This week, Miles invades ImpSec HQ with a squadron of witnesses, a spray bottle, and a black light and catches Haroche in the act of trying to cover his tracks. It’s like when Lord Peter gave Norman Urquhardt arsenic-laced Turkish Delight in Strong Poison. If you haven’t read Strong Poison, you should. It’s a Christmas story, it has a fake seance in it, and, if you aren’t already, you’ll want to be familiar with Peter Wimsey by the time we get to A Civil Campaign.
Miles is very busy with the dramatic denouement, and he handles it very nicely. It’s a treat to watch. While he’s traipsing around the building with his various friends and relations, he leaves Delia Koudelka to be the last man standing next to Duv Galeni in the cells.
Delia Koudelka is a creature of glamour and mystery. At Gregor’s reception, Miles saw her as the next generation’s Alys Vorpatril, and Ivan’s date (I can’t tell Martya and Olivia apart at this point) saw her as possessing the mysterious ability to not spill red wine. In chapter 26, it’s clear that Miles also sees her as a formidable combat operative, capable of defending a cell in ImpSec’s detention block against the homicidal urges of a thwarted Lucas Haroche. She is a picture of Barrayaran maidenly virtues—graceful, loyal, chaste, and badass. Why does this series have only seventeen novels, and what in the vast universe has Miles done that earns him the right to be the protagonist of so many of them while Delia Koudelka is roaming around unobserved? Where did she go to school? Was she Head Girl? I bet she was Head Girl. Or Student Council President or whatever they call it on Barrayar. What were her summers like at the family beach house? What are her career plans outside of marriage? I don’t mean to disparage Miles—I enjoy riding around in his head. But this reread is in its fourth straight book of Boy Stuff (or its eighth, depending on how you feel about Rian Degtiar’s role in Cetaganda and Elli Quinn’s in Ethan of Athos), and I’m feeling girl deprived.
Were it not for Barrayar’s outdated sexist practices, Drou would have been second-in-command at ImpSec for years now, working closely with Lady Alys to ensure that if anyone had to be arrested from an event at the Palace, it was handled gracefully and tactfully. Instead, Drou has been teaching martial arts classes. That’s a noble calling, but it’s a waste of Drou’s potential. Drou isn’t second in command at ImpSec, so Illyan assures Smetani that everything is fine when Miles and co enter the building. In my imaginary alternate ImpSec, Drou would have shelved the Komarran virus in biologicals, where it belonged, in a more secure container. Then, she would have coordinated with Alys to conduct covert surveillance of Galeni to evaluate his loyalty and his connections to his father’s conspiracy. They would have questioned Galeni about his connections before his promotion and the associated induction of his fast-penta allergy. I don’t know if Galeni would have been willing to submit to fast-penta interrogation at that point or any other—the interrogations he faced during his abduction were traumatic—but he could have made that decision under controlled circumstances, and the consequences on his career might have been managed by checking his statements against those made by other individuals in ImpSec custody. That’s not what happened, so Miles and Dr. Wedell are scanning air filters and Ivan is trying not to pass out from holding his breath. It’s easy to assume that only men misfile biological weapons when only men have the power to decide where ImpSec shelves things. I’m sure Drou and Alys would make mistakes too—there are a lot of ways ImpSec’s brass could be tactless to Galeni.
Galeni is the other major game piece whose movements are invisible in this chapter. This is at least partly because his movements are mostly back and forth across one cell in the detention block. Galeni is an analyst, and I wish we got to see him do more of it. Illyan visited him at least once or twice a week to discuss items of interest in his reports. That sounds like a lot of interesting reports! I freely confess to being interested in the minutiae of a lot of things other people find boring—this week I’m really into suburban zoning laws—but I think a novel about ImpSec analysts would not be boring even by more normal standards. I could use a Barrayaran “lower decks” story. I wouldn’t mind reading about ImpSec Janitorial Services either. The air filters plotline here is thrilling, even though it’s very brief. Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple is one of my favorite detectives because I admire her deep understanding of her domestic environment. ImpSec Janitorial Services is Miss Marple reincarnated as a military unit by a male-dominated bureaucracy. Which I suppose makes ImpSec HQ like a small village—everything happens in a small village. You see all of human nature exposed.
Join me next week, when Miles wraps up his case in a style that will at least partly justify my obsession with fictional British detectives!
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.