Tag Archives: psychic

The Shut Eye: Belinda Bauer

“Your future,” he whispered, “is my memory.”

I’d never heard of the author Belinda Bauer, but then I came across The Shut Eye, highly recommended by Cleo, a fellow crime aficionado who reviews at Cleopatra Loves Books. Cleo’s recommendation came with the caveat that she found the psychic element a bit off-putting, but I knew that if carried off by the author carefully, I’d rather like that different twist to a crime novel.

The book’s detective is Lewisham DCI Jack Marvel, a cynical hardened detective whose job has left him with a sour opinion of people, but he’s still a good detective with a “staggering” 84% solve rate.

The longer DCI Jack Marvel worked in homicide, the more he disliked people. He’d never met one he didn’t hate–or despise, at the very least–and he could see the bad in anyone.

It was a useful quality in a detective. Not so much in a human being. Murder was DCI Marvel’s favourite thing in the whole world–even above Sky Sports. There was no other crime that had the sheer black-and-white finality of murder, and it was one of the few things in life that he took personally. He was good at it, too. He had hunches and insights; he had the dogged obsession to keep going when everyone else had given up–not because he wanted to solve the crime, but because he hated to lose. Solving murders was a competition, make no bones about it. The killer won, or the cops won.

Marvel is working on a case of a murdered prostitute, but he can’t let go of the unsolved case of twelve year old Edie Evans who disappeared on her way to school over a year ago. Although the case was initially treated as truancy, the moment Marvel walks into the missing girl’s bedroom he “had known that she’d been taken.” It’s a gut feeling blended from experience, a feeling of the victim, and perhaps, just perhaps, something else….

the shut eye

There were no real clues about Edie’s disappearance except her abandoned bicycle and a few drops of blood nearby. Even a psychic, “Shut Eye” Richard Latham, is consulted in the case, but Edie is never found, and now, more than a year later, the case is cold and shelved.

Marvel, who we now know is a good detective but a crap human being, is like a dog with a bone when it comes to his cases, so he’s furious when he’s pulled off the case of the murdered prostitute and asked, in confidence by his boss, Superintendent Clyde, to help find his wife’s missing poodle, Mitzi. It’s a very funny scene when Marvel is shown a photo of “a buxom woman with too much lipstick sitting on a sofa.” Marvel thinks initially he’s supposed to find the woman, so he’s stunned when his boss tells him he’s supposed to find the dog that’s also in the photo. Marvel sees the favour as an opportunity to leverage promotion

It was his unshakeable view that everybody had a flaw in their make-up that allowed leverage to be exerted, and he liked to think he had a knack of identifying those weaknesses, those tiny human failings, that would give him the upper hand in any relationship.

So a very resentful Marvel begins investigating the case of the missing poodle, and this brings Marvel back to Latham. Meanwhile Anna Buck, a woman whose toddler went missing a few months previously also contacts Latham out of sheer desperation, and this is where all paths intersect….

That’s as much of the plot of this pageturner as I’m going to discuss. It could be argued that the plot is marred by coincidence, but that argument is refuted by the idea that coincidence is often orchestrated by some bizarre design, all compounded by watching the lives of our characters as they overlap like circles in a Venn diagram.

The emphasis here is on character, and for this reader, although the book opens with Anna Buck, who’s gone mad with grief, the main character here is Marvel. I loved the psychic element to the story, and appreciated the clever way the author showed families in different stages of grief. Edie’s parents, still standing together, have come to a horrible quiet acceptance that their daughter is most likely dead, but that doesn’t stop a desperate hope surging whenever Marvel calls. In contrast is Anna Buck, sinking into madness, who blames her husband for their son’s disappearance. At the lowest point in her life, she sees a psychic as the last possible hope, and meeting Latham has consequences that none of our characters could have predicted. Marvel, a misanthrope, and an antagonist to his own feelings, is the most interesting character here. There’s a lot to admire about Marvel but he lacks humanity–almost as though he’s afraid that benevolence will become a chink in his armour. Ultimately, however, it’s Marvel who emerges from these experiences as a better person, a man who has grown emotionally in spite of his best efforts to the contrary.

Review copy.

