Monday, April 03, 2017

Of Crime and Whys

Colum McCann's 'Thirteen Ways of Looking' (2015) holds a novella and three stories- title story 'Thirteen Ways of Looking', 'What Time Is It Now, Where You Are', 'Sh'khol', and 'Treaty'. For stories of crime and mysteries, the writing is rather elegant. (Reviews here, here and here.)

'What Time Is It Now, Where You Are?' sees a male writer writing a story about a 26-year-old female Marine named Sandi Jewell on a tour of duty in Afghanistan. I struggled a little to understand it. 'Sh'khol' examines the strength of 48-year-old single mother Rebecca whose adopted deaf son goes missing from their home near the sea in Ireland.

'Treaty' sees a Maryknoll (Roman Catholic convent) nun Sister Beverly Clarke travel to London to confront her torturer-rapist thirty-seven years later after she was rescued from his clutches in South America. He was never caught, never stood trial and was certainly never convicted. Her then-rapist known as Carlos has reinvented himself as Euclides Largo, now 59 years old, a lawyer for coal miners, is now associated with a left-wing party. It's almost chilling to read how she has been haunted by this one horrible thing her whole life, and how some things can't be forgiven or forgotten.

She is aware, now, exactly what sort of man he has become. No peace about him. No great swerve in his life. He has polished all his lies. 
She could, now, do anything at all: arrange a conference, expose him to the newspapers, call him to task, let others know, create a revenge out of justice. But she will, she knows, just sit at the counter, slowly sip her tea, let the minutes pass, fold the newspaper, rise, leave the shop, shuffle down the Thames, return to her brother's flat, sit with him, talk, allow the night to fade away, and later she will slip into the warm bath, rise, towel, glance at the mirror, look away again, dress, sleep in the chair instead of the bed, listen to the evening tap against the windowpane, rise then, leave, return to Houston, a long flight across the Atlantic, a return, up the steps, those young girls, that small bakery of love and death.

The title story 'Thirteen Ways of Looking' examines the life and eventual death of 82-year-old retired Manhattan judge Peter Mendelssohn. Closed-circuit tv cameras caught an assault on the old man on a wintry night after dinner at his favorite restaurant, and he slipped and hit his head on the icy pavement, and died. The police couldn't see who was the person, except it was a male, and wearing a cap with a BC logo which could be almost anything, perhaps Brooklyn Cyclones. It's almost a classic whodunit. Every one in Peter Mendelssohn's life is a suspect, from his nurse Sally to the staff in the restaurant, Dandinho and Pedro, and his son Elliott. And even at the end, I'm not sure if key suspect Pedro Jiménz is really the killer.

It might have shown the glances that went between him and Dandinho when the cops pulled Pedro aside for questioning, or the look on Dandinho's face by the front door, or the back glances both men gave when they left the restaurant late in the evening, checking out the angles of the camera by the front foyer at a time when the cops had already downloaded the footage for examination. 
None of this was yet apparent: the homicide, like the poem, had to open itself to whatever might still be discovered.  
The cops could have downloaded the footage from the subway station that night where the two men stood sullen, waiting for the 4 train to take them home to Brooklyn. But who could have intuited what their silence meant? Who could have foretold what Dandinho might say to Pedro? Who could have guessed that they might have struck a pact together? Who could have interpreted Pedro's face as he got off the F train in Coney Island almost two hours later and pushed his way through the silver turnstile? Who could have understood his terror as he passed by the bodega on Tenth Street? 

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