A review on "El lejano país de los estanques"
Lorenzo Silva´s novela negra feels initially like an enigma or mystery story a la Agatha Christie but soon has the ring of a crime story a la Raymond Chandler. Like Chandler´s pulp crime stories that transpire on the dark side of sunlit Los Angeles, Silva´s latest novel moves in the shadows of sunny Mallorca. Understandably, some major differences prevail. Silva´s bizarre tiyle, El lejano país de los estanques, taken from a page by Virginia Woolf sounds unlike that of any pulp crime story but nevertheless holds the clue to the strange events that unfold. Moreover, whereas in Chandler the investigators are private dicks, Silva chooses as his sleuths two individuals from Spain´s new Guardia Civil who have nothing in common with their infamous predecessors known metonymically as tricornios. In fact, Sergeant Bevilacqua and his younger assistant Virginia Chamorro more closely resemble FBI agents or federal marshals.
Bevilacqua (or "Vila") and Chamorro have been summoned from Madrid by the Guardia Civil in a Mallorcan hamlet to help solve the murder of a young Austrian woman whose nude body with two gunshot wounds was found hanging from a crossbeam in the living room of a seaside chalet or more succintly, as one of the local gendarmes who found the body commented to Vila and Chamorro, "una tía desnuda con un par de balazos. Como en Los Angeles." Although superficially accurate, the gendarme´s oversimplification could not foreshadow that the trail of clues leading back from the hanging body to the perpetrator of the crime would immerse Vila and Chamorro in Mallorca lesbian´s subculture.
Considering that the novel consists of twenty chapters, the author offers his readers at least the illusion that with each passing chapter the investigators come closer to elucidating the crime. In the process of his slow but relentless dropping of clues, the author also develops a subplot around the evolving relationship between Vila and Chamorro, which in some respects is as interesting as the primary plot. Although Vila had voiced his concerns to his superiors about working a homicide case with an inexperienced female rookie, by novel´s end Agent Virginia Chamorro has won his respect for her meritorious investigative work. Fiction aside, her success represents truthfully just how far Spanish women have advanced since the midseventies and, particularly, how they have entered such formerly hallowed bastions of male hegemony as the Spanish Guardia Civil.
In the final chapters we find out, as we should in a novela negra, who killed the young Austrian woman, why her body was exposed ritualistically and what the motive was. We also, perhaps shamefully, as is often the case with a good detective story, recognize that one of the major clues had been conspicuous right from the beginning. All in all, El lejano país de los estanques is good escapist reading, replete with the chic idiom of today´s young professional Spaniards and with the added benefit of requiring absolutely no grounding in any type of literary theory in order to enjoy it.
David Ross Gerling
Sam Houston State University
World Literature Today, spring 1999
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Copyright, Lorenzo Silva 2000-2005