Thursday, May 14, 2009

Argentine literary thriller by Guillermo Martínez

Guillermoo Martínez's The Book of Murder isn't really a crime novel, in spite of the title (and the marketing). It's full of literary references (mostly to Henry James, although also to a number of other trendier European authors and philosophers), and it's about the literary novelists favorite subject: literary novelists. No problem with that reflexive fixation, though it's what has so far stopped me from reading the highly praised The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolaño (also not a crime novel). The Book of Murder is really more of a horror story (and there are references to Poe), with the not-uncommon theme of the vengeful author whose writing prefigures actual murders--handled here (at least) without the lurid sensationalism sometimes attached to the theme. A young novelist hires a transcriber when he breaks his hand, Luciana, a young woman who usually works for a better known writer who happens to be out of the country, to take dictation as he works on his current novel. The young novelist is contacted 10 years later by Luciana, who says that the older writer blames her for the death of his daughter and has been conducting a campaign of revenge against the transcriber's whole family. Most of the novel is a series of monologues by the young writer, the young woman, and eventually the older writer (another feature more common in both horror tales and literary fiction than in crime fiction). Two things in the novel's favor: it's short, and its conclusion does achieve a certain chilling effect (which I won't describe, but it relates to the parallel novels by both of the writers and to the older writer's suggestion that an alter ego, a muse, has been "dictating" his story about revenge in advance of the sufferings of the Luciana's family. But this is a self-conscious "text" rather than a more transparently naturalistic narrative as found in, for example, the work of Gene Kerrigan (to name just one recently read author). Not a bad thing, in itself, just a different sort of thing. Martínez is also the author of the The Oxford Murders, which includes serial murder, mathematics, and arcane symbology: a combination that reminds me more of The DaVinci Code than crime fiction, but perhaps someone can suggest whether it's worth considering for the tbr pile.

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