The Foreign Girls
Sergio Olguín’s The Fragility of Bodies was one of my favorite books of 2020 (review here). His new one, The Foreign Girls once again features the sexy trouble-magnet, journalist Verónica Rosenthal. When I refer to the books as “new,” bear in mind that these are books in translation and have been out several years already in Olguín’s home country, Argentina. But neither one has lost any of its freshness in the interim.
Verónica has deserted Buenos Aires for the countryside, hoping to put the traumatic events at the conclusion of Fragility behind her. She hooks up with two young European women and they travel together for a while, and stay at her cousin’s remote vacation home with pool. What should be a sun-drenched idyll becomes a compelling noir adventure.
One night after a party at a rich man’s home, the foreign girls are missing. What happened to them and who is responsible consumes Verónica. Even though she’s supposedly not working, she knows how to dig out a story and does it without regard for her own safety.
Both of Olguín’s Verónica Rosenthal books were expertly translated by Miranda France, and published by Bitter Lemon Press.
The Basel Killings
Swiss author and playwright Hansjörg Schneider’s first Inspector Hunkeler mystery, translated by Mike Mitchell, has already won the Friedrich Glauser Prize, Germany’s most prestigious crime fiction award. Like Olguín’s story, the book was first published in German a few years ago and is newly available in English.
Peter Hunkeler, a Basel police detective, is feeling old. His prostate bothers him, he’s tired, his girlfriend is on an extended stay in Paris, and he’s past wanting to deal with his superiors in the police department and prosecutor’s office who want him to play according to their rules.
Walking home from a bar one dreary November night, a season as dark as this story, he spots a man he knows sleeping on a park bench, but the man isn’t asleep, he’s been murdered, and the earlobe where he always wore a diamond earring has been slit open, the earring gone.
To Hunkeler, the crime is too similar to a case he’s investigating, the murder of a prostitute, whose ear also was slit open. The pearl that was always there, gone. Coincidence? But when a young girl from the gypsy camp outside town is attacked, strangled, and her ear cut, he realizes he has a serial killer on his hands. What do these three very different victims have in common?
Hunkeler has an interesting low-key approach to investigating, and uses his farmhouse in Alsace as a retreat from the city, a place to think more clearly. Like many books by European authors, Schneider’s writing is barebones and straightforward, more Hemingway than Faulkner. Yet I found the characters he created here eminently believable.