2013 Global Reading Challenge, Argentina, review, Translated

Needle in a Haystack by Ernesto Mallo

needle in a haystackNeedle in a Haystack by Ernesto Mallo, translated by Jethro Soutar

Bitter Lemon Press, 2010, originally published as La aguja en el pajar, 2006

Source: library

Needle in a Haystack takes place in Argentina in 1979, during the Dirty War where the military junta leading the country disappeared thousands of alleged subversives. The case at the center of this novel begins when Superintendent Lascano is called to investigate two dead bodies, but he finds three dead bodies instead:  two were obviously executed by the military, but the third is a different sort of murder.  The murder investigation does not take up the bulk of the novel.  Instead we jump back in time to meet all the characters who are involved in the crime and the investigation.

The set-up is interesting:  how do you work as a homicide detective under a regime that cuts off investigations of murders it itself commits?  How do you fulfill your mission then?  The setting is absolutely nightmarish:  military patrols, people yanked from their homes, and murders.  Mallo details the corruption throughout the society, from the criminal justice system, the military, and the church.

Besides the handicap of working for the police in a totally corrupt and violent regime, Lascano is also battling depression after the death of his wife less than a year before.  He’s a damaged individual.  He’s not the only character with a rough past:  his friend Fuseli the pathologist is also a widower who also lost a child.  It’s a book full of people with difficult pasts living under the military regime. Because it’s such a brief book (coming in under 200 pages), I don’t want to give away much more about the characters and the plot.  Though it’s a short book, Mallo develops everyone’s backstory pretty thoroughly.

Needle in a Haystack is my favorite book of the year by far, and I’m happy to know that there are two more books in the trilogy awaiting me:  Sweet Money and Men Have Done You Wrong.  Sweet Money has already been translated into English, and Men Have Done You Wrong (Los hombres te han hecho mal) was published in Spanish in 2012.

Other reviews appear in Mrs. Peabody Investigates, Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog, and Petrona.

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11 thoughts on “Needle in a Haystack by Ernesto Mallo”

  1. Thanks for the mention, and I’m so glad you liked this one. It’s still an absolute stand-out crime novel for me, and your review has reminded me why 🙂

  2. This is a very nice review. Just enough information without revealing too much. I see that you are also doing the global challenge at Mysteries in Paradise. I will come back and look for some recommendations. I have some books for the challenge already but I still lack ideas for many areas.

    1. Thanks, Tracy. I have quite a few continents to work on for the Global Reading Challenge (Asia and Africa), and I haven’t gotten to the South African and Australian books I’ve picked out so far. I’ll check your blog for your picks as well!

  3. I want to explore more Latin American literature in general and crime fiction in particular. There is a lot less crime fiction being written there than elsewhere, which is perhaps understandable, if you don’t see the police as an ally or a finder-out of truth. This will be one to add to my TBR, so thank you for a great review.

    1. I’ve seen more PI stories from Latin America than police procedurals, definitely. I’d like to dig into more Latin American crime novels too, and the only way for me to stick to the plan is to pick a month and declare it Latin American crime fiction month, I think.

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