If I were one of those people paid to write breathless accolades for things, I’d probably call Luis Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Blackout, the latest installment in the Inspector Espinosa series, a “taut psychological thriller.” But I’m not one of those people, so I’ll have to try to find a better way than that to describe the book, and to let you know that you should probably go and get yourself a copy.
A disclaimer, of sorts: I’m not a huge fan of mystery writing. It’s not that I don’t like the genre; I just think it’s capable of being much more than what it generally passes for these days. I know that Agatha Christie continues to sell in the thousands (besides apparently keeping PBS viewers glued to their sets), but I’ve always preferred the likes of Chandler, for instance, or people like Elmore Leonard. As I’d written elsewhere (reviewing Pursuit, Garcia-Roza’s last offering), a lot of current stuff in the genre “seems to consist of either A: Softcore porn and a handful of dead bodies, or B: recipies for baked goods, a cat, a few chaste kisses, and a handful of dead bodies–and yes, I’m aware that there are exceptions, but please, go to the Mystery section of your local bookstore and see if the selection doesn’t bear me out–this is a rare bird: creative, thoughtful, literary, and sometimes given to flights of fancy.”
Blackout, and much of the rest of the author’s writing, actually reminds me of another should-be classic: Jô Soares’ A Samba for Sherlock. It’s not so much the humor (Soares reimagines the Holmes we know and love in ways that have to be seen to be believed) as the fact that both authors stick to the conventions of detective fiction, but still find plenty of room to move. In addition, one suspects that Chief Espinosa might well have been at home in Holmes’s time. Like his earlier counterpart, Espinosa doesn’t retreat to a lab filled with multimillion-dollar equipment, relying instead on dogged questioning, shoe leather, intelligence, good instincts, and a handful of lucky breaks.
I’m tempted to describe the plot of the novel; it’s a page-turner, but I’m afraid that by the time I was done describing it, I’d unintentionally give away some red herring or plot twist. Part of the satisfaction of reading Garcia-Roza is that Usual Suspects-style way of throwing something into the mix that you never saw coming. Part of it is also that for as closely as he hews to the trappings of his genre, one thing he’s happily managed to avoid is the tendency to make everything tidy, like a Hollywood movie. Like the other books in the series, Blackout has its protagonist solve the mystery, but is ambiguous enough to leave the reader maybe a bit unsettled, and also likely wanting more.