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One doesn’t trifle with crime fiction

May 10, 2015 15 comments

Where There’s Love, There’s Hate by Silvina Ocampo and Adolfo Bioy Casares (1946) French title: Ceux qui aiment, haïssent (translated from the Spanish by André Gabastou)

Preamble: It’s an Argentinean novel but it’s so impregnated with British crime fiction literature that it calls for British spelling. So, American readers, humour written like this is not a typo.

Ocampo_aimeWritten in 1946, Where There’s Love, There’s Hate is the first mystery novel in Argentinean literatue. It is written according to the genre of murder parties, Agatha Christie like.

Our narrator is Dr Humberto Huberman, retelling the story after the events and coming back to his home sweet home. When the book opens, he’s going to stay at the Hotel Central at the sea resort Bosque del Mar. The hotel is run by his relatives and he’s headed there to kill two birds with one stone: he will visit with his family and write the scenario a film maker has ordered. Contrary to what you’d think, Dr Humberto Huberman is neither a writer nor a doctor in literature but a physician. Writing is his hobby.

After settling in his room at the hotel, he goes to the beach for a walk and overhears a conversation between a party of four. Two sisters, Mary and Emilia are accompanied by a Dr Cornejo and Emilia’s fiancé, Enrique Atuel. Mary wants to go swimming and her sister says it’s too dangerous while Dr Cornejo considers that it’s fine. Mary goes and shortly after, she appears to be in distress and Emilia rescues her while the men are still on the beach, fighting for a bathing suit before doing anything. So there are tensions among that group.

During the night, Mary goes missing and is found dead. The police arrive on the premises and soon a terrible storm locks everyone up in the hotel.

Follows an artfully written whodunit which reminded me of the film L’heure zéro by Pascal Thomas. It’s the adaptation Agatha Christie’s novel, Towards Zero. The aim of the authors was to write a mystery novel according to the codes of the genre and it’s wonderfully done. I have read a lot of books by Agatha Christie and Patricia Wentworth and I found the usual scenes and topics of this kind of literature. You have everything: a bystander as a narrator who will play amateur sleuth, a closed-doors situation, several people who could have wished Mary’s death, a sea resort, ridiculous policemen who are in dire need of pointers to lead the investigation, a storm to add danger and isolation, a strange child with a mysterious past, unrequited love, tea-time in the purest English fashion, a character who’s passionate about railways timetables, a scene where everyone’s reunited in the salon to discover who’s guilty and a mirror effect as the victim’s profession was to translate British crime fiction novels into Spanish. It is told in a rather playful tone from someone who’s telling a good story. It’s full of humour and marvellous observations.

And yet, it didn’t work for me.

All the ingredients are there and I wasn’t taken by it. Where There’s Love, There’s Hate never really caught my attention and I didn’t care to know who had killed Mary. I remained aloof and I kept forgetting who was who. It took me a while to finish it when I should have read it in one or two sittings. If the aim of the experience was to write a brilliant pastiche of a mystery novel then it’s achieved. If it was more than an Exercice de Style then for me, the job wasn’t done. I had the same experience with The Yiddish Policeman Union by Michael Chabon. It sounded fake.

Jacqui has a totally different opinion on this one and her review is well worth reading here.

PS : Don’t ask me why the French edition has such a cover. I don’t see that it has anything to do with the book.

 

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