Written by Claudia Piñeiro, translated by Miranda France — Is it possible to write a compelling book about a real crack in a concrete wall? This is exactly what Argentinian writer Claudia Piñeiro sets out to do in this unusual crime novel. Of course, as we progress through this slim book – just over 200 pages – we uncover metaphorical cracks too. Cracks in relationships, marriages, personal life and in the Buenos Aires business world just before the economic crisis.
Pablo Simó is the junior partner of an architectural firm, led by materialistic, ruthless boss Borla, who seems to be involved with attractive colleague Marta. Pablo himself is not immune to Marta’s charms and has occasional daydreams about her. But he is a married man and keeps his dreams in check by relying on small daily rituals, such as his coffee breaks, or taking the metro home rather than a bus, even if the journey is longer. He leads a modest, quiet life, not entirely happy but not unhappy either. He seems to have no great expectations of life, and the only rebellion he does allow himself is to sketch over and over an eleven-storey tower block that he would like to build some day.
One day, this bland life is turned upside down when a young woman called Leonor shows up at their office just before closing time. She asks about Nelson Jara, a man who went missing three years ago. Although all three architects close ranks and deny any knowledge of Jara, the crack in their calm façade starts to spread. What is the mysterious girl after? How much does she actually know about where the body lies buried (quite literally)?
The author cleverly blends events in the past and the present to gradually reveal a tale of greed, corruption and fear, where no one is entirely innocent. Jara was an elderly busybody with shabby clothes and ugly shoes, behaving in an almost creepy way, stalking Pablo on the streets. Yet he had a legitimate concern: his apartment was suffering structural damage as a result of their building works next door. The old man had the pictures and measurements of the crack on the wall to prove his case and he wouldn’t allow himself to be mollified with a quick plastering job. He was out for compensation, while Borla Associates, in their thirst for quick money, were prepared to resort to unethical means of damage limitation.
Pablo may feel a strange sense of identification with the man, perhaps because he acknowledges that they are both ‘little fish’. Ultimately, however, he ends up defending the interests of the his boss – the big fish – and tries to cheat Jara out of any monetary reward. As the case is unofficially reopened through the intervention of Leonor, Pablo examines his own conscience and his life. After 11,070 days of monogamy, he faces a major midlife crisis. The gradual revelation of the extent of the betrayal – both from outside and from within – is the iceberg against which Pablo’s carefully constructed lifeboat crashes, forcing him to change course. This is a dark, psychologically tense tale of a man’s awakening to the things that really matter in life. Not a traditional crime novel, perhaps, but a rewarding read nevertheless.
Bitter Lemon Press
CFL Rating: 4 stars