Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Good Suicides

The Good Suicides, Antonio Hill 
Crown Publishers
$26, 352 pgs
 “He’d always found it strange that the Church condemned them irrevocably. There was no justification that might absolve those who killed themselves. There were no good or bad suicides. The same punishment was inflicted on them all, without exception and without taking their previous path into account. Taking one’s life was the ultimate sin. But if we don’t even have that, what is left to us? Héctor said to himself…”

SPOILER ALERT - continue at your own risk. So everyone’s read my review of The Summer of Dead Toys which was posted Saturday, July 5th, yes? Excellent. If you haven’t read that one yet then you really should because there will be a couple of spoilers in this review of the sequel, or more precisely the second in a series. 

Okay, The Good Suicides by Antonio Hill, translated from the Spanish by Laura McGloughlin, picks up the story of Inspector Héctor Salgado of the Mossos, Catalonia’s police force, approximately five months later. Ruth is still missing and there have been no clues as to what has happened to her so it seems as if she has simply vanished, ceased to exist in this dimension. Salgado is trying to function as a single father to Guillermo, still seeing his therapist, and attempting to adjust to his new partner, Agent Roger Fort. But don’t worry – Agent Castro is still here, just on maternity leave. See? I told you there were spoilers – go read the first book. Please and thank you.

The Good Suicides opens with just that, except probably not good: the suicide of a young woman on the tracks of the Barcelona underground metro. Agent Fort calls Inspector Salgado to the scene in the middle of the night and Salgado doesn’t understand why he’s there. It’s quite obviously a simple suicide. Right? Maybe not, some details nag, such as: Why does CCTV show the woman looking behind her as if she’s being pursued? And why is the woman’s cell phone reset to factory specs? In fact, there’s only one email containing a single line of text – NEVER FORGET. Curious, yes, but beyond frightening when the attachment turns out to be a photo of a tree festooned with the rigid bodies of three dead dogs. This suicide turns out not to be the first suicide and is quickly followed by a third and a fourth. All four have one thing in common – they all worked for the same company.

One of the things I appreciate about this new series is that it’s really rather old-fashioned. The stories are contemporary but the narrative structure and style recall Agatha Christie. In this age of no-detail-spared slasher flicks and derivative crime fiction that depends on the salacious misogynistic porn of abused and murdered women, it is a relief, and I am grateful, to have the gore merely implied. For example, the only reference to what must have happened to a body when run over by a train: “…he tried not to see the black plastic bags scattered over the track.” Very effective without shoving blood and guts in your face, yes?

Antonio Hill
The ensemble cast is back and they stay firmly and believably in character. This is the second thing I appreciate about Antonio Hill’s novels: his characters. This man writes very good women, which is regrettably rare, and every supporting player, protagonists and antagonists alike, is fully-fledged and complete, even the nut jobs. Unhealthy personalities interact in unpredictable ways but never in unrealistic ways.

In my review of The Summer of Dead Toys I told y’all that the subplot was unusual in that it wasn’t superfluous but actually necessary. That same subplot, tied to Ruth’s disappearance, continues throughout The Good Suicides. Agent Castro is bored to tears on maternity leave, waiting on the child to decide it’s time to say hello, so she begins to investigate Ruth’s case, to start over with fresh eyes. The bomb of a plot twist dropped on the last page, in fact the LAST SENTENCE, assures us that there will be a third Inspector Héctor Salgado novel. And Mr. Hill should be scribbling just as fast as he can.

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