(4. - 637.) Needle in a Haystack by Ernesto Mallo – In the late 1970’s the Junta rules
. The military is ruthlessly seeking out young Communist revolutionaries who are intent on overthrowing the government. Every night Falcon cars roll up to homes and soldiers take away suspected subversives. Most become the disappeared. Argentina
Superintendent Lascano, known as “Perro” (the Dog), is a weary veteran police officer. Deeply depressed by the unexpected death of his beloved Marisa, he drags himself into work each day. Her ghost haunts his night. I thought of Carl Mørck at the start of The Keepers of Lost Causes.
Major Giribaldi is a military officer in command of units who make young Argentines disappear. His home life is complicated because Maisabe, his wife, cannot conceive a child.
Amancio is a man accustomed by birth to a privileged life but the family money is gone and he has a demanding young wife of the highest maintenance.
When Lascano is sent to investigate three bodies dumped by a river he is intrigued by the body of an older man that was not one of the disappeared. He can instantly determine the difference as the two disappeared have their faces disfigured by multiple shots when executed. The third has died from a single shot to the abdomen.
Lascano pursues an investigation into the death of the older man. The police have been ordered not to investigate the deaths of any disappeared they might come across in
. Buenos Aires
Gradually the paths of Lascano, Amancio and Giribaldi intersect in the course of the investigation. It is a time of incredible tension in
. No one knows who the death squads will come for next by day and by night. Argentina
Mallo extensively develops the personalities of the characters. Each man is a real vivid person. Each is struggling with a relationship with a woman.
The book is unusual in putting sequences of conversation between two people in a long paragraph with the speakers, not continually identified, alternating statements, mostly 1 or 2 sentences at a time. Mallo also writes powerful moving descriptions. The following conversation between two women is an illustration of both aspects of the writing:
What does it feel like to be pregnant? Have you ever held a live bird in your hand? It’s like that, only in your blood.
Even though there is a simmering undercurrent of violence in Buenos Aires Mallo’s skill makes it a surprise when the blood starts flowing. I have tired of high body counts in American thrillers but it feels right in a book set in the time of the junta. I now have a sense of the constant dread that Argentines lived with during that vicious time.
The book is the first in a trilogy. I will be looking for the next in the series. I thank fellow blogger, Jose Ignacio, at the Game’s Afoot for recommending Mallo. (Jan. 18/12)