Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Needle In A Haystack by Ernesto Mallo 

Argentina 1979 and the military junta are firmly ensconced in power. The authorities are paranoid and see enemies everywhere with ex-judicial executions and kidnappings of suspects being the norm. The dirty war against terrorism is in full swing, violence reigns supreme and on one is asking any questions.

Against this backdrop writer Ernesto Mallo introduces the reader to Superintendent Lascano. In many respects police inspector Lascano is a typical Chandleresque hero, he’s a loner with his own demons who battles his superiors and operates on with his own moral code. His wife died in a car crash and but for his friend, forensic scientist Fuseli, Lascano would long ago stepped over the edge.

The novel opens with the report of two bodies lying on a dirt road in a Buenos Aires suburb. Superintendent Lascano is sent to investigate. Trouble meets him from the outset when instead of two bodies he discovers three. Two of the deceased are young and are obviously victims of the junta. However the third is middle aged and bears none of the scares of a tango with the authorities.

A love interest in the novel takes the form of Eva a member of the Montoneros guerrillas. When her guerrilla cell is broken up by the authorities Eva escapes and finds sanctuary in a building which unbeknownst to her also serves as a brothel. The brothel is raided by Lascano and Eva is discovered by the superintendent who is struck by the resemblance between her and his deceased wife. Eva evades detection and lives, for a time, in Lascano’s apartment.

If there’s a recognised villain in the story it comes in the form of army Major Giribaldi. Garibaldi is a willing servant of the junta. He takes part and supervises many of the disappearances which take place in the country. He is totally without principle and sees himself as a patriot and defender of the country.

As Lascano commences his investigation he discovers that the victim was a moneylender who had in the past survived Auschwitz. The victim, Bitterman, has a lucrative business lending money for which he charges exorbitant rates of interest. Bitterman’s business is thriving, he charges exorbitant rates of interest for his loans and as Lascano is told there’s a list of people who would have been more than willing to kill him.

Because of the involvement of one of the Buenos Aries elite Lascano is warned off the case by Giribaldi and it is when he refuses to heed the majors threats that life for the superintendent takes a rather nasty turn.

What gives "Needle" an air of authenticity is the fact that the author Ernesto Mello, as an ex-subversive, knows what he’s talking about. Love is taken on the run and loved ones can disappear in a moments notice. He has endured the trials and tribulations of fighting the junta. He witnessed at first hand torture and imprisonment at the hands of the military.

The one negative aspect of the novel is the dialogue which is ran together. At times this is confusing and some people will find it hard to follow. It’s a strange devise but I suppose it is a matter of style.

"Needle In A Haystack" as well as being a crime novel can be said to be a sociological and psychological exploration of Argentine society as it endures the horrors of the junta.


Monday, April 02, 2012

Keeper of the Flame - Josef Skvorecky 

A touching portrait of Czech writer Josef Skvorecky as he returns home in 1990 after living in exile in Canada for twenty one years.

Josef Skvorecky was born in Nachod, Czechoslovakia in September, 1927. For two years during World War II he worked in a German aircraft factory. When the war ended he travelled to Prague where he enrolled in the Faculty of Medicine in Charles University. However after his first term Skvorecky moved to the Faculty of Arts where he studied Philosophy and in 1949 he graduated.

He continued his studies and in 1951 gained a PhD in Philosophy. Between 1952 and 1954 he carried out military service in the Czechoslovakian army.

Skvorecky wrote his first novel The Cowards in 1949 though it would remain unpublished until 1958. Czechoslovak authorities subsequently banned The Cowards. The editor of the company that published it was arrested then subsequently sacked.

Following the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia and the repression of the Prague Spring Skvorecky and his wife Zdena Salivarova went into exile in Canada.

While resident in Toronto he founded, along with his wife, 68 Publishers, which over the next twenty years published books banned in Czechoslovakia. Dissident writers such as Vaclav Havel, Milan Kundra and Ivan Klima all had their work published by the Skvorecky’s at a time when they were unable to do so in Czechoslovakia.

Along with The Cowards, Skvorecky’s best known works translated into English include The Miracle Game, Miss Silver’s Past and The Engineer of Human Souls. He also wrote four collections of short stories featuring Detective Lieutenant Boruvka of the Prague Homicide Bureau. His non-fiction includes the collections Talkin’ Moscow Blues and All the Bright Young Men and Women.

Much of Skvorecky’s work deals with the effects of totalitarianism and the repression of both the Nazi and Communist regimes. His work also touches on the experience of living in exile, the wonder of jazz and cinematography.
Josef Skvorecky died in Toronto on January 3rd, 2012.


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