Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Review of The Buenos Aires Quintet by Manuel Vazquez Montalban (Serpent’s Tail, 2005 )
The Buenos Aires Quintet is a somewhat curious book using a Spanish detective out of place on a case in the Argentine capital as a means to explore the legacy of the military government period (1974-1983) in which several thousand left-wing politicians and activists ‘disappeared’. Pepe Carvalho’s task is to find his cousin, Raul, who having been in exile in Spain has returned to find the daughter stolen from him and his dead wife. The story is told in five parts, each focusing on a different case, but with overlapping characters – Carvalho, Raul and his co-conspirators who have all survived the purges but at varying costs, members of the military regime who still wield considerable power, and the new masters including a seemingly straight cop. Each character and each sub-story and the overall piece seem to act allegorically to reveal the multi-layered and complex social relations of post-military government Argentina. It’s an interesting and thought-provoking read that often has nice philosophical asides and well-observed scenes, but it is also a little long-winded and uneven at times. Carvalho is also somewhat of a slippery character who I never quite resolved in my mind’s eye. However, the macabre sub-story set in an upmarket restaurant is worth the read alone, being a wonderful, darkly humorous set piece.