Mallo, Ernesto - 'Needle in a Haystack' (translated by Jethro Soutar)
NEEDLE IN A HAYSTACK is set in Buenos Aires in the late 1970s and introduces Superintendent Lascano a widower, haunted by grief, whose only way of getting through life is doing his job and seeking justice wherever possible. All around he is surrounded by violence, from the military and the freedom fighters, for this is the time when scores of people were 'disappeared'.
A lorry driver reports two bodies on the side of the road but by the time Lascano gets to the scene there are three bodies. Two bodies are military kills and Lascano is not allowed to follow those murders up, but the third body is different. The victim was older and killed by a shot to the chest rather than to the head.
The story then goes back in time a few days and we learn about the characters and events that occur, which result in the victim that Lascano seeks justice for. The two time periods rejoin and Lascano finds it easy to solve the case but at what personal cost should he do so? His life has been further complicated when, during a raid of a brothel, he discovered a young freedom fighter who is the spitting image of his dead wife.
NEEDLE IN A HAYSTACK is a dark, atmospheric tale of a good man trying to do his job in the middle of corruption - and I was reminded strongly of the Inspector De Luca series by Carlo Lucarelli which is set during 1945 in a politically unstable Italy. It's written in present tense and told from multiple points of view with unusually - all conversations written in italics with the speakers only separated by full stops rather than separate lines, which made me stumble over them a bit. The use of multiple narrators, does mean that you spend time in the heads of several unpleasant, sexist, racist and violent characters.
Conversation style aside, this was an easy, though bleak read with the second half of the book comprised of shorter chapters drawing the reader at pace to a very noir ending. NEEDLE IN A HAYSTACK purports to be the first in a trilogy featuring Lascano and I do hope Bitter Lemon Press publish the next two.
Karen Meek, England
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