Posted: December 21, 2011 in Argentina, Historical, review

Sweet Money was first published as Delincuente argentino [Argentinean criminal] in 2007, and continues the story of Lascano, known as Perro [the dog], the honest cop left for dead at the end of Needle in a Haystack. The narrative has moved forward to Buenos Aires in the early 1980s when the junta has fallen, and the democratically elected President Alfonsin is in charge.

‘He looks at the window of the President of Argentina. I bet that’s where he is the fat faggot bastard, that traitor. He got rid of the entire general staff. Passed a bunch of useless laws. Made us think the only ones who’d be put on trial for actions against the guerillas would be the top commanders, the members of the Junta. But when it was their turn to sit in the dock, they opened thir big traps and said they didn’t know what was going on.’

Lascano has been protected during his recovery by Chief Inspector Jorge Turcheli, who has been appointed Chief of Police. But on Jorge’s first day he is murdered by corrupt drug dealing cops known as the Apostles. Now they intend to find and eliminate Lascano.

Meanwhile Miranda [known as Mole] has been released from prison with a few problems, does he have AIDS from the one relationship he had inside; will his stash of money still be there so that he can live with his beautiful wife, the Duchess, and his son in comfort; and will the attractive Susana, the Duchess, even be waiting for him or will she have a new man. 

Lascano is desperate to get hold of some money so he can leave the country and track down his lost love Eva. But he must stay away from the Apostles and gets a job investigating the bank robbery committed by Miranda, and his gang. Miranda’s botched attempt to rob a bank has left him with a million dollars of dirty money, and put him at risk in a world where corrupt cops think of money first and justice second. As well as all this Marcello, a young idealistic prosecutor, wants Lascano to help him clear up the Biterman case [featured in Needle in a Haystack] by confronting the brutal Giribaldi who has now been dismissed from the military and is fuming at his situation. 

You can smell the barbecued meat, the fair winds, the beautiful women, and the prevailing atmosphere of fear, as the story pounds to its conclusion.

This is another superb book from Ernesto Mallo with an evocative atmosphere, great characters, historical information, plots, sub-plots and mini-plots all packed into a mere 220 pages. A smart lesson to those who think you have to write 500 pages to in order to produce a complex thriller. I like the way Mallo’s books use the technique of putting blocks of dialogue in italics with just the speech; it gives an immediacy and almost documentary feel to the novels. I know some people find this annoying but that originality is for me far better than lines of of dialogue with ‘he said’, ‘she said’. 

There are some books that leave an indelible impression on the reader. This in my opinion is one of those books, because the quality and content of the writing is breathtaking and sometimes it leaves you disturbed and thoughtful.

Through the cobbled streets and paved avenues echo the shouts of the tortured, the murdered, the young people thrown from aeroplanes into the sea and the cries of  fathers, mothers, friends and lovers who will forever be missed. Return? To what? To whom? The murderers still walk around, enjoying their freedom and good health. When he thinks about his city, it seems like a place of perennial night, and its name, Buenos Aires, like a cruel joke.

Sweet Money is one of the best thrillers I have read in 2011, and certainly a must read for anyone interested in the recent history of Latin America.

My review of Needle in a Haystack  

  1. Maxine says:

    Excellent review, Norman. I very much enjoyed this novel even though it started with prison life scenes, not my favourite, but in this case both necessary and also did not overwhelm the rest of the plot. I really liked all the to-ings and fro-ings between the various sets of baddies and wondering who was going to come out on top of the double-cross, them or Lascano. I am very much looking forward to the third novel (now that I know Lascano made it after the end of the first, which did not seem very likely at the time).

  2. Thanks a lot for the wonderfull review. When I’m at work sometimes I feel like the castaway in the island throing bottles to the sea in hope someone finds it. Is good to know the message arrived. The third of the Lascano series is on it’s way. Titled “Los Hombres te han Hecho Mal” (Men done you wrong) will be launched in june by Planeta Editorial House in Argentina, and hopefully will also be printed in the UK. Now Lascano will submerge in the world of human trafficking and prostitution. Not a hymn to joy.

  3. Norman says:

    Thank you, Maxine. I must admit reading Leighton and this book by Ernesto Mallo I am pleased the young people have returned home safely. Although they loved Buenos Aires and want to return when funds allow to see more of the country. They could not believe the beautiful city had gone through so many traumas so recently.

  4. Norman says:

    Ernesto- thank you so much for your comments. I have really enjoyed your first two books in the Lascano series and will be looking forward to reading “Los Hombres te han Hecho Mal”, despite the subject matter, when it is published in English.

  5. kathy d. says:

    A terrific movie about a middle-class family in Argentina, and the coming to consciousness of the junta’s horrors by Norma Aleandro’s character is The Official Story. I love this movie, and am soon to watch it again.

    This book review reminded me of it. So good that the author read this review. He’s well deserving of these accolades.

    And now to harass my library to get this book. It’s like pulling teeth to get the library to buy global crime fiction these days! Just popular best-sellers by U.S. authors are being bought, it seems — those, or current dvd’s. I see the catalogue with 300 copies of a dvd of a recent movie — and not one or two copies of quality global translated fiction!

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