cover image Divine Punishment

Divine Punishment

Sergio Ramirez, trans. from the Spanish by Nick Caistor. McPherson & Co. (Ingram, dist.), $30 (516p) ISBN 978-1-62054-014-5

Ramirez, former vice president of Nicaragua, published this noirish tale of murder and deceit while in office in 1988, and it appears in English for the first time in a wonderful translation by Caistor. The story, based on a real series of unsolved poisonings, takes the form of a legal case, replete with court reports, interviews, testimonies, depositions, and letters from the main players. This interesting and complex structure includes a barrage of character names, places, subplots, and substories—Ramirez effectively recreates an entire world of intrigue around the case. But the central story line revolves around the motives of the accused murderer, Oliverio Castaneda. Ramirez animates the small town world of 1930s Leon, Nicaragua, and its criminal justice system at a time that coincides with the country’s struggle to operate under a civil and judicial, rather than military, government. The fictionalized version of Castaneda’s crimes are driven partly by love and revenge and partly by his desire to control a large financial fortune. The novel also ratchets up the tension between the curiosity of a nosy media and the public’s nearly insatiable appetite for a scandalous trial. This is a big, beautiful novel—a compelling historical drama of competing narratives and colorful characters that is self-aware and tinged with black humor. The author’s afterword and translator’s note provide helpful context for American readers. (May)