Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Review of Sweet Money by Ernesto Mallo (Bitter Lemon Press, 2011)

After being gunned down by a death squad, Inspector Lascano is presumed dead. He has been hidden away though to recover by an ambitious cop who appreciates his talents. That cop is about to become Chief of Police and has plans for Lascano. In 1980s Argentina, just emerging from a military state, there are murky forces still operating in the police force. Lascano’s protector is no saint, but his rivals are worse. When the new police chief dies within hours of taking office, Lascano’s life once again comes under threat. Looking to earn money to leave the country, he takes on a job of investigating a bank robbery. He also gets dragged back into the case that led to him being left for dead. Committed to always trying to uphold the law, whatever the consequences and the intended victims, he gets drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse, making some uneasy and shifting alliances.

Sweet Money is very much the second book in the Inspector Lascano trilogy and I would recommend reading Needle in a Haystack first. That said, this could be read as a standalone, and very good it is to. The story has a gritty realism, with some very nice prose and good dialogue. My sense is that the translator, Katherine Silver, has done an excellent job at keeping the richness of description in the text. The real strengths of the book are the character development, evocation of the history and politics of early 1980s Argentina, its very well developed sense of place, and the carefully structured and layered plotting. There are a couple of nice twists and turns and a couple of lovely sucker punches, especially the one at the end. Like the first book I found the continuous stream of dialogue, where the reader has to work out when one person has stopped talking and another started, and who is talking, a little bit too much unnecessary work. Other than that, which didn’t really detract from the story itself, I really thought this was an excellent read. One of my favourites for the year so far.


Maxine Clarke said...

Great review, Rob. I enjoyed this book a lot too - I was a bit irritated with it at first, but then there was that lovely moment when I realised it was all part of a plan.....
Like your new look by the way - usually I view in RSS so not sure how new it is!

Rob Kitchin said...

Thanks, Maxine. Did the new look at the weekend.