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      Claudia Pineiro: Betty Boo.      

Bitter Lemon Press

£8.99

‘I’m too scared to write what needs to be said and too ashamed to write anything else.’ 

These words, of course, have been written.  They reveal one of the many conclusions that writer and investigator Nurit Iscar makes at the end of the latest crime novel by the Argentinean phenomenon Claudia Piñeiro. If her conclusion indicates compliance, at least the sentence is honest.  It guarantees the writer a self-awareness that will help her to fumble to something less complicit than ambition and self-serving servitude.

The crime in Betty Boo is extravagant perhaps but it exists as a decent metaphor. It indicates the scope of the powerful and how they also manipulate information to distort and determine lives.  Betty Boo is a crime novel framed by characters struggling to understand what it is to be Argentinean and who are passing time in a society still defined by the legacy of a military dictatorship.  The sympathetic characters continue to bear the scars of the oppression that disfigured their country and society.

Betty Boo is very superior crime fiction.  This time Piñiero is not delving into a bruised male idiosyncratic failure and describing inevitable tragedy, as she did in her masterpiece A Crack In The Wall, but also exploring decent but timid characters compromised by the powerful and brutal. 

The book is romantic. As in the great Argentinean movie The Secret In Their Eyes, an elderly couple realise how oppression has inhibited their capacity to satisfy the desire for love and how self-censorship by journalists affects far more than what they may write.  Fans of The Secret In Their Eyes will like Betty Boo and will wonder how long they will have to wait for a similar fix.  

Piñeiro writes very well.  Her prose is fluent and elegant and reading the book is a delight.  Betty Boo is a page-turner in the best sense, pleasure that should not be interrupted rather than contrived narrative hooks.  The approach to dialogue is interesting.  There are no apostrophes or line breaks.  I have my own theory as to why Piñeiro has decided to use this technique.  Readers of the book can think about this for themselves.  In my opinion it is justified although some may regard it as sly deceit.

There are a lot of characters in Betty Boo.  Some are more important than others.  Piñeiro provides plenty of background history for the investigators but she is also able to define minor characters so they are memorable.  But great characterisation works best in a structure that gives it context.  Self-censorship, self-effacement and betrayal exist in a continuous line.  This relationship is captured brilliantly in the character of Karina Ives, an unwitting servant of a ruthless and selfish boss.

Defenders of the Argentina military dictatorship protest that it brought stability to a troubled economy.  Piñeiro not only entertains crime fans but also challenges those who think the wealth of a society can only be defined in economic terms.  The front cover of Betty Boo has a quote that compares Piñeiro to the great American crime writer Patricia Highsmith.  They have equivalent skill, and Highsmith is esteemed company. Piñeiro, though, has ambition and concerns that make this Argentinean author her own woman. 

By Howard Jackson