KIRKUS"..the story is so gripping and Veronica is such a fascinating departure from crime fiction convention—she's 30, Jewish, brazen, and openly flawed—that the book becomes difficult to put down. Also a very good novel about journalism, it's the first installment of a trilogy.An unusual, intoxicating thriller from Argentina that casts deeper and deeper shadows."
Argentinian author Olguín makes his English-language debut with a scalding crime novel set in Buenos Aires, the first in a series featuring ambitious journalist Verónica Rosenthal, the 30-ish single daughter of a prominent judge. Verónica sees a potential story in the death of train driver Alfredo Carranza, who jumped off the roof of the building where he visited his psychologist. Alfredo was depressed “because he ran over four people in separate accidents.” When the police decline to pursue what appears to be a straightforward suicide case, Verónica investigates. She learns of the suffering of other train drivers with similar experiences, including Alfredo’s friend Lucio Valrossa, who’s in his own “universe of pain” from six deaths by trains he was driving. What accounts for this high fatality rate? Her search for answers takes her into the city’s poorest neighborhoods, where she discovers why slum boys are so willing to play chicken on railroad tracks. That Verónica has a torrid affair with the married Lucio complicates her quest. Olguín memorably explores the gulf between the haves and have-nots of Buenos Aires. Readers will hope to see more of the complex Verónica. (Oct.)
This is how I like my noir fiction: no cops with unlikely hang-ups, no copycat serial killers, no ‘here-we-go-again’ plots. Olguín concentrates instead on villains and victims and several dollops of savage sex.
We’re in Buenos Aires. Kids are dying on the railway lines – playing chicken, it seems, though we soon learn that it’s no game: they’re being used in the way that cock-fight promoters use their chickens. For a small prize the kids compete in pairs to see who will jump first from the path of an incoming train. Some jump too late. But while they play this deadly game the big prize money is elsewhere, among the organisers and the big-money spectators, betting on the boys and lapping up the danger – since they’re not the ones in danger.
Enter journalist Veronica Rosenthal, on their trail. Having interviewed and seduced one of the traumatised train drivers she uses him to work herself into the rotten innards of the chicken game. Most of the boys, she finds, come from the poverty-ridden slums of Buenos Aires and are lured in via small-scale local football clubs where “What I’m about to offer you is only for really tough boys.” They think they’re tough. But trains are tougher.
This is a strong fast-moving story, the first in a series and already on TV in South America.
The late, great foreign correspondent Nicholas Tomalin once opined that a journalist needed three qualities to succeed: “ratlike cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability”. Verónica Rosenthal, the protagonist of Sergio Olguín’s lively new thriller The Fragility of Bodies (Bitter Lemon Press, RRP£8.99), has these in spades.
Rosenthal is a news reporter in Buenos Aires. When a train driver shoots himself in the head then jumps off the building housing his psychotherapist’s office, leaving behind a cryptic suicide note about the death of a child on the tracks, she senses there is something much bigger going on. Rosenthal deploys Tomalin’s skillset with flair and determination, throwing in plentiful measures of her own sex appeal to chisel nuggets of information from stonewalling bureaucrats. She is a well-drawn character: the daughter of a middle-class Jewish judge, with a chaotic personal life and an appetite for married men and Jim Beam. She embarks on an affair with her most important source and the story is peppered with numerous, often innovative, sex scenes.
Passionate and driven, Rosenthal also has a wry eye. “Once upon a time poets were the ones who knew most about the heart’s secrets” — rather than journalists, she writes of her profession. Her investigation takes her to parts of the city she has never visited: crime-ridden neighbourhoods of poverty, drugs and crumbling tenements. There she discovers why so many boys are dying on the railway tracks: a conspiracy of the powerful that plunges her into danger. Olguín is a fine writer with an easy style, aided by a very readable translation by Miranda France. He could give us more of a sense of place, and Buenos Aires is more of a backdrop than a character. This is the first of a trilogy featuring Rosenthal. The series has already been turned into a television series and I’m looking forward to the next volume.
The Fragility Of Bodies by Sergio Olguin, translated by Miranda France (Bitter Lemon Press, £8-99), Buenos Aires journalist Veronica Rosenthal is intrigued by the suicide note left by a train driver who confesses to killing four people. It quickly transpires that the man wasn’t a murderer, but even so Veronica is indeed on the trail of a crime story. In a country debilitated by structural poverty and cronyism, there are plenty of rich people who see working-class lives as toys for them to play with. Olguin gives us a superbly-paced corruption thriller which reaches an almost unbearably tense finish.
Magazine journalist Veronica Rosenthal is appreciated by Patricia, her boss, as someone who can ferret out stories from unpromising material and quickly produce copy to tight deadlines, so she is given wide latitude. A new line of investigation opens up when a man jumps to his death from a tall building. It emerges he was a train driver unable to cope with his feelings about people killed under his train. Rosenthal makes contact with another train driver, Lucio, who takes her in his cab for a night shift. Both are horrified when the lights of the train reveal two boys standing side-by-side on the tracks, playing ‘chicken’. The strange emotions generated by the experiences that night impel Veronica to investigate, and to embark on a passionate relationship with Lucio.
A parallel story features two boys, Dientes and El Peque, friends from poor one-parent families. El Peque is spotted by Rivero, manager of the Spring Breezes youth soccer club, and invited to play. His selection owes more to lack of parental oversight and his combative nature rather than any great skill on the pitch, and Rivero soon offers El Peque a way to earn an attractive sum of money. The two sides to the tale are soon brought together as Veronica gathers material for a series of articles. She is assisted by Federico, a young lawyer working in her father’s law firm, who is able to exploit her father’s national reputation and contacts in the judiciary and national police. Unfortunately, the man behind the terrible games being played on the railway tracks is also powerful, and has a wide range of corrupt businesses as well as a team of thugs prepared to damage or kill anyone who threatens their boss’s interests.
Rosenthal is a great protagonist, a fearless investigator with a great nose for a story and an intuitive instinct for the truth. In her personal life she is determined to please herself sexually and otherwise, and bounces through a series of affairs while her contemporaries in their 30s are mainly married with families. The relationship with Lucio, a married man, is difficult to rationalise but comes across as a natural response to the circumstances.
This is an excellent story, well told and translated, which sustains a high level of tension throughout. The reader is well aware of the risks to Veronica and those she co-opts in her research, and these culminate in violent and gripping action. In the background we have Buenos Aires, with great disparities of wealth and prevalent corruption, but a strong sense of life being lived to the full.
The Fragility of Bodies is a powerful tale of murder and corruption set in Buenos Aires; it feels troublingly plausible. It will thrill readers with a taste for dark, gritty, real-world crime fiction. This novel is distilled single malt noir, a gripping reflection on the woes and angst of Argentinian society. The tragic cheapness of the lives of the poor and the impunity of the rich are evident. This is an insightful, bruising, and, even, shocking novel. This is a deeply unflattering but realistic portrait of modern day Argentina which has never escaped it’s rotten past.
If the world were a better place ‘up-Lit’ might have some meaning but it isn’t so the fiction best suited to accompany life’s rich tapestry is noir. Noir is a window into the soul of a society; it’s people and it’s values and nowhere is the fiction of a nation more heavily weighed down by its recent past than Argentina. The nation is haunted by the ‘disappeared’, over 30,000 people who went missing under the military junta (1976-83), but also the Falklands/Malvinas war and Peron. The legacy is corruption, abuse of power, inequality, poverty and moral decay. To add insult to injury, the financial crisis of 2008 hit Argentina very badly. Both Argentinian crime and literary fiction are infused with a bleak sense of fatalism and cynicism, the very essence of noir, and The Fragility of Bodies is firmly in this tradition; realist, grim and savage. There’s an atmosphere of foreboding from the first page, Buenos Aires is a dark and dangerous place for anyone interested in justice and truth.
Fill my nostrils with the stench of political corruption and drench me in the blood of the innocent victims of unfettered power and greed, but also show me a person prepared to stand up for the victims and I’m happy. This is my kind of story. This stylish thriller explores the underbelly of Argentinian society, exposing the meanness and cruelty of poverty and an uncaring and powerful ruling elite. The heavy presence of shadowy controlling forces overhangs The Fragility of Bodies.
