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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Betty Boo

Claudia Piñeiro

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To purchase Betty Boo

Title: Betty Boo
Author: Claudia Piñeiro
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 313 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Betty Boo - US
Betibú - US
Betty Boo - UK
Betty Boo - Canada
Bétibou - France
Betibú - Deutschland
Betibú - Italia
Betibú - España
  • Spanish title: Betibú
  • Translated by Miranda France
  • Betibú was made into a film in 2014, directed by Miguel Cohan

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Our Assessment:

B : crime-part feels almost incidental, but otherwise quite good fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Globe and Mail A 3/6/2016 Margaret Cannon
Publishers Weekly . 14/12/2015 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Betty Boo is smart, funny and full of inventive characters" - Margaret Cannon The Globe and Mail

  • "In Piñeiro’s artful hands, each of her investigators learns as much about himself or herself as about the murder on the way to the surprising, perfectly executed ending." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The 'Betty Boo' of the title is mystery writer Nurit Iscar, the one-time 'Dark Lady of Argentine Literature', a nickname (she thinks was) given to her by the married man whose lover she was for two years, Lorenzo Rinaldi, the editor of El Tribuno. The affair broke up her marriage (but not Rinaldi's), and then the affair itself ended, and when the sappy novel that the love-struck author wrote at the time, Only If You Love Me, flopped it: "prompted her to 'do a Salinger' (albeit in a Third World/female/crime-writer-ish way)", and she now only ghost-writes books (needing the money).
       Meanwhile, at El Tribuno long-time crime beat man Jaime Brena has been moved out to the Society section, where he has to deal with ridiculous lifestyle stories; he's seriously considering filling out those voluntary redundancy papers. In his place, Crime is now run by a wet behind the ears lad, -- "Very soft. Generation Google: no legwork, just keyboard and screen, everything off the Internet", Brena thinks.
       The novel opens with a murder at the exclusive La Maravillosa gated community -- the victim found with his throat slit, just like his wife had been three years earlier, a murder which he was not convicted of but which: "99.99 per cent of people" always thought he was guilty of. Brena gets a tip from a high level police official, Comisario Venturini, and this is of course a story that El Tribuno and all the newspapers are eager to get on top of -- but it's not Brena's beat any longer.
       Rinaldi has his own ideas about how they should cover the story, and his inspired idea is to set Nurit up in a house in La Maravillosa, and write her impressions

Listen, watch, think, invent and write. It's not the truth I'm after, it's writing that captivates, it's your interpretation of that world, your description of the people you see around, all those things you do so well.
       Meanwhile, the 'Crime boy' is to do the official reporting. Of course, soon enough Brena is pulled in, too -- and after initially being suspicious of him, Crime boy even embraces him as a mentor.
       An empty picture-frame holds the clue to what might be behind the murder -- or, as soon becomes clear, the murders, as others in that photograph, school friends of the victim from La Maravillosa, turn out to have died in what turn out to be suspicious circumstances. It's layered decently well, and even if the ultimate explanation/resolution seems a bit over the top, the story at least wends it's way quite entertainingly to it, with some decent turns. But ultimately Betty Boo seems to almost only incidentally be a mystery.
       Instead, Piñeiro does what Nurit was tasked to, offering her: "interpretation of that world" and descriptions of these people -- a slice of contemporary Argentine life. This is a very middle-aged novel, with characters who have reached a turning point but don't know where to turn to. Nurit is fifty-four and worried about her sagging looks -- and obviously in a rut; Brena -- who secretly had a crush on Burit years earlier, only for Rinaldi to swoop in and snatch her -- obviously doesn't feel his talents are being used and feels a bit lonely (he's thinking of getting a dog). And oblivious Rinaldi has his own rejuvenating ideas. (Not to bog down entirely in an older generation, the younger one is also somewhat at sea, Crime boy not sure what he's doing, professionally or personally, while another newspaper colleague -- the name behind the scathing review that left Nurit reeling and led her to abandon fiction-writing -- has her own problem to deal with, and the events allow all of them (well, except Rinaldi), to reassess their lives.)
       Piñeiro takes her time and has her fun with other aspects of Argentine life, in particular the in(s)anity of gated-community life -- and here in particular the ridiculous supposed safety procedures for allowing people in and out of such communities. Arguably, there's a bit too much of this -- every boot is checked, many IDs copied -- especially since it has little to do with the case or the story at hand (and, indeed, the one mystery -- how did the murderer get in and/or escape -- is one that ultimately doesn't seem to concern anyone too much), but it fits with giving the novel more a society- rather than strictly-mystery novel feel.
       Piñeiro's narrative -- and especially conversational -- style is also fairly effective -- though it can take some getting used to: instead of neatly separating out speech, using quotes and a new paragraph for each turn in the conversation she packs it all together, undifferentiated, alternating the (mostly short) sentences of conversation (and only intermittently identifying the speaker (though it's generally clear)) or embellishing with descriptions of inflection and the like, as well as the descriptive text. It makes for a packed presentation -- though all the back and forth loosens it up a bit, and it isn't that hard to follow.
       The variations on crime reporting are also fairly interesting, from Nurit's impressionistic pieces to Brena, who knows all the tricks (and is also conveniently fed a lot of information), to Crime boy's use of the Internet (though Brena does nudge him to: "get away from the computer: all that Google isn't good for you") -- while the ultimate explanation, while properly sinister, is maybe too much for the book to handle (and not entirely satisfying).
       Effectively dealing with the mundane -- from the opening scene, the first of several about the difficulties of getting past security at La Maravillosa (especially for the help, who even have to register everything they're bringing in, like their phones, so they won't be accused of theft when they leave) to Nurit's friends (and others) coming to visit her on the job -- Betty Boo is an enjoyable novel piggy-backing on a mystery-story (even if that gets a bit lost in all the other activity). For the most part, there's enough well-paced variety here -- and enough open questions (if not necessarily outright suspense) along the way, from whodunnit (and done what, exactly) to who will hook up with who -- to easily hold the reader's attention.

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 December 2015

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Betty Boo: Reviews: Betty Boop: Betibú - the film: Other books by Claudia Piñeiro under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Argentine author Claudia Piñeiro was born in 1960.

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