Veronica Rosenthal has retreated to a cousin’s remote cottage in the province of Tucuman, to recuperate from the traumatic events in The Fragility of Bodies.
She befriends two female tourists – an Italian and a Norwegian — invites them to stay and starts a sexual relationship with one of them.
After a party they attend together, Veronica travels on alone but days later discovers that the women have been murdered.
Suspicion falls on a local Umbanda priest, but Veronica starts to uncover a web of corruption, abuse and femicide in which government, wealthy landowners and a high-ranking official from the Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’ are all implicated.
Veronica’s investigation, with its unforeseen political dimensions, has alarmed new enemies who will try to stop her at all cost.
Ever since The Foreign Girls landed on my doormat, it’s been hard to keep to my reading schedule and be disciplined as I knew that it was going to be something really special before I even opened it. I love books that are based on real life events and adore being exposed to writers in translation that I haven’t encountered before and this book was right up my street – I was delighted to have some time to dedicate to this wonderfully South American crime novel and have spent hours and hours online exploring the locations and some of the circumstances behind this compelling and original crime thriller…
I absolutely love books that take me to a completely different place and I loved the initial chapters of this novel where I basked indolently alongside Veronica in what sounded like an absolutely idyllic retreat. The fact that this peaceful emding is shattered so abroptly is superbly done and pulls you right into the middle of the story extremely convincingly – and we the readers find ourselves just as compelled as Veronica is to try and get to the bottom of what went on that fateful night – and how it connects with events in her own past that she’d rather not loook back too closely on. I hadn’t read the previous book – The Fragility of Bodies – but you can be absolutely sure that I have it on order straight away and can’t wait to go back in time with Veronica and witness some of the events leading up to her adventures surrounding the missing hitchhikers
Although I was totally absorbed in the plot of The Foreign Girls it is undoubtedly the precision and understated lyricism of Olguin’s writing that makes it such a treat to read. The story of Veronica and her determination to solve the mystery of what happened to the girls- amid so much corruption and secrecy is so perfectly realised that it was hard at times to remember that these are fictional characters rather than real people whose lives are unfolding on the page and it made me wish that I could see a documentary where the events of this novel and the true life events that inspired it are explored alomgside each other.
Veronica is one of those characters that feel absolutely real from the very first page. She is a flawed human being, but then aren’t we all. The setting was painted so poetically that I could imagine myself there, hearing twigs snap and figures lurking menacingly just outside your peripheral vision in the gloom. This story really came alive for me and it was one of those novels that you blink and look up from and discover that you’ve just spent the last three hours immersed in it, so captivating and immersive a story it is.
The characters in The Foreign Girls are never presented as devices to drive the plot along – although it does unfold at an absolutely cracking pace I think that it’s a testament to the strength of Olguin’s writing that we are so completely immersed in Veronica’s journey into this rural heart of darkness that we are happy to be led up several blind alleys through the skilful plotting and are holding our collective breath by the end as there is so much tension being so expertly managed. Veronica’s bravery and determination are convincingly a depicted and the tension never lets up for one second in what can be at times a relentless and dark read. I particularly enjoyed the fact that many of the threats are never explicitly spelled out for us and linger at the edge of your consciousness, just like the shadows at the edge of veronica’s stunning panoramic patio and pool deck…
You will definitely find it hard to put this book down as you’ll be so wrapped up in this evocative and brilliantly plotted read – you’ll need to keep reading and find out how it all ends. Veronica’s past means that she is not a character to give up easily, no matter the circumstances, so it’s safe to say that there were parts of this novel that I read with a thudding heart and sweaty palms as I was not sure how it was all going to end. Needless to say, I was not disappointed and I’m really jealous of anyone who’s yet to start reading this book as they are definitely in for an absolute treat.
I recommend this wonderfully translated and atmospheric novel to people who really like to get their teeth into a story that is as far from predictable and formulaic as it is possible to be. In the present reading climate, many books can seem extremely same-y and this book certainly stood out a mile. I loved the bold characterisation as much as I enjoyed the fast-moving and gripping plot and I will definitely be recommending it to friends of mine who enjoy a read that will be like nothing else they’ve read this year and I hope that it encourages others to read more diversely and enjoy books that aren’t merely set in other countries but are written by writers from other countries and cultures. A five star read for sure
Writer On The Shelf
Sergio Olguín was born in Buenos Aires in 1967 and was a journalist before turning to fiction. Olguín has won a number of awards, among others the Premio Tusquets 2009 for his novel Oscura monótona sangre (“Dark Monotonous Blood“). His books have been translated into German, French and Italian.
The translator Miranda France is the author of two acclaimed volumes of travel writing: Don Quixote’s Delusions and Bad Times in Buenos Aires. She has also written the novels Hill Farm and The Day Before the Fire and translated much Latin American fiction, including Claudia Piñeiro’s novels for Bitter Lemon Press.
Praise for this novel:
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review: A scalding crime novel set in Buenos Aires. Olguín memorably explores the gulf between the haves and have-nots of her city. Readers will hope to see more of the complex Verónica. (Oct.)
Financial Times: ONE OF THREE BEST THRILLERS OF 2019: The late, great foreign correspondent Nicholas Tomalin once opined that a journalist needed three qualities to succeed: “ratlike cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability”. Verónica Rosenthal, the protagonist with a chaotic personal life of Olguín’s lively new thriller The Fragility of Bodies, has these in spades.
Olguín is a fine writer with an easy style, aided by a very readable translation by Miranda France. This is the first of a trilogy featuring Rosenthal who pursues her leads with courage and determination, as she digs into a suicide that quickly morphs into a deadly conspiracy. The series has already been turned into a television series and I’m looking forward to the next volume.
CrimeReview: This is an excellent story, well told and translated, which sustains a high level of tension throughout. The reader is well aware of the risks to Veronica and those she co-opts in her research, and these culminate in violent and gripping action. In the background we have Buenos Aires, with great disparities of wealth and prevalent corruption, but a strong sense of life being lived to the full.
NB Magazine: The Fragility of Bodies is a powerful tale of murder and corruption set in Buenos Aires; it feels troublingly plausible. It will thrill readers with a taste for dark, gritty, real-world crime fiction. This novel is distilled single malt noir, a gripping reflection on the woes and angst of Argentinian society.
SHOTS Magazine: This is how I like my noir fiction: no cops with unlikely hang-ups, no copycat serial killers, no ‘here-we-go-again’ plots. Olguín concentrates instead on villains and victims and several dollops of savage sex.