffer.
This time the movie is not about a little girl. It is in fact not even a movie. It is a book, about a woman, who comes from Alaska, and lives in the cold, with dogs.
Mary Peiffer’s lovely, ringing, good witch voice, turns every book into a fairy tale. Sometimes the tale is about not so little girls who grow curiouser and curiouser. Sometimes the girls get into trouble and sometimes they almost die. But always they are found by a voice which wraps itself around them like a shawl against time.
There is more than one mystery here. First, how does one make sense of the handful of quotes from Plato’s Republic which are scattered about this book like annoying commercials for a new Greek candidate? Especially when there is no candidate. Plato’s ideas are credited with breeding a monstrous economy of organs, stolen from the many, given to the few, by a gang of happy scholars with an Old School knowledge of Latin and a gamey love of Greek nicknames and Latin roots. And here, then, is the second mystery: how would a greedy ruling class locate, trace and seize particular bodily organs for their own use?
Natalie Reyes, overconfident, overcompetitive, overaggressive fourth year medical student finds out how. We meet her on the day she challenges the diagnosis of a resident in charge. We watch her being summoned to the Dean’s office, judged and condemned by an informal medical school tribunal, and cut down like a too high stalk of wheat. Suspended for four months, she is sent by her boss to present a paper at a conference in Brazil. She lands in Brazil but never makes it to the conference.
Whatever else Ruth Rendell does or does not do, she demonstrates what might, could, would or should be said while helping the police in their inquiry. The mystery lies not so much in who did it but in who lies about doing it: who said that he didn’t do it and how did he say that he didn’t do it. Who is speaking? Who is lying?
Who lies, indeed? Well, Inspector Wexler already knows that once the media has been told, he “will get calls and no doubt e-mails from all the [i]nuts[/i] . . . We know in advance that they’ll have been seen in Rio and Jakharta and going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. . .” Note the rare use of the future perfect: “they will have been seen…” .
Children, one thirteen and one fifteen, disappeared. With their sitter. In a time of religion and heavy rains. And what the future perfect tells us about who is speaking is that such children will, in fact, not have been seen… And so we have a mystery…don’t we?