Second on my 2014 Global Reading Challenge list for South America, is Ernesto Mallo’s Needle in a Haystack, translated from the Spanish by Jethro Soutar, the first book in the Inspector Lascano series.
Here’s an overview thanks to the Reactions to Reading Blog:
In 1976 Argentina’s Dirty War had begun and its environment of state-sponsored illegal arrests, torture, killing and forced disappearances provides a brutal backdrop for what would otherwise be a simple tale of a policeman investigating a murder. Superintendent Lascano is asked to follow up on a report of two bodies being found but when he arrives at the site there are three bodies. Two are of young people who were clearly killed by the Junta’s death squads and their deaths will not be investigated further but the third body is an older man’s which appears to have nothing to do with the others. It is this death that Lascano decides to investigate…
A quick read, Needle in a Haystack progresses, as the above quoted review later mentions, as something of a ‘literary jigsaw’ with pieces from various points-of-view, and with a non-sequential time line that adds to the puzzle.
While I did enjoy the idea of this ‘puzzle’ aspect, I found the actuality of it a bit confusing.
To be brief, I read it through, mainly because it was short. Aspects of the story, such as the romantic thread involving Inspector Lescano and the young, lovely dissident he ends up harbouring secretly in his home… and the coincidence of her uncanny resemblance to his dearly-beloved but tragically-dead-too-soon wife… did not enhance my reading.
I realize the book was shortlisted for the 2011 Dagger Awards, and this translation from the Spanish by Jethro Soutar has received many good reviews, so I can’t give it bad marks. All I can conclude is that I’m likely not a member of Ernesto Mallo’s intended audience.
On to my third and last stop in South America:
From Chile I chose Roberto Ampuero’s The Neruda Case, translated from the Spanish by Carolina De Robertis, sixth in the Cayetano Brulé series. (I chose #6 because it ‘begins at the beginning’, relating the story of how Cayetano Brulé began his career as a private detective.)
Here’s a brief overview from Philip K. Jason’s exhilarating review of The Neruda Case from the June 21, 2012 online version of The Washington Independent Review of Books.:
In The Neruda Case, Roberto Ampuero’s first novel to appear in English (though he has otherwise long been published worldwide), the author’s new readers step into the Chilean crisis of 1973. Allende’s socialist-leaning coalition government is under siege and tottering. A military junta is about to put General Pinochet into power.
The aging and severely ailing Pablo Neruda, an Allende partisan, has something nagging at his soul. A young man named Cayetano Brulé, a Cuban by way of Miami now living with his activist wife in Valparaíso (Chile’s second city), meets Neruda at a social gathering. After some brief conversation, the great poet asks Cayetano to a private meeting during which he convinces him to track down, with utmost discretion, a Dr. Bracamonte, whom Neruda had known three decades earlier during a diplomatic post in Mexico City. Neruda seems desperate to discover the doctor’s whereabouts.
Hypnotized by Neruda’s gift of gab, flattery and transcendent personality, Cayetano agrees. It’s clear that the money will be good. However, he is hesitant; after all, he has no experience or skills in sleuthing. Outrageously, Neruda presents him with an armful of Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret novels and suggests that he start reading…
Three good reasons to read Roberto Ampuero’s The Neruda Case:
- For the twisty mystery introducing Cayetano Brulé, a new (to me) and potential moody sleuth.
- For the historical factor – Ampuero drops us into the Chilean Crisis of 1973.
- For the eminently believable depiction of Pablo Neruda – the man apparently responsible for launching Cayetano Brulé’s career as a private detective.
I enjoyed The Neruda Case; the story is unusual and thoroughly engrossing; the writing is excellent, particularly the dialogue (Kudos to the translator!), and though I’m not giving Ceyatano Brulé an auto-pass to my moody sleuth list, I’m looking forward to following him through the series.
I’ll leave you with this link to Book Sexy Review’s most excellent review of The Neruda Case, and point you to the Amazon.com page where you can sample the first few chapters.