I missed out commenting on the plaudits that were heaped upon Antonio Hill’s first book The Summer of the Dead Toys. I was living abroad when it came out and it was impossible to get my hands on a copy. However, I was intrigued enough to read Hill’s follow-up book, The Good Suicides, and, with some reservations, I thought it an unusual and dark read.
A man kills his family and then commits suicide. The police record it as a case of domestic tragedy until an unrelated woman kills herself by throwing herself in front of a train. The connection is a team building event that took place for senior staff at Alemany Cosmetics. Each member of the party has received a photo from an anonymous sender showing dead dogs hanging from a tree. Something is compelling the employees to commit suicide and the race is on to find the perpetrator. The case is investigated by Inspector Hector Salgado whose wife disappeared the previous year. A fellow officer tries to unpick that mystery without alerting Salgado to the investigation.
The premise of this book is excellent. Anyone who has ever been on a team building event knows how claustrophobic and unnatural the environment is. For most, it is a relief when the event has finished and therefore a story based on the assumption that something devastating took place that can’t be forgotten carries a strong emotional charge. And the book starts out well. We get the violent and perplexing murder of a young family and the emerging links with the cosmetic company. The problem is that the narrative is very fragmented. Interspersed with the investigation are scenes with a variety of personnel at the Alemany Cosmetics. I’m not sure that the narrative needed so many points of view which served to decrease the dramatic tension of what was an interesting story. A certain amount of the narrative was given over to the relook at Ruth Salgado’s disappearance. This, I thought, worked much better and is a poignant story of a woman who has decided to take control of her direction in life, only to have it brutally snatched away from her.
The writing (and translation by Laura McGloughlin) is excellent and this is what stands out in what I found to be a patchy read. The front end of the book is clearly stronger than its conclusion. I liked the dark depiction of the corporate world with its disparate personalities and the story has plenty of tragic potential. I’m inclined to go and read The Summer of Dead Toys to see how it compares as I can see how the quality of the writers prose could win over fans.
Thanks to Transworld for my copy of the book.