Fernando Vallejo, Author, Paul Hammond, Translator , trans. from the Spanish by Paul Hammond. Serpents Tail $13.99 (135p) ISBN 978-1-85242-647-7

This slim, cynical novel by a well-regarded Colombian writer is an unsparing exploration of Medellín, Colombia's second largest city and the infamous stronghold and resting place of drug lord Pablo Escobar. The narrator is a "grammarian," who has recently returned to his hometown after many years abroad and discovers it has become a living nightmare, where music blares constantly, funerals are less important than soccer matches and a wayward glance is likely to get you killed. In a virtually unbroken dramatic monologue, the narrator recounts a love affair he once had with Alexis, a teenage hitman who carries out revenge killings for rival drug gangs. Post Escobar, the hitmen are disorganized and undisciplined, and they wreak havoc on the city, killing indiscriminately. Inevitably, Alexis too must die. But before he succumbs, he slays dozens of random people who cross his path—including police officers, young children, pregnant women, taxi drivers. Vallejo is a vivid writer, and one with a talent for social commentary. He is keen to portray the hypocrisy of religion in a country where killers wear crucifixes, bless their bullets and pray not to miss, but his litany of atrocities, at first hypnotic, quickly becomes monotonous. Everyone in the story is so obviously doomed that by the time the grammarian takes up with Alexis's killer, it is impossible to work up much interest in their foreordained fates. Which may be Vallejo's point after all. (Aug.)

Forecast:Publication will coincide with the release of the film version by Barbet Schroeder of this novel. That, plus the recent release of Mark Bowden's nonfiction title Killing Pablo, will draw curiosity seekers.

Reviewed on: 07/16/2001
Release date: 07/01/2001
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 127 pages - 978-84-663-6850-6
Paperback - 140 pages - 978-958-704-650-2
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