My Favorite Scar by Nicolas Ferraro

3 Mins read
My Favorite Scar by Nicolás Ferraro front cover

Translated by Mallory N Craig-Kuhn — Originally published in Spanish in 2021, and winner of that country’s Dashiell Hammett prize in 2022, My Favorite Scar is now available for English readers. Its hardboiled plot and noir stylings will hopefully now find a wider audience.

The novel begins, as so many days seem to for 15-year-old Ambar Mondragon, with her patching up her father. On this occasion, Victor has a bullet wound in his chest, received after he and his partner were ambushed in a petrol station by a man with a snake tattoo on his arm. Victor’s accomplice was killed. Ambar doesn’t need to ask Victor if he was planning to rob the station, just as she doesn’t need to ask how to stitch a bullet wound – bitter experience has taught her the answer to both of those questions.

They are in a small, unnamed city in Argentina in the 1980s, in the latest of a long line of hotel rooms. Ambar’s mother walked out when she was just a young girl and Victor is the only parent she has ever really known. It’s a transient life. Always moving on quickly to Victor’s next job, or to avoid the results of the last job going wrong, is all Ambar can remember.

The teenage years are often characterised by rebellion; against the boring routine of school, the same old friendships, and the stifling attitude of over-protective parents, but Ambar longs for these things. The slow realisation that they will always be denied her has begun to sting. Ambar is reaching the age where she will soon have the agency to make her own choices in life. Victor, absorbed in his criminal life, hasn’t recognised this.

My Favorite Scar is told through Ambar’s eyes, and Victor’s refusal to tell his daughter everything that is happening left me a little confused at times. Gradually, though, a narrative is revealed. Victor has put his usual criminal activities on hold to secure vengeance for his dead friend. He’s prepared to call in favours and burn through his short list of friends in order to find the identity of the shooter. Victor has a fearsome, almost mythic, reputation within the Argentinian underworld as a violent survivor, but not as somebody who will ever hold real power.

Accordingly, his investigation method lacks subtlety. Threats and actual violence do eventually get him the information he seeks – but not without bringing attention to himself, and soon Ambar finds herself a target of the killer’s own brother. It is a situation not everyone can walk away from unscathed.

The violence of the novel – and there is a lot – is balanced by Ambar’s reminiscences of the brief happy times in her childhood and her indefatigable hope for a better future. For long periods, Victor is out of the picture, leaving Ambar alone and bored, to seek out her own entertainment. The periods when the novel slows to a more contemplative pace are amongst the best of the book. We are treated to her most personal thoughts, with a level of intimacy not often found within crime fiction.

The confused, ambivalent relationship between Ambar and Victor is skilfully evoked, and the prose has a feverish, almost poetic quality to it that mirrors Ambar’s experience with her secretive, paranoid father. A brief romance between Ambar and the older brother of a girl who befriends her at an amusement arcade adds further colour, and serves as a spark to ignite Ambar into action. The translation is clear and effective, and appears to have kept the rhythms of the original intact.

My Favorite Scar is a success, made memorable by its stylish prose, its foreign location, but mostly by its teenage narrator.

One of the best crime novels of the past 10 years, Jordan Harper’s She Rides Shotgun shares some plot similarities with My Favorite Scar.

Soho Press

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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