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It is December 2001 and Argentina is in crisis. Pablo Martelli used to be a policeman - not just any policeman, but part of a force now referred to as "the National Shame" for its role doing horrible things to opponents of the military regime. Now he sells bathrooms, but it seems he cannot escape his past - once a policeman, always a policeman.
A great deal of this novel is taken up with Martelli driving hundreds of kilometres, talking to the local police near his friend's home, and trying to find out what has happened. At first I was intrigued enough by the premise to keep reading and wonder why despite his protestations Martelli keeps getting back in his car, and doesn't seem to need much persuasion to keep driving. However, I soon began to get a bit bored, and by 70 pages in I didn't care that much who had murdered Edmundo or the various other corpses around.
Martello as a first person narrator never engaged my sympathy that much. I like reading about cynical, jaded detective characters but this one just failed to make me care. The other male characters stayed very flat, and the women could hardly be described as characters at all. There were lots of bits of description which added little to the narrative or the story, or to plot/character/setting development, and they just came to seem a bit pointless.
I wanted to read this novel for its setting in Argentina, as I would like to read more Latin American fiction, and I did find some of Martelli's ramblings on his country's politics, including his nostalgia for Juan Peron, vaguely interesting. However, this probably isn't a recommendation when reading a crime story.
I was surprised to realise that the translation from the Spanish (by Nick Caistor) was into British rather than American English. I quite liked this and would be interested in reading other translations by him from Spanish.
I wanted to like this book but I really can't recommend it.
This review first appeared at www.thebookbag.co.uk
Format: Hardback 283 pages
Publisher: MacLehose Press (Quercus) April 2010
ISBN: 978 1 906694 029
RRP £18.99, current Amazon price September 2010 £10.82