About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Needle in a Haystack by Ernesto Mallo

(4. - 637.) Needle in a Haystack by Ernesto Mallo – In the late 1970’s the Junta rules Argentina. 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.

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 Argentina. No one knows who the death squads will come for next by day and by night.

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)


  1. Bill - I am so glad you enjoyed this book. I think Mallo is very talented and I'm glad that you got the chance to read this one.

    And I couldn't agree with you more about body counts...

  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I agree with your assessment that Mallo is a very talented author.

  3. Thanks for you kind mention Bill. And an excellent review too.

  4. Though I've heard of Ernesto Mallo, I've never read his books. The political upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s in Central and South America has shaped the way writers have been writing about these regions. Mallo's debut is a testimony to that tumultuous period.

  5. Jose Ignacio: Thanks for the comment. I appreciate the reviews and other posts on your blog.

  6. Prashant: Thanks for commenting. I believe you would enjoy Mallo if you get a chance to read him.