From the moment Veronica Rosenthal gets the whiff of a story about deaths on the railways she has no idea what she is up against or where it will go. Her bloodhound instinct will lead her into trouble. There are men who will stop at nothing to prevent this story emerging and there are men out there ready to do their bidding with no concern for the ‘why?’ only ‘how much?’:
‘1, 2, 3 and 4 were small-time hoodlums, exclusively dedicated to causing damage by injury, intimidation or murder. That was their core business. . . . Their actions were well defined.’
The Fragility of Bodies is the first thriller in a hard-hitting new political crime series featuring investigative journalist, Veronica Rosenthal. She has no faith in the politicians, or the judges for that matter, even through her father is one. Her own role as a journalist is to seek the truth behind a story. The dark tones of a true noir are evident from the first words. A man commits suicide, it seems like an open and shut case, the judge is happy to put it to bed, no one seems to care about Alfredo Carranza’s story (why did he do it?). That is, until Veronica Rosenthal decides to take a look at the loose ends surrounding his death. This suicide begins the journey into the abyss, the noir streak is a mile wide.
1000 Calle Talcahuano is like any of the office blocks in that street, doctors, psychologists and discreet prostitutes occupy the offices. Alfredo Carranza has decided he can’t go on any more and he has chosen this building to jump from. Carranza is haunted by terrible memories:
‘I killed them. All four of them.’
No one noticed him enter the building and take the lift to the roof. He can’t handle the fact that the last victim was a child. Carranza stands on the edge of the building but can’t bring himself to jump so he takes the gun out of his pocket and puts it to his head. His last thoughts are of his family…
Veronica Rosenthal’s life is a bit chaotic but she’s a good journalist, she works for Nuestro Tiempo. Her last story was big, a prescription drugs scandal involving pharma laboratories, doctors and hospital dispensaries. She’s looking for a new story, something big, politically dirty maybe. That’s when she notices a small squib on the wire about the suicide of a railway worker and it intrigues her. Doors open for the youngest daughter of Senior Judge Aarón Rosenthal and his colleague, Judge Romanin, in charge of the Carranza case, let’s her see the file. Carranza was a train driver on the Sarmiento railway, over the past three years four people have died in front of a train he was driving, all recorded as misadventure. The company paid for a psychiatrist but each incident affected him worse. Only the fact that the family badly needed the money kept Carranza working. His wife thinks he was depressed in the run up to his suicide, but as he wasn’t to blame why did Carranza feel so guilty? A natural human emotion or something more? Veronica is interested in the fact that Carranza seemed to know he would kill the unnamed boy, how is that possible? Veronica feels that the judge has settled for the suicide theory but cares little for what is behind it. She gatecrashes Carranza’s funeral and snatches a brief conversation with his sister; however, the real answers lie inside the rail company itself. Veronica charms management and gains the trust of Lucio, a train driver, he has been driving when six people have committed suicide:
‘Sometimes you see them quite a long time before, or you realise that the guy on the edge of the platform is going to jump when the train passes.’’
He and Veronica form a bond, eventually he shows her what it was that finally broke Carranza’s spirit.
Christian Arrùa , El Peque, comes from a villa miseria on the edge on Buenos Aires, a shanty town. He has a talent for football and it might just save him from the streets, he has been spotted by a coach and Rivero seems to believe in him. Like all ten year olds, he dreams of playing for Boca or River one day, and like a lot of ten year olds in the miseria, he’s already started down the other path open to kids like him – crime (a few pesos robbing a neighbour). Rivero isn’t what he seems though, he’s not a man young boys should be entrusted to…
Veronica’s investigation uncovers a startling racket, a deadly game in which the rich and powerful of the city see the poor as pawns to be sacrificed for their amusement. The rich live in a protected bubble, it could be a parallel universe. Noir fiction tells us that right can overcome wrong, but don’t expect a happy ending and never expect resolution. Can Veronica make a difference? Will she ever get to tell her story?
Olguín is an accomplished and stylish storyteller and Veronica Rosenthal a memorable character, one it’s easy to imagine spending more time with. This first novel suggests the making of an extremely exciting, and possibly important, crime series. The mood and atmosphere is beautifully conveyed in Miranda France’s translation.
