Strangers on a train engage in intrigue, adultery and perhaps the perfect murder.
Even after more than 50 years, Ricardo Beintigoitia vividly recalls the overnight train trip he took in January 1952 from Bolivia near La Paz to the Chilean resort town of Arica. Ricardo, just graduated from high school, encounters a gallery of oversized characters, including that flashy dresser, his uncle Felipe Tréllez; strip-club magnate Alfredo Miranda (“The Marquis”), who naturally travels with a small harem of beautiful seductresses; professional poker player Lalo Ruiz; an Eastern European loan shark named Petko Danilov; et al. Indeed, much of the story focuses on the close-quarters verbal duels among these characters, whom de Recacoechea calls a microcosm of Bolivia during the period. Ricardo’s head is turned by beautiful young Gulietta Carletti, recently married for financial reasons to the much older Nazario Alderete, a wealthy miner. The sexual chemistry between Gulietta and Ricardo is palpable, and even Gulietta’s chaperone Doña Clara, who arranged her wedding to Alderete, seems to approve. But Alderete’s forbidding reputation poses a big red flag. Darkening the plot considerably is the arrival of bitter cripple Edmundo Rocha, who blames Alderete for ruining his life and vows revenge. Sex, a high-stakes poker game and a murder disguised as a heart attack all figure prominently in the closing chapters.
De Recacoechea’s sixth novel and the second translated into English (American Visa, 2007) entertainingly gathers wool for quite a while before the intense finale.