Pequeñas Infamias. Truffles Are My Business
Once in a while, a book comes along that is sheer delight. Such is Little Indiscretions, by Carmen Posadas, translated from the Spanish by Christopher Andrews (Random House, $23.95). Winner of Spain’s Planeta Prize, this slender novel has it all: an elegant setting, a taut time frame, a cast of intriguing characters and beautifully crafted writing that lends both glamour and insight to the tale.
The story begins late at night when chef Nestor Chaffinno wraps up a successful dinner party by storing his beloved truffles in the client’s walk-in freezer. Without warning, the door clicks shut behind him, condemning him to a slow and very cold death. As he thinks back over the weeks preceding his murder, we learn that this meticulously mannered chef knows many secrets, both about exquisite cooking and the lives of the dinner guests. His thoughts supply a lively backdrop for the story that follows, introducing characters and motivations.
Posadas then takes us into the heads of each of the main suspects. We meet Nestor’s assistant, a Czech body builder who is sometimes perplexed by but always accepting of the strange ways of Western Europe; a well-respected judge whose wife has recently died, pitching him into the path of a temptation he thought he had beaten decades ago; a successful art dealer whose current respectability masks a shady past involving Argentina’s nastiest political era; a spoiled little rich girl who thinks that multiple body piercings will help erase the pain of her brother’s too-early death; and an aging society beauty whose icy control of her world is threatening to melt in the face of an unexpected, forbidden love. The characters in turn reveal their pasts, their dreams, their transgressions and their fears layer by layer as the book moves steadily toward its climax. Posadas never makes a misstep with these characters, despite wide disparities in their ages and backgrounds.
Best of all, the story is set against a slightly exaggerated, sensual Madrid, a place where fortune tellers possess real powers of prophecy, wear tiny brocaded slippers fit for an empress and have faces that seem to shift in shape; where nightclubs close at 3 a.m., then open back up again in minutes, transformed for a mysterious, nocturnal crowd; where love of any persuasion can be satisfied behind closed doors for the right price; and, most of all, a place were secrets kept for years have a way of coming out in the end.
The finale of the book makes this abundantly clear. The chef’s murder emerges as ironic, and the solution seems deceptively simple — until the reader slowly realizes its implications. You may find yourself closing the book to conduct a mental inventory of your past sins as you are forced to acknowledge that secrets have a way of betraying even those who resolutely keep them.
Special mention must be made of the book’s translator, Christopher Andrews, for preserving the cadences of Posadas’s prose without sacrificing her rich nuances.
Katy Munger is working on her 10th crime novel.
The Washington Post Book World
Reviewed by Katy Munger