1. Andean Express by Juan De Recacoechea, translated by Adrian Althoff
This is a crime/mystery novel written by a Bolivian author and set in 1952. The action takes place on an overnight train journey from La Paz (which is the administrative capital of Bolivia, the country that has two capital cities and the second one is Sucre), through the Andean plateau to the coast of Chile. Innocent enough when it starts, the journey turns deadly to one of the passengers and everybody concerned seems to have some kind of issue with the one person that will soon be murdered. There are too many characters to list but they all play important roles and no one is truly as they seem.
I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed reading Andean Express. Never having read any Bolivian fiction before, I didn’t know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised. It’s a small novel with quick action and even though the crime seems to be at the forefront, it really serves as the background to the Bolivian society of the fifties in a capsule. There are people involved that represent almost every walk of life, from a recent high school graduate, a miner, a politician to a shady businessman. We have a prostitute, a woman scorned and a young girl seemingly sold into an unwanted marriage. Truly a cornucopia of personalities and it was a delicious feast to read about them all. I enjoyed the author’s sharp language, humor and a prose that’s very much to the point.
The best part though, and I’m not sure if it’s something representative of South American crime fiction or not, was that the murder actually goes unpunished because everyone agreed that the person that died fully deserved their fate and there’s no need to seek justice. The justice has just been dealt. Very much unlike North American crime fiction that I read where the murderer is always found and punished regardless of the motives. I must say it was a breath of fresh air and I will gladly look for more.
2. Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon
This one is more of a literary thriller than a crime fiction. We are introduced to several characters. There’s Miles, searching for his schizophrenic twin brother; Ryan, who just found out he was adopted by his aunt and uncle, and Lucy, a fresh high school graduate who leaves her hometown behind and goes off with her history teacher in search for a better and more exciting life. All of their lives come together in unexpected and somewhat shocking ways.
I wish I could say more what this novel is about but the way it’s written begs for not divulging too much because it may quickly spoil the plot for those who have yet to read it. There is a lot of mystery surrounding all of the characters and the end may indeed come as a surprise to most readers. The whole novel has to do mostly with our identities, what are they and how fragile they really are, how easily discovered, destroyed and rediscovered or reinvented. The whole atmosphere of the book reminded me the most of du Maurier’s writing although not so much the evocative prose as the mystery and the mood permeating the whole novel. I did like it but I wasn’t as impressed or crazy about Await Your Reply as some other reviewers. In the words of Randy Jackson, “It was just okay Dawg”.