The Twelfth Card by Jeffery Deaver

This is an entertaining novel and I greatly admire the author. I have read his novels, notably the Bone Collector, with great enjoyment. However, what he has to say about Arabic and Arabs (admittedly only a minor point in this novel) is off the mark. Below I post a passage from the novel and then below that I post it again with my commentary in red. This passage is about the FBI graphology expert, Parker Kincaid, explaining something to our protagonist, Lincoln Rhyme:

The Twelfth Card by Jeffery Deaver.

Chapter 36.

…Serious handwriting analysis never seeks to determine personality from the way people form their letters; handwriting itself is relevant only when comparing one document with another, say, when determining forgeries. But that didn’t interest Rhyme at the moment. No, what Parker Kincaid was talking about was deducing characteristics of the writer based on the language he used–the “unusual” phrasing that Rhyme had noted earlier. This could be extremely helpful in identifying suspects. Grammatical and syntactical analysis of the Lindbergh baby ransom note, for instance, gave a perfect profile of the kidnapper, Bruno Hauptmann.

With the enthusiasm he typically felt for his craft, Kincaid continued, “I found some interesting things. You got the note handy?”

“It’s right in front of us.”

A black girl, fifth floor in this window, 2 October, about 0830. She saw my delivery van when he was parked in a alley behind the Jewelry echange. Saw enough to guess the plans of mine. Kill her.

Kincaid said, “To start with, he’s foreign born. The awkward syntax and misspellings tell me that. So does the way he indicates the date–putting the day before the month. And the time is given in the twenty-four hour clock. That’s rare in America.” The handwriting expert continued, “Now, another important point; he–”

“Or she,” Rhyme interrupted.

“I’m leaning toward male,” Kincaid countered. “Tell you why in a minute. He uses the gendered pronoun ‘he,’ referring, it seems, to his van. That’s typical of several different foreign languages. But what really narrows it down is the two-member nominal phrase in the genitive construction.”

“The what?” Rhyme asked.

“The genitive construction. A way to create the possessive. Your unsub wrote ‘my delivery van’ at one point.”

Rhyme scanned the note. “Got it.”

“But later he wrote ‘plans of mine.’ That makes me think your boy’s first language is Arabic.

“Arabic?”

“I’ll say it’s a ninety percent likelihood. There’s a genitive constructive in Arabic called i.daafah. The possessive’s usually formed by saying, “The car John.” Meaning, “the car of John.” Or, in your note, ’the plans of mine.’ But the rules of Arabic grammar require that only one word is used for the thing that’s possessed–the ‘delivery van’ won’t work in Arabic; it’s a two-word phrase, so he can’t use i.daafah. He simply says, ‘my delivery van.’ The other clue is the misuse of the indefinite article ‘a’ in ‘a alley.’ That’s common among Arabic speakers; the language doesn’t use indefinite articles, only the definite ‘the’.” Kincaid added, “That’s true of Welsh, too, but I don’t think this guy’s from Cardiff.”

 *******************************

Now with my comments in red:

The Twelfth Card. Jeffery Deaver.

Chapter 36.

…Serious handwriting analysis never seeks to determine personality from the way people form their letters However, given that this guy is supposedly a native speaker of Arabic and only knows rudimentary English, so I would expect his handwriting to look rather different from an American speaker of English’s handwriting. In fact, I think the way his handwriting looked was probably pretty distinctive all by itself and a clue as to his native language. I’d bet money he didn’t write in the block print typical of Americans.; handwriting itself is relevant only when comparing one document with another, say, when determining forgeries. But that didn’t interest Rhyme at the moment. No, what Parker Kincaid was talking about was deducing characteristics of the writer based on the language he used–the “unusual”phrasing that Rhyme had noted earlier. This could be extremely helpful in identifying suspects. Grammatical and syntactical analysis of the Lindbergh baby ransom note, for instance, gave a perfect profile of the kidnapper, Bruno Hauptmann.

With the enthusiasm he typically felt for his craft, Kincaid continued, “I found some interesting things. You got the note handy?”

“It’s right in front of us.”

