Far South by David Enrique Spellman
|Far South by David Enrique Spellman|
|Reviewer: Robin Leggett|
|Summary: An innovative approach to a novel, incorporating web-based content, the heart of the story involves the disappearance of a charismatic theatre director from a creative commune in Argentina. Has he left of his own accord or has something more sinister from the past come back to haunt him? Original and interesting.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: September 2011|
|Publisher: Serpent's Tail|
|External links: Author's website|
'Far South' is a highly unusual book. It's published as 'crime fiction' but this is really only part of the story. It's also a collection of creative endeavours that combines narrative with web-based content. We are told that 'David Enrique Spellman is the voice for the Far South Project. The Far South Collective is a loosely affiliated group of artists, writers, actors, filmmakers musicians and dancers. He works in close collaboration with Esko Tikanmäki Portogales, a Uruguayan web designer'. While I applaud its ambition in trying to add something more creative to the novel concept, I have slightly more mixed views about the success of this.
The story concerns a creative community in Argentina whose charismatic and mysterious director, Gerardo Fischer, one day disappears without a trace just days before a new show is about to be put on. Worried for his safety some members of the collective contact Juan Manuel Pérez, a former cop who has helped with a previous violent attack on the group by local hoodlums. Pérez has been forced to leave the police after exposing local corruption and is now working as a private detective. Despite the anticipated danger of coming face to face with the underbelly of crime, Pérez agrees to take on the case, not least due to the attractiveness of almost all the females he meets at the collective. The book itself consists of extracts from Pérez's casebook interspersed with a few witness depositions. There's also a 30 page diary/story that is in comic book form.
As a crime story it works moderately successfully although most of what Pérez uncovers pertains more to the murky political past of Argentina and specifically the harbouring of World War Two German army personnel and suggestions of potential links to more recent anti-Semitic global activities. Global conflicts play a large part in what appears to be a play on the creative theatre and the theatre of war. This means that there is not much tension in terms of the plot to find what happened to Fischer and it becomes less about the crime and more about Pérez discovering his own past. If you are looking for a deeply plotted crime story, this may not be for you.
The comic book section is presumably there to give the artists in the collective a stab. It's nicely done but doesn't really add a great deal to the story. I was, perhaps uncharitably, reminded of the cartoon sections in Monty Python.
Which leads me onto the web-based content. The novel has a few web site links and QR codes (those bar code things that lead you to a web site). At first I was intrigued but also found this a little irritating as I often don't read where I have access to the computer (albeit that you can get the content on a lot of mobile phones too). I diligently checked out the content but while these were by and large nicely done, it didn't add anything to the story. You can happily ignore it all and not miss out on any plot or clues. In a kind of tacit acknowledgement of this, the instance of these QR codes fades after the first quarter of the book anyway. I liked the idea and the content was fine, but it doesn't really add to the reader's experience. The film sections are all very arty and mysterious so it's not as if you are being shown the characters themselves - which would arguably have been an interesting use of this device.
I don't want this to sound too negative though. I did enjoy the book and the story, and I like the idea of a more creative and innovative approach. It's just that for me it didn't quite deliver what it could have done. Interesting? Very much so. Successful? Perhaps not so much.
Our huge thanks, as ever, to the kind people at Serpent's Tail for sending this innovative book our way.
If you like strong crime fiction, then I'd definitely recommend Falling Glass by Adrian McKinty while if you are interested in other books that are using technology and media in interesting ways, then The Afterparty by Leo Benedictus is a cracking read. By the way, the play Gerardo Fischer's is working on prior to his disappearance in 'Far South' is an adaption of The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa. Faced with that challenge, I think I'd be tempted to disappear too!
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