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REVIEW: Guillermo Orsi’s Holy City

June 24, 2012

THE moral deficiencies of the human condition have been central themes of the crime and noir genres of literature. Flawed and compromised heroes are the ideal touchstone from which to view society and all its problems.

HOLY CITY, Guillermo Orsi’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed No-one Loves a  Policeman is another devastating critique of the corruption and murderousness at the heart of Argentinian society.

Like his previous book, at its core is a central character struggling to make sense of who to trust in the most violent and murderous circumstances. Lawyer Verónica Berutti defends the seemingly undefendable in court  and has already lost two husbands to the death squads of the government and the army. She becomes involved and looks to have been put in a position where it’s either death or glory – with the former the most likely outcome.

In the meantime a luxury cruise ship docks in Buenos Aires but gets stuck on low tides – that’s bad news for the wealthy Europeans who are kidnapped while sight seeing and held to ransom by the gangs that run the shanty towns.

Two characters really stand out: Ana Torrente, the dangerous and beautiful Miss Bolivia who Verónica offers sanctuary to but after whom there appears to be a string of headless corpses. The beguiling honest hang dog copper Walter Carroza is a complex study in morality. He’s willing to kill and murder, but only to salvage what goodness is left in his job.

As he joins the hunt for the missing tourists, a plunging stock market brings the real masters of the Argentinian universe together – European ambassadors, the security forces and faceless industrialists are those that run the country, and they do so out of self interests.

Orsi’s wonderfully cynical book is hugely atmospheric, cloying heat and dirt pervade, big rats run rampant, fitting metaphors for Argentinian society. With an almost supernatural sub plot involving a perhaps mythical killer who lives in the Holy City, rather than being a straight ahead naturalistic thriller, Orsi’s book also works on a meta-physcial and symbolic level.

Lovers of the procedural thriller should perhaps stay away from the noirish, literary Holy City, or rather, they should read it and its predecessor, to see what they have been missing.

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