The Argentinean author of Artificial Respiration (1994) and The Absent City (2000) brilliantly re-creates a notorious, real-life 1965 Buenos Aires bank robbery and its aftermath.
Piglia’s semidocumentary structure embraces both the aforementioned event and its perpetrators, their associates, and victims. A tense opening sequence introduces the “twins” (devoid of family connection or physical resemblance): “Gaucho” Dorda (“The born criminal, the man who had been ruined since boyhood”) and Franco “Kid” Brignone, a cunning, soulless spoiled angel. The two are sometime homosexual lovers. Then we encounter their “mad” boss Malito, drug-addled “Twisty” Bazan, sexual athlete “Crow” Mereles, and their “organizer” (Her)Nando Heguilen (who supervises contacts—for example, with colluding police who’ll share the take). The violent robbery itself (committed during a payroll transfer), the gang’s flight to Montevideo (en route to Paraguay), and the lengthy “siege” and bloodbath that ensue are quite vividly narrated, and also intriguingly punctuated by the testimony and thoughts of various witnesses, corrupt Buenos Aires police commissioner Silva, and such briefly though crucially involved characters as police wireless operator Roque Perez. Further levels of both interest and irony are added by the thieves’ insistence that they are honorable revolutionaries (“We’re Peronist activists, exiles, fighting for the General’s [i.e., exiled dictator Juan Peron’s] return”) and by the public outcry created when gang members trapped in a surrounded hotel defiantly burn their loot, showering the siege’s observers with flaming banknotes. And Piglia uses flashbacks with equal dexterity, illuminating his self-doomed protagonists’ twisted beginnings (the account of Dorda’s horrific childhood is particularly potent) and their subsequent paths to petty crime, prison, and their violent ends. Money to Burn inspired the recent prizewinning film Plata Quemada; in fact, it reads like an Argentinean Asphalt Jungle.
Latin American noir at its best—and further evidence of Piglia’s remarkable versatility and skill.