A black girl, fifth floor in this window, 2 October, about 0830. She saw my delivery van when he was parked in a alley behind the Jewelry echange. Saw enough to guess the plans of mine. Kill her.

Kincaid said, “To start with, he’s foreign born. The awkward syntax and misspellings tell me that. So does the way he indicates the date–putting the day before the month. And the time is given in the twenty-four hour clock. That’s rare in America.” Most of the time I use this format for the date; I picked it up in the Army. I also use the twenty-four clock unless I’m talking to someone who I know won’t understand it.The handwriting expert continued, “Now, another important point; he–”

“Or she,” Rhyme interrupted.

“Im leaning toward male,” Kincaid countered. “Tell you why in a minute. He doesn’t say so in this passage, but in the next couple paragraphs everyone unanimously agrees that of native speakers of Arabic, only males ever do anything. He uses the gendered pronoun ‘he,’ referring, it seems, to his van. That’s typical of several different foreign languages. In Arabic, automobiles and conveyances are usually feminine’. Car, ship, plane, tank, train–all feminine. But what really narrows it down is the two-member nominal phrase in the genitive construction.”

“The what?” Rhyme asked.

“The genitive construction. A way to create the possessive. Your unsub wrote ‘my delivery van’ at one point.”

Rhyme scanned the note. “Got it.”

“But later he wrote ‘plans of mine.’ That makes me think your boy’s first language is Arabic.”  This is where I was first thrown for a loop. I read the note in a previous chapter and nothing about it made me think its writer’s first language was Arabic. I’ve given it some thought, and I think one thing that would have made me suspect an Arab writer is lack of punctuation coupled with improper punctuation.

“Arabic?” Even though they also use this construction in Spanish, among other languages.

“I’ll say it’s a ninety percent likelihood. There’s a genitive constructive in Arabic called i.daafah. The possessive’s usually formed by saying, “The car John.”  No, it’s formed by saying, ‘Car John.’ Meaning, “the car of John.” Or, in your note, ’the plans of mine.’ But the rules of Arabic grammar require that only one word is used for the thing that’s possessed–the ‘delivery van’ won’t work in Arabic; it’s a two-word phrase, so he can’t use i.daafah. What a crock. An idaafa can have multiple terms. He simply says, ‘my delivery van.’ The other clue is the misuse of the indefinite article ‘a’ in  ‘a alley.’ That’s common among Arabic speakers; the language doesn’t use indefinite articles, only the definite ‘the’.” So why does his note start out with the phrase ‘a black girl’ instead of ‘black girl’? What I’d want to know is how this guy learned English. Did he learn it without formal instruction? Kincaid added, “That’s true of Welsh, too, but I don’t think this guy’s from Cardiff.” Why not? There hasn’t been any evidence up until now that this guy isn’t an American. Why isn’t he just as likely to be from Cardiff as from Beirut?

They then go on to decide that since he’s a native speaker of Arabic and a man (because Arabic-speaking women don’t do things), it is necessarily true that he is going to blow up the jewelry exchange instead of robbing or burgling it, as they previously thought. They leap to these conclusions based entirely on Arabic’s being his native language. *snicker*

Okay, I wrote the above before I had finished the book. Stop reading this now if you plan to read the book and don’t want me to spoil a plot point for you.

It turned out that the Arab in question was an innocent victim of a criminal mastermind. He did not write this note nor the one that was found with his blasted-apart body in the blown-up van. So that would explain why the handwriting on the note didn’t tip anybody off to the guy’s possibly being a non-native speaker of English.

It doesn’t explain why everybody jumped to the conclusion that since he was an Arab he must be bent on blowing up the jewelry exchange instead of robbing it, as previously believed. There was no other evidence to make anyone think that.  They literally went from “He’s a bad man who wants to rob the exchange” to “He’s a bad Arab man who wants to blow up the exchange.”

 Later, when they have positive proof that the Arab had nothing to do with anything, nobody reflects on their wrongheaded assumption.

 The next novel I address will  be Nelson deMille’s the Lion’s Game.

Leave a comment

Filed under arab, arabic, books, pedantry

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s