Buenos Aires, mid-1950s, and late at night a young woman is found dead in the elevator of a small apartment block. It proves she has died of cyanide poisoning, and the initial assumption of the cops is that this is a case of suicide. But there are enough anomalies about the situation that soon they realize they’re looking at murder.
As they investigate further and another person dies, again by cyanide, the secrets of the building’s occupants — many of whom are emigres who fled Germany at the end of WWII — come tumbling out. It seems the motives for the murders are rooted in the guilty truths people have brought with them from the old world . . .
Pushkin Vertigo, part of whose distinguished series of crime/noir reissues this is, are keen to assure us on the cover that Bosco is “the Queen of Argentinian Mystery” or (depending on edition) “the Argentinian Agatha Christie.” This novel, which as far as I can establish was her first (it’s certainly the first to have been translated into English, some six decades after its initial publication), shows a knowledge of some of the essential components of the GAD novel but a fumbling hand when it comes to deploying them. There’s never any deep sense of mystery here, any sense that we’re up against a truly knotty problem that only some marvelous feat of ratiocination will be able to unravel. There’s a puzzle concerning howdunnit in both murders, but the two explanations are each unsatisfying in a quite different way (in the first instance because it relies on the cops not having checked something they’d have surely checked at the outset). Bosco also has an irritating habit of keeping important bits of information from us.
I do have to give Bosco credit for having completely bamboozled me as to the identity and motive of the killer. I was backing entirely the wrong horse.
There’s no amateur detective here, the investigation instead being in the hands of the cops; but I found it hard for a long time to work out just who was the detective I was supposed to be focusing on, Blasi or Ericourt, both of whom at different times seemed to be spearheading the process of revelation. Perhaps Bosco was aiming for a police-procedural style of story, where the investigation is a team effort, but the novel didn’t really work for me on that basis either. There was never, for example, any feeling of a dynamic relationship between the two men, or between the two men and their colleagues — no smell of the squadroom.
Matters weren’t helped for me by the translation, which seemed pretty limp and full of bits of phrasing that perhaps made perfect colloquial sense in the original Spanish but, literally translated, simply aren’t English. There’s also the occasional minor grammatical error (such as, repeatedly, “Czerbós’s apartment” for the apartment of the Czerbó family).
I’m looking forward to reading others in Pushkin’s Vertigo series, and indeed could well be persuaded to try another Bosco novel; but Death Going Down, alas, failed to light my fire.