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by Carlos Allende

Pub Date: June 21st, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-63628-035-6
Publisher: Red Hen Press

Elaborate scams and workplace murders abound in this bleakly comic novel.

In fiction, the strangest things can bring together the participants in a criminal conspiracy. For Charlie and Jignesh, the alternating narrators of Allende’s novel, their connection comes via an unsuccessful date. But it turns out Charlie has a large freezer for sale, and Jignesh happens to have accidentally killed a former co-worker and is frantically trying to cover it up. The novel opens with a flash-forward to Charlie wandering through the desert in Mexico, wishing that he “had never fallen in love with [Jignesh’s] wealth and with his ravishing South Asian skin color.” If that comes off as shallow and fetishizing, that’s the point. For his part, Jignesh has a sideline in writing genre novels with characters along the lines of “winsome Celt women with a wispy mane of red hair like Princess Salmonella McFallog,” and he isn’t as wealthy as Charlie believes him to be. Gradually, the two men become immersed in more unethical activities, from Jignesh’s creative use of workplace funds to outright money laundering. Charlie’s narration is prone to withering takes on the other characters and musings on his Southern upbringing. Jignesh has a more hapless perspective on the world, leading to some comic moments, as when he ponders the appropriate thoughts to have before killing someone: “One shouldn’t pray to his family Gods when committing a crime.” But he also has a more acerbic side that emerges in moments of stress. The high concept of Allende’s novel—placing two relatively average guys who don’t have any real reason to get involved in a murder/fraud plot in the center of one—is interesting. But this ends up being a book that sinks or swims depending on how you feel about the two narrators. That said, Charlie’s penchant for digressive cinematic deep cuts—“His face is as pale as Meryl Streep’s was in The French Lieutenant’s Woman when she first sees Jeremy Irons at The Cobb in Lyme Regis’s harbor”—is endearing.

Allende’s novel offers a stylized but uneven riff on crime-fiction tropes.