Two foreign girls are murdered after a high society party in Yacanto del Valle, northern Argentina. Their bodies are found in a field near sacrificial offerings, apparently from a black magic ritual. Verónica Rosenthal, an audacious, headstrong Buenos Aires journalist with a proclivity for sexual adventure, could never have imagined that her holiday would end with her two friends dead. Not trusting the local police, she decides to investigate for herself…
Having described Sergio Olguín’s previous book The Fragility of Bodies as “intensely and sublimely brilliant”, I was more than keen to read the next in series, The Foreign Girls, featuring maverick journalist Verónica Rosenthal…
Ostensibly the book begins with Rosenthal getting drawn into the murder of two young women she has befriended on vacation, but the story begins to widen out by focussing on a series of murders of women that have occurred over a substantial time period. As the ramifications of these murders begin to close in on Rosenthal she also finds herself in physical danger from a deranged hitman, bent on revenge, as a consequence of the investigation in the previous book.
What I really like about Rosenthal is her mix of fallibility and emotional strength, despite the very assured and tough persona she seems to present to the world. She is never completely immune to the emotional sensibilities of the stories she investigates, but it is the strength of these empathetic impulses that drives her into dangerous assignations and foolhardy behaviour, with little consideration for her own welfare. Interestingly despite how much she rails against the overbearing influence of her successful lawyer father, she exhibits the same characteristics as him, making her obstinate and headstrong flailing against those who would seek to protect her, most notably her father’s employee Frederico with whom she has an on/off sexual relationship. Speaking of sex, and as the blurb mentions, she has an active and gender crossing approach to her more carnal desires, that again defines her propensity for trouble. It is precisely these more dangerous and impulsive aspects of her character that add to her charm, and even though I did experience some confusion to the structure of the book, which I’ll come to, her strengths and foibles of character was enough to keep me engaged and reading.
The structure of the book is quite strange, containing spoilers and forewarning of what is about to happen, so there is a potted synopsis of events, which are then filled out at greater length immediately afterwards. Not having read a book structured like this before, I did find it a little disconcerting at first, but grew used to it, as the wider unfolding of events that you had prescient knowledge of did add further clues and elements of impending danger to Verónica’s search for answers into the murders of her two travelling companions, and other women who had suffered the same fate. Although it did make the plot a little stilted at times as the same ground was trodden to a certain degree, it felt like an interesting experiment in the narrative form, and served to make this a different kind of thriller, and by extension, a unique kind of reading experience.
I enjoyed the way that Olguín pulled Verónica out of her natural stomping ground of the big city Buenos Aires to the more provincial towns that she travels through on her vacation, recuperating from the violent events of the previous book. There is a real sense of place and atmosphere throughout, particularly as readers would on the whole be less familiar with Argentina itself outside of its capital. There is a real colour and vitality that Olguín brings to these small towns and its inhabitants that really draw the reader in, outside of the main plot that slowly reveals a network of corruption and abuse over several years. Bolstered by the magnetism and gung-ho actions of his central protagonist, and an assured translation by Miranda France, the slight strangeness of the structure recedes into the background, and the book raises some important observations on the suppression of, and violence towards women. I’m curious to see where Olguín takes his heroine next, and would recommend both The Foreign Girls and the previous book, The Fragility of Bodies with their very real sense of the verve and energy of Argentina, and the darkness that lurks beneath.
(With thanks to Bitter Lemon Press for the ARC)
Sergio Olguin was born in Buenos Aires in 1967 and was a journalist before turning to fiction. Olguin has won a number of awards, among others the Premio Tusquets 2009 for his novel Oscura monotona sangre (“Dark Monotonous Blood”) His books have been translated into German, French and Italian. ‘The Fragility of Bodies’ and ‘The Foreign Girls’ are his first novels to be translated into English.
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