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Mariás makes sense of a senseless murder

The book featured today is a translation from Spanish of The Infatuations by Javier Mariás.

It is not a book for the insubstantial reader, so if you read for the excitement of a florid ambience of place or the oddities of characters, if, in other words, you want to remain outside the story as you would with a film and seek only the page-turner, here first are two excellent mysteries that won’t measure your commitment to reading or intrude on emotional limits.

Crashed by Timothy Hallinan is a humorous crime fiction for those who love the books of Carl Hiaason, with the plot tension of Raymond Chandler thrown in. It is expertly written about an accomplished and charming Los Angeles burglar named Junior Bender. He is hired – in truth, blackmailed – by a mob boss as a private investigator on a porn movie featuring a forgotten child film star that is being sabotaged. Crashed is a seamless, suspenseful and delightful read.

Styx & Stone by James W. Ziskin is a well-written, densely plotted murder mystery featuring the aspiring journalist daughter of an Ivy League university professor specializing in the literary works of the infamous, 14th-century Italian poet Dante. Dr. Stone’s murder draws his daughter into the investigation, which uncovers the pretensions and grudging manner of the intelligentsia. This is a sturdy mystery, and it is always fun to watch an outsider with raring intent outthink plodding police procedure.

Now to what can only be proclaimed pure literature. The Infatuations is a monumental and breathtaking work by that 1 percent of writers and, just as impressively, the 1 percent of translators. Mariás’ narrative is in the form of mainly monologue from an unremarkable young woman who, before going to her secretarial job, sits each morning in a Madrid sidewalk bistro having coffee and secretly admiring the loving companionability of an elegant, slightly older couple.

Early in the book, the husband is assaulted and stabbed to death by a homeless drunk known to the location and who is immediately apprehended. The Infatuations is more mysterious than mystery, and more mystery as a result. We know right away who murdered whom, but the why, as in most whys, is buried deep inside someone’s brain. Mariás’ characters are paper thin. Fleshed out, they would only get in the way of the deeper, more interesting, underlying story of the purpose of a senseless murder.

Mariás’ prose is the story behind this story. It is addictive in heady run-on sentences probing the thoughts of our mild-mannered everywoman as she unwittingly discovers a sinister calculation plotted for the future affections of the grieving widow.

This is the work of a high-wire artist balanced precariously at nosebleed height on a tightrope of twined words, and as much as we squint to detect the slightest misstep in such defiance, he doesn’t once teeter. I found myself holding my breath over nearly page-long sentences unmasking the anomaly of the heinous, irrational butchering of a guileless man.

JeffMannix.com. Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author.

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