Argentina in the early twentieth century was one of the riches countries in the world, but by 2001 when this thriller No-One Loves a Policeman by Guillermo Orsi [translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor ] is set, the country is in economic meltdown.
Pablo Martelli, known as Gotan, was a policeman, a member of an elite unit known as the 'National Shame' but now sells bathroom fittings and lives with his cat Felix Jesus.
He receives an urgent late night phone call from his close friend Edmundo Carcano, and hurriedly drives to his coastal retreat at Mediomundo. But when he gets to his friend's chalet he is too late, Edmundo is dead.
We were thirty-six when a drunken general gave the order to invade the Malvinas. Too old to fight a war that was lost before it began, and yet two decades later my friend abandoned his wife Monica for a twenty-year-old blonde who was scarcely born when another general surrendered Port Stanley to save the lives of thousands of soldiers, not to mention his own.
Gotan searches for Edmundo's young girlfriend, and then attempts to find out what happened to his friend.
Along the way he meets corrupt provincial cops, a rotund pathologist, an investigative journalist, and an honest magistrate. He drives for miles across vast pampas, investigates derelict ghost towns, and hospitals now used as arms dumps having long ago given up the task of providing good medical care for the poor. He dreams of the tango and a lost lover, who rejected him when she learned of his past, and he uncovers cliques, cabals and treacherous plots aimed at the chaotic heart of Argentina.
Guillermo Orsi was born in Buenos Airies, where he lives and works as a journalist. His previous novel, Suenos de perro, won the Semana Negra Umbriel Award in 2004.
This novel is a brilliant account of a once rich country destroyed by corrupt, greedy politicians. That is what makes it so powerful and so relevant today, when we see around us how politicians will promise anything, and do anything, to obtain and maintain power.
There must be so little oxygen in the stratospheres of power that the politicians' neurones stop working.
No-One Loves a Policeman is full of dark cynicism and despair, and the historical asides tell a bleak story of stark brutality. While Argentina is looking back to its violent past as it deals with its ordinary citizens using the gun, the baton, tear gas and water cannon, but strangely ignores the drug gangs, who provide an income for a corrupt establishment. The social commentary in the book is reminiscent of Scandinavian crime fiction, but of course Argentina has a myriad of problems compared to Skane, or Oslo, or even downtown Malmo.
These were once the domain of Mapuches, Araucanians and Tehuelches, until in the nineteenth century that they were all wiped out by the campaigns of a general called Roca, the same general who the Peronist government decided to honour by baptising this railway line in his name.
I really enjoyed the cleverness and wise words in this black comedy of novel, but towards the end the closing chapters became a bit confused with a little too many twists and turns for my liking.
This was a novel well worth reading, and I shall keep an eye out for more of Guillermo Orsi, an author who truly understands the limitations of politicians.
The problem isn't the fact that this government will fall halfway through its term, it's who will take its place and announce for the nth time the arrival of a New Argentina.