 

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Filed under Bauer Belinda, Fiction

Night Has a Thousand Eyes: Cornell Woolrich (1945)

In the excellent, perceptive introduction to Cornell Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1945), Woolrich’s biographer, Francis Nevins gives an overview of the author’s life and career. There are some  great quotes about Woolrich’s work here, but I can’t include them all, so here’s just one:

All we can do about this nightmare world is to create, if we can, a few islands of love and trust to sustain us and help us forget. But love dies while lovers go on living, and Woolrich is a master of portraying the corrosion of a relationship. Although he often wrote about the horrors both love and lovelessness can inspire, there are very few irredeemably evil characters in his stories. For if one loves or needs love, or is at the brink of destruction, Woolrich identifies with that person no matter how dark his or her dark side.

Nevins explains that although Woolrich (1903-68) “knew overwhelming financial and critical success [but] his life remained a wretched mess.” Woolrich, a homosexual who tried marriage once, lived with his mother for a great deal of his life, but after her death in 1957, he was a recluse–miserable from the sounds of it–while he struggled with diabetes and alcoholism. Woolrich also seems to have a death obsession. Perhaps that’s not quite the right term I’m looking for, but certainly he had an awareness that death waits in the wings for all of us, and that life, to a great extent is an attempt to avoid or deny the inevitable.  I think that’s a fairly normal realisation for those who live with chronic disease, but Woolrich seemed to be aware of the inescapable nature of death even as a child, and that knowledge of imminent death seems to have found its way into Night Has a Thousand Eyes–a story in which an obsession with death so plagues two of the characters that in an attempt to avoid Fate they rush headlong to meet their deaths before Death can come for them.

The story begins with an earnest young New York homicide detective named Tom Shawn walking along the river as he does every night after work:

You can’t dream in a bus, with your fellows all around you. And so-every night he walked along the river, going home. Every night about one, a little after. Anything you keep doing like that, if you keep doing it long enough, suddenly one time something happens. Something that counts, something that matters, something that changes the whole rest of your life. And you forget all the other times that went before it, and just remember that once.

Woolrich sets up his story immediately with the idea of permanence, predictability and routine, and this is a brilliant move as these elements of life are those about to be challenged and even, perhaps, eradicated by Fate.

Tom is a good, honest, and hard-working young man who is grounded in reality. That night in the park, he comes across some money discarded on the ground. Once again, character is fate. A lesser man would pocket the money and chalk the find up to luck, but Tom is curious. He follows a money trail which leads to an expensive handbag and a diamond wristwatch, and eventually he finds Jean, a distressed, wealthy young woman, beautiful, of course, who is about to commit suicide. He saves the woman, and in the emotional aftermath, she tells a strange tale involving her father.

Jean Reid and her debonair, handsome father are extremely wealthy New Yorkers who lead an enviable life, but all that ‘good fortune’ is apparently swept away when psychic predictions surrounding the Reids begin to come horribly true. After Mr. Reid’s death is predicted, he becomes fixated on the date. Paralyzed with fear, he loses all his confidence, undergoes a frightening personality change, and holed up in his mansion, he can no longer function.

Night Has a Thousand Eyes is an iconic tale which deals with issues of Fate and Predestination. In creating the Reids, Woolrich offers us two characters who have the best that life has to offer: looks, confidence, money, power, intelligence and good health. The Reids are the sort of people who make their own destinies–or so they think. When confronted with a power that seems to erode their worldly position, Jean and her father are rendered helpless for the first time in their lives. They are reduced to the same sort of powerlessness felt by their impoverished, plain, dull and worn-out maid, and suddenly, money and prestige mean nothing. It’s not simply that Mr. Reid is terrified of his own death (and that is definitely his ostensible, palatable fear), but it’s also that their entire value system no longer exists. Their money or connections cannot help them avoid the horrible Fate predicted for Mr. Reid by a shady psychic, and there’s the subtle issue of privilege bowing to a greater power underlying the tale. The novel doesn’t spend a great deal of time on character–although many of the secondary characters are great sideshow creations. The psychic is a particularly interesting character as with his sort of gift, you’d expect some sort of enlightened individual, but when Woolrich pulls back the layers of deceit on this character, we find a shrivelled, unpleasant, bitter little man. Primarily, however, this is a plot-driven story which builds with incredible tension that keeps this story rolling to the last page. Unlike Black Wings Has My Angel, Night Has a Thousand Eyes has an archaic feel which grounds the novel firmly in its times.

I recognized that the focus of this pall of fear and grief that hung over me was not the catastrophe itself or even the loss that it had wrought; it was the fact of having been forewarned against it. There was a curious sort of clammy terror in that, there was horror, there was-I don’t know what. There was a nightmare feeling heavy upon me, and not even the fact that the destructive climax was already past and no longer still ahead could lessen it any.

Review copy from Open Road Media

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Filed under Fiction, Woolrich Cornell