Sunday, January 18, 2009

Psychological noir: Luis Alfredo Garcia-Roza's Blackout

Luis Alfredo Garcia-Roza's Blackout is, like the earlier 5 novels in the Inspector Espinosa series, a psychological mystery that is distinctive but also has substantial common ground with some current and classical crime fiction. The plot is reminiscent of Simenon's Maigret books (as is the interest in psychology); rather than doggedly pursue a criminal or an investigation, Espinosa meanders around it, paying at least as much attention to his extracurricular reading, his girlfriend, and his food, calling to mind Pepe Carvalho in Vazquez Montalban's fiction and Leonardo Padura's Mario Conde. Though Espinosa has a reliable team (the only policemen he trusts in a corrupt force), they are not thoroughly characterized (as are, for instance, Carvalho's crew or Montalbano's cops in the novels of Andrea Camilleri): appropriate enough in stories that are less about police procedure or mystery than about philosophical investigations (and it's obviously no accident that the Inspector is named after a classical philosopher). But the philosophy is never obtrusive--these are philosophical novels rather in the manner of Camus's Stranger, but also remaining thoroughly within a crime-novel tradition. The psychology of victims and perpetrators (and of his urban Brazilian culture) has always been Garcia-Roza's underlying interest, but as I recall, it's only in the two most recently translated books that psychology and psychologists are also part of the plot. In Blackout, a homeless, one-legged man is murdered on a hilly cul-de-sac late at night, near a house where a dinner party is going on. Espinosa wonders how the man on crutches even got up the hill, much less why anyone would have killed. him. Intertwined with his musings and the investigation is the story of an interior designer and his wife who were at the party: the designer is having troubling blackouts, including the night of the murder, and the wife is a psychoanalyst who is beginning to get frisky with some of her female patients. The plot doesn't have a neat conclusion (typical with Garcia-Roza), and when the plot seems to be heading in a predictable directly, the author has some surprises up his sleeve. Espinosa is basically an observer, but one who cares deeply about his city and its troubles, while also keeping his intellect alive with extracurricular as well as professional. Blackout is a thoughtful, slow-moving story--perhaps the perfect followup to the very fast and adventurous Girl Who Played with Fire, but also in its own way a lively story and a an insight into one of the world's liveliest cities and into the challenges of social interaction and the human mind.

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