Monday, May 15, 2017
Death Going Down, by María Angélica Bosco
Pushkin Vertigo, 2016
originally published as La muerte bajo en ascensor, 1955
translated by Lucy Greaves
"What do you do when you're standing in front of a painting? You adopt different positions until you get the best perspective."
Originally published in 1955, Death Going Down begins with Pancho Soler's return to his apartment building on Calle Santa Fe in Buenos Aires in the wee hours of the morning -- at two o'clock to be precise. He's a bit smashed, nauseous, and unsteady on his feet, but all of that changes when he sees that there's a dead woman in the elevator. Now he's alert and really shook up. Luckily he doesn't have to face it alone -- just moments after his gruesome discovery, he is joined by another tenant arriving home, a Doctor Adolfo Luchter. Luchter realizes that the police will have to be called in, and that the victim seems to have been poisoned. Thus begins the investigation, but it won't be easy for the detectives to unravel this one -- with six floors of occupants, there are certainly plenty of suspects from which to choose. The investigators certainly have their work cut out for them, since the apartment building houses a number of people who harbor a variety of secrets that they are reluctant to divulge. Yet, as Inspector Ericourt notes, "There is always a truth, even if it's hidden." His task is to find it.
While Death Going Down works along the lines of a police procedural/detective novel, it is neither a cut-and-dried nor a routine detective story. After finishing it, I have to say I was surprised not only at the identity of the murderer but also at the assumptions I made as a reader while following the case. When I turned the last page, it dawned on me just how very clever the author had been here precisely in how she used reader expectations while developing this story. The book is well worth reading for several reasons (including the fact that the apartment building is home to a number of European refugees from World War II - very nice move), but for me it was all about the fact that I was completely caught off guard while expecting one thing and ending up with something completely different. Sorry to sound so cryptic, but I really don't want to divulge anything.
The story moves a bit slowly and may not be for readers who like fast-paced crime; it's really not cozy material, and it's not at all your average police procedural. However, it's quite good, nicely done, and as I said, the solution threw me for a loop. Suffice it to say that any author who can do this in a whodunit earns my great respect, since I've been reading mystery/crime novels since I was about five.
From the back-cover blurb I learned that María Angélica Bosco was known in her day as "the Argentinian Agatha Christie," but I have to say that her writing style (at least as evidenced here) is most definitely her own. Readers of translated crime fiction really do not want to pass this one by.