#Blog Tour Sergio Olguin- The Fragility of Bodies

When journalist Veronica Rosenthal hears about the suicide of a local train driver who has jumped off the roof of a block of flats, leaving a suicide note confessing to four mortal ‘accidents’ on the train tracks, she decides to investigate. For the police the case is closed (suicide is suicide), for Veronica it is the beginning of a journey that takes her into an unfamiliar world of grinding poverty, junkie infested neighborhoods, and train drivers on commuter lines haunted by the memory of bodies hit at speed by their locomotives in the middle of the night. Aided by a train driver informant, a junkie in rehab and two street kids willing to risk everything for a can of Coke, she uncovers a group of men involved in betting on working-class youngsters convinced to play Russian roulette by standing in front of oncoming trains to see who endures the longest. With bodies of children crushed under tons of steel, those of adults yielding to relentless desire, the resolution of the investigation reveals the deep bonds which unite desire and death…

Right, where on earth do I begin, to get across to everyone how intensely, sublimely brilliant The Fragility of Bodies is? A book shot through with painful truths and gritty realism, and with the ability to put its reader through a whole gamut of emotions with its pared down prose, perceptive exploration of the human compulsion to make connections, and larger themes of trust, exploitation and social injustice. This is a huge, important book hiding behind the deceptively simple label of an Argentine noir thriller, but has much to say about the nature of human relationships, and the power and exploitation of the few on the lives of the many…

With such a self assured, dogged, yet emotionally turbulent central character as journalist, Veronica Rosenthal, I was instantly entranced by her. She sets about her investigation into the worrying trend of suicides on local railway lines, with verve and energy; a verve and energy that also extends to the more base needs of her character, and the mutual seduction that occurs in the course of her investigation. She is flighty and independent, in relation to her friends and siblings, but she has a real strength of character and essence of self control, that her peers can only aspire to. Not only does Olguin put his readers through the emotional mangle, but Veronica is tested constantly in her pursuit of the truth behind the pattern of suicides occurring on train tracks of late, sucking her into a world of bribery and exploitation that will prove dangerous in the extreme. I can truthfully say that she is one of the most well-realised, compelling and authentic female characters that I have encountered for a long time, and this mix of tenacity and bravery, is beautifully tempered by the more impulsive, reckless and passionate side of her nature, be it in her professional or personal life.

The breadth of crime fiction set in South America has been a recent revelation to me, and Olguin naturally captures the grinding poverty, misplaced optimism, and dangerous existence of the lower classes of Buenos Aires society. Young boys believe that football is their ticket out of the slums and the path to riches, but putting them squarely into the path of those that would exploit them, and such is their desperation to escape the clutches of poverty and to help their families, or just to feel valued that they are easily coerced into the dark activities of the adults in whom they trust. Olguin perfectly captures the conflicts that arise in these young boys, lured into a dangerous form of ‘chicken’ to satisfy the men who place bets on these youngster’s bravery and ultimately survival, with the lure of a hundred pesos.

The world of these boys is unflinchingly depicted by Olguin, capturing the deprivation of the neighbourhoods they live in, the struggles of their families, and the thin line that exists between survival and criminality in the dangerous world of the favelas. Olguin’s depiction of this world is written with sharp clarity appealing to the reader’s senses, and which cannot fail to move the reader’s emotions too, but what is also detectible is the thin veneer of hope that lies behind the most meagre of lives, the feeling that not all is lost, and that a sense of morality can breach the divides Olguin so truthfully depicts. As long as journalists like Veronica, and honest citizens seek to expose the morally bankrupt despite the risks, there can always be hope, despite the inherent danger in society of those in positions of power.

The Fragility of Bodies has rocketed into my best books of the year, and all I can say to Sergio Olguin and his wonderful translator Miranda France, is that I am already salivating for the next in the series to be translated. This book shocked, moved and completely absorbed me from beginning to end, and think this will leave a few of my future reads trailing in its wake. Gritty, beautifully prosaic, and intensely moving, I cannot do justice to the power of this book, which moves the emotions, sparks the social conscience, but pays heed to the need of a thriller to excite and entertain us too, with a truly compelling central character. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Bitter Lemon Press for the ARC)

 

 

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

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Blog Tour- Thomas Enger- Killed

Determined to find his son’s killer, Henning doggedly follows an increasingly dangerous trail, where dark hands from the past emerge to threaten everything. His ex-wife Nora is pregnant with another man’s child, his sister Trine is implicated in the fire that killed his son and, with everyone he thought he could trust seemingly hiding something, Henning has nothing to lose … except his own life…

So we’ve been  Burned, Pierced Scarred and Cursed so now prepare to be Killed by the last instalment in Thomas Enger’s superlative Henning Juul series. A reading experience of mixed pleasures it has to be said, with the excitement of a new book by Enger, but equally a tinge of sadness that this appears to be where we and Henning Juul go our separate ways…

Not afraid to repeat myself, as I have reviewed every book to date, I would once again draw your attention to Enger’s consistently polished storytelling, and ability to really bring his character’s traits- both weak and strong, good or bad- straight into the reader’s consciousness. Having concealed and revealed various people’s involvement in the tragic fire that resulted in the death of Juul’s son, this book again throws some curveballs Juul’s way, and Enger seems to delight in raising our suspicions, and then deflating our theories as Juul doggedly continues to pursue the truth. I think this book also fulfils a fair quota of the Tertullian seven deadly sins, as there is more than enough greed, murder, fraud and false witness to go round. Balanced with this, there is also a subtly nuanced depiction of the softer and vulnerable side of some of the characters, that toys with our perception of them, and at times invokes in us an equally subtle shift in our sympathy for them. I think this is why I have enjoyed Enger’s series so much, as in far as it is steeped in the recognisable tropes of much Scandinavian crime fiction, there is another arc to his writing that is sensitive and emotive, and really allows the reader to connect beyond the superficial narrative of an ordinary thriller. I also enjoyed the switching between two locations, the contrasts that Enger draws between the European and South American temperaments, and their differing attitudes to life, wealth, and justice.

This is one of the few series that I think works better by starting from the first and reading sequentially. As much as you can join in with the trials and travails of Juul in Killed , there is a gripping and layered back story waiting to be discovered, and with the accrued knowledge of events from the previous instalments, it definitely heightens the enjoyment of this final book. Having followed Juul’s story for some time, I felt it was time that this poor man achieved some sense of closure, and it has to be said that this book brings many chickens home to roost, with the obligatory dishing out of physical violence that Juul seems to attract. In the light of what I have just said about reading the series in its entirety, I have rather boxed myself into a corner, as to how much more I can tell you, and my lips are firmly sealed. Just keep that chilling prologue in the back of your mind as the story weaves to its conclusion…

As the curtain is drawn down on the ballad of Henning Juul, I am curious to see what Enger will produce next, and what the liberty of finishing this series will spark in his imagination. This has been an exemplary series, and well worth reading all five books. So after being Burned, Pierced Scarred  Cursed and Killed, I am now sated too.

Recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites: