Noir in Buenos Aires…
I am always happy to discover a new author writing in a setting far removed from my own, and Sergio Olguin’s The Fragility of Bodies, set in Buenos Aires, filled the bill for me. Translated by Miranda France, this is a decidedly noir-ish mystery that also has a lot of solid investigation by the main protagonist, Veronica Rosenthal. And even if it seems a bit odd to have a female Jewish journalist as a noir lead, Olguin makes it work, and work well.
The story opens with Veronica under pressure to find a good story to propose at her upcoming (and dreaded) editorial meeting. While she’s racking her brains for ideas, a co-worker mentions a news agency article about a train driver who has committed suicide, while leaving a note about the “crimes he committed”. Something in the piece catches Veronica’s attention, and although she can’t quite pin down exactly what that is, she pitches the idea of an investigation to her editor, and the editor approves.
And so we get a wild ride as the story grows from the one train driver, wracked with guilt; to a horrific game involving young boys playing chicken with the trains so wealthy adults can bet on who jumps last, or whether the boys even survive; to the corrupt men behind the game. Along the way, Veronica shows herself to be smart, tough and persistent. But she’s also relatable, with some very human flaws. Sure, she gets some help along the way from her father’s contacts; and from her editor, who has a knack for seeing the forest, and not just the trees. But in the end, it’s Veronica’s legwork, Veronica’s investigative skills, and Veronica’s love life, that pulled me in, and that carry the investigation forward.
In addition to an intriguing plot, the city of Buenos Aires is ever present as part of the scene. As always, anywhere extreme wealth rubs up against extreme poverty, the rich take advantage of the poor, and venality abounds. But Olguin gives us a feel for the city, and its inhabitants, that is much more than that.
All-in-all, I really enjoyed The Fragility of Bodies, and I’m looking forward to the next in the series, which comes out in English in March, 2021. If I have a complaint, it’s a minor one – that there was more sex than I felt was needed either to move the plot along or to aid in character development. And I’m not a fan of gratuitous sex in a mystery, just for sex’s sake. But I found I simply skipped over the stuff I felt was extraneous, and still very much enjoyed the book. I give very very few five-star rankings, so a four-star ranking is a solid “read” recommendation from me, and that’s what The Fragility of Bodies gets. And my thanks to Bitter Lemon Press and Edelweiss for the advance review copy!