Crime Fiction Lover:
— Award-winning Argentine novelist Sergio Olguín’s fast-paced 2012 crime novel is now available in English for the first time. It’s not surprising it was made into an eight-episode television series in 2017, called La Fragilidad de los Cuerpos, because it has all the elements of an engaging, visually arresting drama.
Glamorous investigative journalist Verónica Rosenthal, who works for the news magazine Nuestro Tiempo, lives a privileged life in Buenos Aires. She has excellent social connections and access to insider information through her father’s prestigious law firm and isn’t loath to use these advantages to advance her career. She’s pursued by attractive men, has loads of friends, drinks and smokes too much, but she’s serious about her investigative work. As a character, she’s fully developed, as are most of the men she interacts with, old and young.
The scanty wire service story of the suicide of a railwayman captures her attention when it quotes the man’s apology for the crimes he committed, especially the death of a child. Was the letter a confession or an explanation? Verónica proposes that she investigate and her editor gives her the assignment, not expecting much. If you enjoy the banter and oneupsmanship of the newsroom, as I do, you’ll find this comfortably familiar. Even more satisfying is the archetype of the crusading reporter, which Verónica fulfills with dedication and truth-telling.
The editor’s low expectations are quite misplaced. As Verónica doggedly pursues the faint leads she can dig up, she learns the obvious stuff first: suicide by train is rather common. It’s apparently committed without thought to the damage to the drivers of the killer trains who see the catastrophe coming, yet are helpless to prevent it. Some of them can never drive again.
If these garden-variety suicides weren’t bad enough, she learns about a diabolical new game. At night every few weeks, a pair of young boys of about 10 years old play chicken with the speeding trains, standing on the tracks and waiting until the last possible moment before jumping out of the way. Occasionally, they wait too long. Olguín provides a vivid description of how the driver hears the snapping bones underneath when a train demolishes a person. Having been on a train that encountered a small herd of deer on the tracks, I can attest to the fact that that sound is unforgettable.
Verónica is put in touch with a train driver and finagles her way into riding up front with him when one of these near-misses with the boys occurs, and the danger and fear bring them together. The fact he’s married does not prevent quite a bit of luscious sex between them. The sex is great, and he wants to help her with her story, but eventually, it’s all too much for him.
Though most chapters are from Verónica’s point of view, some are not. Olguín shows you the poverty of the children involved in this deadly game, and their poverty isn’t just a lack of money, it’s the lack of a future. You lean that they are playing for money – money they spend on soda and snacks. By letting you get to know these boys a bit, Olguín makes their contests – how they think about them, how they prepare – into high-tension, truly horrifying encounters.
It takes Verónica a bit of time to peel back the layers of crime and corruption exploiting the children in this callous way. While many in their marginal community are unaware of what is going on and some are simply turning a blind eye, she also identifies several heroes – people who want to speak out but don’t know how. While they are helpful to her investigation, as it continues, they need protection, and she must shelter them as best she can. The closer she comes to the ringleaders, the greater the danger. Yet, no matter how thin the ice she’s skating on, Verónica has a knack for brazening out a situation with characters high and low that will leave you amazed and chuckling.
The admirable translation by Miranda France is so smooth, you’re never aware it is actually a translation. An unusual, brilliant read.
“It is rare that a crime writer gives so much to his readers. Much more than a simple investigation, it allows one to penetrate deep into the psyche of the characters, and plays with different points of view with great virtuosity. Bodies suffer or enjoy, fight against violence of all sorts or submit to it, the mere reflection of a society never certain of winning or losing”--Espaces Latinos
“This novel introduces Veronica Rosenthal, journalist, investigator and anti-hero in a story that grabs the reader by the throat and doesn’t let go until the last period.”-- Quid
“A wonderful addition to the Argentine noir tradition. Veronica discovers much more than the web of crimes afflicting the boys willing to risk their lives for money. She discovers her deep lust for Lucio the engine driver, and her willingness to follow him into a dark sadomasochistic labyrinth, with unforeseeable consequences.”-- El Dia
“A political thriller of unrelenting suspense. An insane love story.”--Diario Sur
“ A female Maigret willing to try anything, a bit of a sadomasochist, emotional and stubborn. A powerful novel that never lets go, that adroitly manipulates the fragility of its readers.”--Casquivana