Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Review - The Book of Murder by Guillermo Martinez

The Book of Murder by Guillermo Martinez
published 7/09
224 pages

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com.

What happens when a crime novel comes to life? Could a novelist do the unthinkable - live out his story?

Ten years ago, a young writer in Argentina faces a crisis - up against a deadline, he breaks his wrist, leaving him unable to finish his manuscript. Desperate, he calls his editor for help. His editor offers a perfect solution: he will send Luciana, a brilliant typist, to help the writer finish his work. Luciana usually works for Kloster, a rather eccentric novelist, but he is away for a month and her services are available. So the writer employs Luciana, finishes his novel, and doesn't give her another thought.

A late night call from Luciana a decade later startles the writer, but her story is even more alarming. Convincing the writer to meet her and begging for his help, she relates her belief that Kloster has been systematically killing her loved ones for the past ten years to revenge a personal tragedy for which he holds her responsible. At first the writer is skeptical, but as Luciana lays out her circumstantial evidence, he unwillingly finds himself believing her.

"Why did I say yes when everything inside me said no? Why didn't I fob her off with some excuse and put as much distance between us as possible? There are times in life - not many - when you can see, with dizzying clarity, the fatal fork in the road represented by one small act, the catastrophe that lurks behind a trivial decision. That evening I knew, above all else, that I shouldn't listen to her anymore. But, overcome by the intertia of compassion, or politeness, I stood up and followed her out."

Against his better judgment, the writer arranges a meeting with Kloster and teases out his version of the events. As Kloster refutes each of Luciana's assertions with a perfectly logical explanation, the writer becomes more and more perplexed. Who is telling the truth? Whose life was truly ruined? Are the events coincidence, or the work of a truly brilliant murderer?

Martinez spins a chilling tale of revenge and murder with just enough ambiguity to keep the reader constantly guessing. The story is presented almost entirely in the form of two monologues - Luciana and later Kloster telling their stories takes up the bulk of the narrative. This is a uniquely effective approach for this novel, as it allows the characters to relate their own tales but gives no actual insight into the workings of their brain. Readers are never given access to what is truth and what is lie, keeping them wondering until the very end of the novel.

Unfortunately, this approach does not allow for a great deal of connection to the story. Readers looking for characters with which to sympathize may be disappointed; Martinez holds them at arm's length for the duration of the novel. His logic and persuasion are second to none, but there is a lack of emotion that permeates the story. Readers looking for a cerebral mystery will be more than pleased with this haunting tale, and its unexpected ending will likely keep all readers thinking for many years to come.

This book counts toward:

Orbis Terrarum Challenge
book 10/10
country: Argentina

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