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Archive for June 3rd, 2012

Winner of the Planeta Prize 1998

Translated by Christopher Andrews

Nestor Chaffino, pastry chef to the rich and famous, makes a fatal mistake.  At 4:00 in the morning, following a successful dinner party, he walks into the Westinghouse cool room to store the left-over chocolate truffles.  However, he fails to employ the safety mechanism that would prevent the door from closing behind him.  Which it does.  The question is though did it swing to of its own accord?

During the first chapter we are trapped with the chef as he struggles unsuccessfully to survive in minus 20 degrees.   Thereafter, we move from the corpse in the cool room to the skeletons in the closet.  Each of the house-guests it seems has adequate motive for closing the door on Chaffino.  Following a life-time in service, he was privy to their most intimate and dirty secrets.  It was also known that he was planning to publish a book of “Little Indiscretions”, although what the house guests don’t realise is that he was planning to divulge the secrets of his trade, not their nefarious pasts or, in some cases, presents.

While the setup is very closed-house Agatha Christie, Posadas novel breaks free from that traditional detective form.  For a start, it dispenses with the detective entirely!  The mystery is resolved through the character studies of the distinguished guests and Chaffino’s staff.  This allows Posadas to create her own confection which, like those of the sadly-demised chef, includes unexpected ingredients.  A satirical pen flows freely delivering a magnificent set piece when one of the suspects, art dealer Ernesto Teldi, is interviewed on television.  Miss Ramos, the young ambitious television journalist, is determined to hold him to account for his suspected collaboration with the Argentine military.  She is, however, no match for Teldi’s eyes.

“There is no secret”, Teldi replied (his gaze sliding down from Miss Ramos’s ankles to her shoes, which she suddenly wanted to hide, lest those gallant eyes discover that her seemingly expensive looking footwear was fake)

However, complex recipes may contain ingredients that don’t always blend and, indeed, that was true here.  I wasn’t convinced by the love affair with the woman in the painting, nor by the ultimate resolution to Chaffino’s death.  It reminded me of a disappointing piece of chocolate cake.  One which is simply not worth the calories.  Not that I’m saying Posadas novel isn’t worth reading – just that the resolution had something missing.  The ginger in Chauffino’s chocolate truffles perhaps?

Never have nuances of flavour been so masterfully blended, if I (Chauffino) say so myself:  vanilla, bitter chocolate , liqueur, a touch of ginger. That’s the trick.  The ginger is the secret ingredient that makes a really good chocolate truffle.

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