Saturday, May 25, 2013

Ernesto Mallo's Needle in a Haystack

Ernesto Mallo's Needle in a Haystack is a wonderful, terrible, tragic book. It is a police procedural--not to be confused with a mystery--and so we know who committed the crime and why, but not how the investigation will go.

The setting for the novel is Dirty War Argentina. Lascano is a police superintendent who becomes involved in a case where a body is dumped along with two others. The two were "subversives" killed by the army, but the third was planted there to make it seem like all three were together. Lascano quickly realizes they weren't, and investigates. This eventually gets him noticed by the army (particularly one Major Giribaldi, who has just adopted a stolen baby). Meanwhile, he is getting involved with a woman who is wanted by the government for her supposedly subversive activities.

It is a depiction of the corruption and impunity of the era. Ford Falcons are everywhere, with authorities doing absolutely anything they want to anyone they want. Lascano wants to follow clues and find out who killed whom--he is almost rigidly apolitical--but the politics of the situation make it very difficult.

Next time I teach Latin American Politics, I am going to give a lot of thought to using it. In a very engaging way, it lays out the fear and loathing of Latin American dictatorships during the Cold War. Right now I use Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden to evoke that period and its aftermath.


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