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.


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