This book had been on my reading list forever, but for some reason it was impossible to get my hands on it. Until, finally, my parents in law managed to unearth a second hand copy. You can imagine I was rather expectant.
I must say, I was a little disappointed. Galíndez is based on a real event, the murder of Basque politician Jesús de Galíndez by the Dominican Republic’s dictator Trujillo in the 1950s. He’d written a doctoral thesis on the Trujillo regime that didn’t go down to well with “El Benefactor”. Galíndez lived in New York at the time as the Basque exile government’s representative at the United Nations, where he was kidnapped off the street and shipped to the Dominican Republic where he was tortured and eventually killed. It’s a rather complex story that somewhat spiralled out of the control of the Trujillo regime and entailed the killing of several other people. You can read the rest on Wikipedia here.
That’s just the background though, although Vázquez Montalbán goes into quite a lot of detail on the torture scenes. It’s like you’re living in Galíndez’s head, the narrator addressing Galíndez as “you”. I found it strange and a little over the top as a stylistic device. That just as a side note, because the real protagonist is Muriel Colbert, another PhD student who has somehow become obsessed with the Galíndez case and is trying to find out what really happened. It’s a strange PhD project, I have to say. Muriel spends a lot of time tracing Galíndez and unearthing all sorts of information on the man, and she becomes very emotionally involved in the case, but in a strangely detached way. I can’t quite put my finger on what I find so weird about her relationship with her subject of study. It’s like she falls in love with him post-mortem, but at the same time she remains oddly analytical about it. Needless to say, there are some people who don’t want her to find out too much, and she is quick to get the US secret service on her heels. I didn’t find this very believable. Muriel seems a bit too ditzy to be a danger to anyone, to be honest.
Then there are a lot of side characters that each get their own story thread but are never fully developed. There’s a fat agent who gets put on the case and reactivates Voltaire, an old agent who’s living in Miami with lots of cats and who can’t resist doing a job for the agency every now and then. The way the different narratives are strung together is most confusing and the characters just didn’t come to life for me.
Even though this was supposed to be a thriller, for me there was never any suspense. There was no feeling of Muriel being “hunted” by the agents. Everything just sort of happened somehow. I really wanted to like this book. As it was, it took me ages to read and the best thing I can say about it was that it didn’t completely turn me off and I finished it eventually.