Monday, March 13, 2017

The Depths of the ForestThe Depths of the Forest by Eugenio Fuentes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"There's a Numa in every forest, a fanatic guardian who has just one mission: to make sure that the wild woods stay wild."

Depths of the Forest (1999), my third book by Eugenio Fuentes, could easily be the best of the three, if not for the author's bizarre obsession that I ridicule later. It is the fourth entry in the Ricardo Cupido series, and the earliest one that has so far been translated into English. It is similar in structure, tone, and style to the later installments The Blood of the Angels and At Close Quarters .

The story takes place mainly in a fictional Spanish nature reserve and in the nearby town where Cupido lives. A talented painter and art gallery owner Gloria Garcia Carvajal is brutally murdered while walking in the forest: Gloria's boyfriend does not have confidence in the police force and hires Cupido to find the killer. The detective's investigation offers the reader an opportunity to meet quite a sizable set of suspects: Gloria's ex-lovers and admirers as well as her business partner. The most fascinating thread involves Doña Victoria, who used to be the owner of the lands on which the nature reserve was founded, and who has been involved in a protracted legal battle about the land ownership.

However, when another young woman is murdered in equally brutal way, it becomes apparent that a crazed serial killer is at large and that Gloria was not the particular target. From the whodunit point of view the plot is very interesting, and the book is for the most part compulsively readable. The denouement, a little in the Nero-Wolfean style, is a bit disappointing though.

I like the author's descriptions of nature: the forbidding forest with its ominous atmosphere comes alive on the pages and the mysterious cave paintings keep the reader in suspense. We are also offered a funny relief moment when Cupido recalls his youthful activities in the cave. Probably the best aspect of the novel is the characterization of Gloria - her portrayal is vivid, lively, and completely lifelike - I could imagine I have personally known Gloria despite the fact that she is only talked about and known from her own writings.

Brutal, cruel scenes have their place in literature, provided they make sense in the context. The killing of a stag is one of the most harrowing scenes I have encountered in quite some time: I recommend more sensitive readers skip the three page-fragment that begins with "They lowered the stag to the ground..." The brutality is justified in the plot, though, and it conveys a powerful message about people who use suffering of others, be it animals or other humans, to further any cause they are obsessed about.

Sexual references of even the rawest, most vulgar kind are also legitimate components of a literary work of art - again, as long as they are justified in the context - yet I have been stunned by the author's "sementics," his demented antics on the topic of semen of animal (three references) or human (another three mentions) origin. One of these references even uses the phrase "It was all so horribly gratuitous that I was nearly sick." Well, dear Mr. Fuentes, semen is not gratuitous, but your way of mentioning it certainly is.

Semen-free Depths would be a very good book, both as a detective novel and even perhaps as actual literature. With the gratuitous bits, I still recommend it, albeit with hesitation.

Three stars.

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