Thursday Night Widows [Las viudas de los jueves] by Claudia Pineiro, translated from the Spanish Miranda France, is another top class crime fiction novel from Bitter Lemon Press. A brilliant social commentary on Cascade Heights, a country club gated community outside Buenos Aires, the novel won the Clarin Prize for fiction in 2005 and the film of the book will be released in Argentina on 10 September.
This is the first, but I hope not the last, of Claudia Pineiro's novels to be available in English. The author lives in Buenos Aires, and was a journalist, playwright and television scriptwriter before turning to writing fiction.
I do like books with clever back stories, and this story begins when Ronie Guevara falls off his balcony as the jazz that was wafting over from his neighbour El Tano Scaglia's house stops in the middle of a riff.
The bodies of El Tano and the two friends Martin Urovich, and Gustavo Masotta are found in the pool the next morning. The four men, including Ronie, had met up every Thursday night to drink, talk, listen to music and play truco [a popular card game in Argentina].
The reasons for this tragedy are then told in a series of back stories some narrated in the first person by Ronie's wife Virginia, a real estate agent who keeps copious notes about her "friends" in a little red book, with others told in the third person relate to various other families living in Cascade Heights.
These privileged lives revolve around games of tennis, golf, swimming pools, art classes, private schools and dinner parties all behind fences and gates protected by armed security guards. While their gardeners, workmen, uniformed maids and nannies make their idyllic lives even more distant from the poverty, and crime in the tough world outside Cascade Heights.
But this luxurious facade hides unhappiness, spousal abuse, infidelity, jealousies and above all financial difficulties in a country where the economy is dreadfully unstable, and husbands can lose their jobs.
The economy minister had resigned and the new one appointed by the president had lasted only fifteen days. He made a speech, he asked for belt-tightening, he made a trip to Chile and when he came back- no more job.
This is a very clever novel full of sharply drawn observations which brilliantly covers a vast array of subjects in less than 300 pages. I am not sure whether you could really call it crime fiction, although there is a crime, it is more of a devastating sociological dissection of upper middle class values in Argentina.
The book is full of caustic anecdotes and wonderful character portraits, if the film is released locally I will be one of the first in the rush to the cinema.
"Can you ever really become friends with someone you got to know through his wallet?" And then she answered the question herself in a note at the foot of the page: "All misery is routed through the wallet."
This is a book definitely not to be missed, although it might make slightly uncomfortable reading in places.
By the time she emerged from the bathroom, wrapped in a towel, Antonia had already returned from school, tidied her bedroom and left a breakfast tray on the bedside table; now she was picking up the clothes left scattered around the bed. These women obviously have a different biorhythm, thought Mariana; they are pack mules. And she lay down on the bed for another five minutes.