The Last Tango of Dolores Delgado by Marele Day

published 1992

Last Tango 1

I’d never met a woman quite like Dolores Delgado; I'd certainly never had a client like her. She had smouldering eyes, high cheek bones and luscious lips that appeared to be permanently on the verge of a kiss. Strong dancer’s legs, slim hips and small plump breasts. Even in the posters sensuality oozed out of her. There were probably more skilful dancers in the world but she was the most flamboyant, the one with the most pizazz.

She danced with a knife in her garter, like the first tango dancers; she danced the story of tango - its beginnings in the bordellos of Buenos Aires, through tango teas in Paris to finally arrive in the ballrooms of high society. In a way it was her own story.

Off the dance floor what Dolores did with flamboyance and pizzazz was go shopping…

She hired me to go with her to nose out places that sold the most fabulous dresses, clothes that were exclusive, the unusual, the glamorous. Dolores could discuss for hours the details of a frill, the right shade of red, the plunge of a neckline.

Last Tango 2

commentary: This extract is from the opening page of the book, and is excellently like a 1992 version of a traditional PI story, with a few surprises to come. Narrator Claudia Valentine has left her marriage and is working as an investigator: when Dolores dies (not a spoiler, it’s two pages later) she wants to find out what happened. She starts her enquiries by trying to impersonate her - dyes her hair, wears Dolores’s clothes, moves into her room. (Just like the Tana French book The Likeness, and equally a bizarre and unbelievable move, and one you have to take on trust). The investigation is fairly normal in fact, checking out what she did and who she saw and what she knew. There are some obviously corrupt financial goings-on, and an environmental plotline. There is also a twist early on that I won’t reveal - it’s cleverly done.

I was put onto this one by my friend Sergio over at Tipping my Fedora (a while back): his post is well-worth reading, he looks at some slightly different aspects of the book, and also raises an excellent question.
[the book did] make me ponder on the kind of detectives we admire and the ones we actually like and would want to be friends with. I would love to be pals with Archie Goodwin and Tuppence Beresford, but I suspect Philip Marlowe would be a bit of a drag and Miss Marple could prove a slight knitting bore. So how about Claudia Valentine, the protagonist of Delgado?
A splendid topic for discussion, and one I am thinking about now…

The book is very much of its time: Claudia has a cutting edge mobile phone, but it’s obviously huge, and a pain to lug round: when she goes to a club ‘it wasn’t that easy dancing with a mobile phone in my pocket’. But the issues involved are very modern, and Claudia’s attitudes on the whole very proper. The Australian background is nicely done, I really liked the setting in Sydney.

There are great descriptions of the nightclubs and dance routines, and of Dolores’s fabulous clothes. And also Claudia’s – she goes to a bar to meet a contact, wearing a dark dress and stockings. The person she is meeting is in an apricot suit.
We each knew who the other was. We were the only people in the bar not wearing shorts.
So – the solution to the crime was reasonably obvious, but Claudia had some good adventures along the way, and some tense moments. It was exciting when she was impersonating Dolores to get to safe deposit box - is it true to say that such a scene is always enjoyably heart-stopping in any book or film?

Marele Day is best-known to me for her magnificently uncategorizable 1997 book about nuns, The Lambs of God.

I do like tango-dancing in a book – it has featured on the blog a few times, with a great favourite description coming in Michael Arlen’s The Green Hat. I think the professional dancers in blog favourite The Body in the Library (Agatha Christie, of course) also danced the tango. And it turns up in other Christie books – Parker Pyne and The Mystery of the Blue Train. Christie was always careful to distinguish between the tango and apache dancing – see more here, in an entry on Matthew Sweet’s wonderful Shepperton Babylon.

The b/w photo (from the library of New South Wales, by the great chronicler Sam Hood) is from the 1920s – but how could I not use it once I found it?


  1. Thanks for the kind words Moira, glad you enjoyed it. It was the redoubtable Mike Ripley who put me on to this book!

    1. Well thanks to both of you! I must try to read more of her books.

  2. This does sound like an interesting scenario, Moira. I'm not sure I'm a fan of the whole disguise thing, but, as you say, some of these things need to be taken on faith. The premise sounds intriguing, though, and I'm glad you liked it.

    1. A really interesting modern murder story, and Claudia and her backstory make for a great protagonist. Sergio is right - she would be a good person to know!

  3. Thanks for bringing this book and author to my attention again, Moira. This is what I love and hate about blogging about books. I was intrigued about this book when Sergio reviewed it, but it fell by the wayside along with most of the other books I heard about, but now it is back again. The premise sounds fantastic (although I share Margot's misgivings about disguises) and the time it was written is also perfect, so I will look into the series again and hopefully not lose track of it this time.

    I did read about The Lambs of God (about all her books actually) and it sounds very good too.

    1. I realized it took me a long while to get round to reading it - I think Sergio's review is more than a year ago. But made it in the end. I think she is a very good author, with a very varied choice of topics, and as if she is a really nice person too.

  4. For some reason, I keep seeing this as THE TANGOING DETECTIVE, with the detective constantly dressed as though she were about to start dancing the Tango. She interviews people on the dancefloor, knowing that the high level of passion will lower their defences and make them tell the truth. The story finishes with a dance-off between her and the killer. Silly? Perhaps, but I remember watching the TV Comedy show THE COMIC STRIP back in the '90s when the did a parody of TV 'Tecs called DETECTIVES ON THE EDGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN. One of the spoof shows mentioned was THE GOURMET DETECTIVE (one murder and two recipes in each episode!) As of 2015 there was a new show premiered in the USA called THE GOURMET DETECTIVE....

    The question about which sleuths would be the most fun to be friends with has got me thinking too, and I hope that you do a post about that!


    1. Do you know, I once invented the concept of a Dancing Detective for something I was doing, but meant as a completely ridiculous idea - but perhaps you and I are both on to something. Programme makers are forever looking for something that is 'just like all those other ideas, but with one extra quirk' - dancing is perfect, especially when Strictly is so popular... There is a dreadful scene in a PD James book where the junior detective has to dance with an older witness in order to interview her (it might actually be a tango). I hated it, I felt as if it had been shoehorned in from a different book. It was Shroud for a Nightingale, otherwise by far my favourite of her books, they got worse from then on.

      And if there is one detective who would NEVER be my friend, it is grumpy pretentious leading poet Adam Dalgleish.


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