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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Investigation

Juan José Saer

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To purchase The Investigation

Title: The Investigation
Author: Juan José Saer
Genre: Novel
Written: 1994 (Eng. 1999)
Length: 182 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Investigation - US
La pesquisa - US
The Investigation - UK
The Investigation - Canada
L'enquête - France
  • Spanish title: La pesquisa
  • Translated by Helen Lane

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely elaborated two-track mystery

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Investigation involves what at first certainly appear to be two separate story-lines. In one, Parisian police Captain Morvan is leading an investigation into the murder of twenty-seven (and, by the end, several more) old women; in the other, longtime Parisian resident Pigeon has returned to Buenos Aires for a visit and, along with several friends, pursues their mutual interest in: "the famous anonymous dactylogram discovered among Washington's papers, the 815 typed pages of the historical novel In the Greek Tents." (Washington -- and other characters -- also figure in Saer's earlier The Sixty-Five Years of Washington.)
       The murder investigation is a frustrating one, as the old women all appear to trust their executioner, letting him into their homes and often even sharing a meal with him before they are brutally mistreated, raped, and murdered:

Thus far in this century, no individual has killed as much, or with as much personal style, or perseverance, or as much cruelty.
       And, as if to taunt the investigators by his proximity, ever since they established a 'Special Bureau' to work on the case:
his radius of activity, as they say, has grown shorter and shorter, so that the imaginary circumference of the circle around the bureau within which he committed his crimes was narrowing somewhat
       (Hmmm, wonder where that could be going ?)
       The mystery of the manuscript also centers around identification, about who is behind it:
     Among Washington's friends, the discovery of the dactylogram produced, needless to say, tremendous agitation, and of the many enigmas contained in the 815 pages, the identity of the author is one of the most impenetrable.
       And then there is of course the first-person narrator, who for the most part stands very discreetly in the background (most of the novel is not in the first person) but does note -- very familiarly -- early on:
     Knowing you as I do, you must be wondering what place I occupy in this story, I who seem to know more about the facts than what they reveal at first glance and speak of them and transmit them with the mobility and ubiquity of someone who possesses a multiple, omnipresent consciousness
       The mystery-novel, the 'dactylogram' In the Greek Tents, begins with ellipsis dots, and: "the first sentence is not really a complete one but, rather, the conclusion of a sentence all of whose supporting arguments are missing" -- and The Investigation, too, begins, with a statement thrusting readers into the middle of much that remains unknown. Saer's puzzle is elaborate, and much of the fun he has with it is in the elaboration of what surrounds it. It should come as no surprise that the two storylines connect, but what Saer does nevertheless surprises: this is not an obvious investigative procedural, but rather cerebral fiction with a criminal edge, the puzzle as much intellectual as criminal (though the book also offers many of the satisfactions of solid crime fiction).
       The scenes of the brutal murders are, like a work of fiction, carefully staged; indeed: "It made almost too much sense," Morvan at one point thinks. All of The Investigation is staged and presented in this careful way, the artifice of the art behind it even emphasized, and meant not to be forgotten even where it seems a realist work.
       Clever stuff, and well done.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 September 2010

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The Investigation: Reviews: Juan José Saer: Other books by Juan José Saer under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentine author Juan José Saer lived 1937 to 2005.

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© 2010 the complete review

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