At twenty past midnight he was dozing when there was an insistent rap at the rear glass doors. Otto got up and opened them on a broad-shouldered man in livery costume. “Herr Spoerri?”
“Of course.” Who the hell else would be stuck here at this hour? The livery costume nodded, walked back to the idling limousine, and opened the rear door.
From it emerged a beautiful woman in her late twenties. She wore mink, her blonde hair up in a fierce chignon. Otto Spoerri recognized the face immediately, and his surprise was sufficient enough to leave him momentarily without manners.
“Are you the banker?” she asked in Spanish. Finally coming to attention, he took her hand and bent with a snap. “Senora. I am surprised. Please, welcome to Kredit Spoerri.”…
What a woman, with her harlot lips and shopgirl swagger, the heat of an absolute confidence that dried his eyes. A woman who’d come to a country that despised her, waded through seething crowds and splashing fruit, all to sit in the city’s oldest bank at midnight and calmly wait for what she wanted, turning the cigarette between moist lips.
observations: My good friend Col, over at Col’s Criminal Library, introduced me to this book, and you can read his review of it here.
I am fascinated by Eva Peron – that’s the Evita of the musical – and her extraordinary story: how she made it from poverty to be First Lady of Argentina in a very short space of time, how she was worshipped by many of the populace, how her memory lived on. And her body lived on too: she was embalmed at her early death – and what happened to her corpse is the subject of this bizarre thriller.
It is not the best book ever written, but I must say I loved it: and I couldn’t guess where the story was going half the time. A young CIA agent, Michael, gets involved in a plot to smuggle her body out of the country. He succeeds in this, but completely messes up the rest of his life in the process. Fifteen years later, he is a broken, drug-addicted drunk – but gets caught up in a plan to bring her body back to Argentina. All kinds of extraordinary people pass through this book, and the twists and turns of the plot are labrynthine: but the writer says that many of the people are real, and a lot of what he describes actually happened. There’s a hallucinatory, supernatural feel to some sections: and the bits about the corpse and the embalming are truly creepy. I was less interested in the gunfights and the manic chase through Europe, but I still enjoyed the book and found it memorable and satisfying – and the various things that happened to the corpse are, well, indescribable and astonishing.
Pampas and gauchos feature – there is an interesting claim that Argentina is unusual in never developing ‘a myth of the homeland… this topsy-turvy culture invested all value in urban Porteno values. The countryside was a hostile, brutal place; its people, their gaucho cowboy tradition, despised.’ (Portenos are those who live in ports, and usually the phrase is applied to those from Buenos Aires.) One of our favourite pictures, from a Charles Darwin entry, shows this gaucho, and it always bears showing again: