Carlos Salem takes up arms again

The parodic, playful thriller is a high-risk register, comical hardly compatible with the dramatic tension implied by the genre. The Argentinian (based in Spain) Carlos Salem plays it off as a rather impressive balancing act. We really want to know who is the “Girl with green hair” who returns as a pancake the private detective Txema Arregui: he sets out with her in search of a lost kitten while mobilized by a hypersensitive investigation into the dubious death of “The most hated man in Spain”, a rogue politician and businessman to the bone. And again, these are just some facets of Johnny Bourbon’s Last Affair, his tenth novel.

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Carlos Salem loves the winks, confer the title of the first chapter, “The Red Dahlia” – hi, James Ellroy. The thriller reader easily recognizes in Arregui the archetypal private tough guy, lonely, incorruptible and melancholy – hi Raymond Chandler. Arregui is fond of fighting, physical as well as verbal, balances at one of his former colleagues when he was a cop: “You are an asshole, but in your way, you are sincere.” But Arregui is apt for poetic reflection (“He looked like a man on the edge of himself”) as in the most pragmatic observation (“His nose, broken by me a few years earlier, made him look more worn than I remembered”), which implies a good plasticity on the part of Salem.

From there comes the pleasure: Johnny Bourbon’s Last Affair is moving, changing, pyrotechnic, also moving. Salem is very good at observing bond, whether he is in love, friendly, familial, filial, or… animal – now, attaching to an ant seems (almost) plausible to us. Inconsolable of Claudia, his great deceased love, the castagneur struggles to express his feelings but his actions speak for him: his fierce resolution to do justice to the «Dahlia rouge» like a couple of gay friends, his way of accepting to be assisted by Juan Carlos de Bourbon (yes, the ex-king of Spain) who is bored to death, this sentence he throws at his seriously ill father, of whom he is about to make one of his dearest dreams come true: “If you have the bad idea to die, I’ll kill you.” We willingly lay down our arms.


Sabrina Champenois

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