Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi by Jorge Luis Borges & Adolfo Bioy-Casares
One of my favourite reads from last year, as I’ve probably mentioned before, was the wonderful crime novel parody “Where There’s Love, There’s Hate” by Silvina Ocampo and Adolfo Bioy Casares. Both authors are well-known for their connection with the great Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, and so when I discovered that Casares had written a crime spoof with the former, I had to track down a copy… Surprisingly, it seems not so well-known as the rest of the two authors’ work, and the copy I finally found was published in 1981 – I’m not sure if it’s been reissued since, but it certainly deserves to be!
The titular Parodi is the detective in question and his name is a clue to the type of book we’re reading here. In fact, the whole thing is laced with in-jokes and was originally published under the pseudonym H. Bustos Domecq. Amusingly, there’s a biography of this so-called author by a school teacher at the end of the book, and a foreword is written by one of the characters! So the scene is set for a book that’s going to be tongue-in-cheek from the very start.
Parodi is a most unusual detective, in that he’s locked up in jail, framed for a crime he apparently didn’t commit. Constantly making and drinking cups of mate, Parodi receives a stream of visitors hoping he can solve puzzles for them – involving murder, blackmail, ghosts, thefts and every kind of crime you can imagine. By exercising his little grey cells (!) and seeing through their stories, Parodi manages to get to the bottom of every kind of conundrum and present a solution that seems obvious once you know it, but mystifying while you’re reading about it.
The clever thing about the book is that Parodi is in effect being presented with a series of unreliable narrators, and his gift is seeing past them to the essential qualities of what they’re telling him. It’s a wonderful exercise in literary detection, as much as anything else, which goes well alongside the parodic qualities of the book itself. There are running characters who feature in a number of the stories, gradually developing their lives and careers following on from Parodi’s solving of their puzzle, and his reputation gradually grows as the book progresses.
There’s also another level of parody in that many of these stories take the tropes of a specific author or style of story (the locked room, for example, or a well-known Agatha Christie) and use this as the basis of the plot. I don’t think I got all of them, but it was fun trying to spot what the authors were spoofing!
All in all, this was a very funny, very clever and very enjoyable read; in fact, I’d like to go back to it again and re-read to see if I could spot more of the references. But even if you don’t get them the book stands in its own right as a wonderful detective spoof and sits beautifully alongside “Where There’s Love, There’s Hate” – perhaps Melville House Press would like to bring out a nice new Neversink edition! 🙂