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.
“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