01 April 2009

The Book of Murder

I didn't realise until today that I had disappeared for almost a month. There's no one but myself to blame. Anyway, let's review something different, this time a detective novel called The Book of Murder by Guillermo Martinez. Two reasons made me feel interested: the author is an Argentine and the crime is intellectual. These two reasons of course are related to my love for Borges in the beginning.

I need to confess that I've decided to sell this book to a second-hand bookshop before I leave for Bangkok this weekend. (I've of course bought some other books here in San Francisco so I need to sell those that I don't plan to keep.) Sadly this novel has to go, the reason being that the ending is a bit too weak (or for some too intellectual). I still prefer the old-fashioned detective story whereby all clues lead to a good end where all the knots are untied nicely and rationally. This one seems to lead to another sphere altogether. For fear of spoiling, I just can't tell you the ending.

The narrator is an aspiring author and he knows a young woman who takes dictation named Luciana B. Luciana works for another famous writer, Kloster, who is a mammoth figure in the Argentine literary circle. One day Luciana claims that Kloster tries to harass her sexually. This action leads to a series of catastrophic results, with Kloster's wife asking for a divorce and taking their only daughter under her care.

However, things don't turn out well for Luciana either. Even though she receives a great amount of money from Kloster, her family and boyfriend start to die for mysterious reasons with only her sister Valentina the sole survivor.

On a superficial level, one can perhaps safely say that Martinez's novel is about revenge but on a deeper level it concerns divine retribution and cosmic karma. The fact that Kloster is an author shouldn't be ignored here as his position can be pitched against that of God, who decrees the fate of mankind. So it goes without saying that when the series of murders that occur to Luciana's loved ones correspond to those in his novel, Martinez seems to concern himself with the serious issues of fate and fatalism.

However, when a detective novel concerns itself with fate and such divine retribution, it can't help but sacrificing the fun of causality and 'rational retracing'. If a series of actions can no longer be attributed to a law of causality (at least on a human plane) but to the arbitrariness of cosmic coincidences, then a detective novel is no longer a detective novel; it's become something more monstrous.

Yet I still can't explain why I don't want to keep The Book of Murder. Maybe the ending is a bit weak, in comparison with The Oxford Murders, which is simply marvellous. Maybe there are a lot of knots being untied. Maybe there're a lot of empty spaces that just remind us of how much of this cosmic fatalism can have a go at us.

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