His survival, instead of being seen as a miracle, shakes the small East Texas town to its rotten core, one stitched together by racism, greed, multiple murders and naked need for power. “They’ll tell you that’s how it is with the birds and such,” warns Millie, the matriarch of the Black family caring for Daniel in the months after his rescue until hotter, more bigoted heads prevail. “That they keep to their own.”
Daniel, narrating as a young man upon his return to the town a decade later, is a winning mixture of curiosity, hesitancy and gumption. These traits will serve him well considering the secrets he’s trying to uncover — long buried in Moon Lake — will soon up the death toll.
Mario Conde, the recurring detective who returns in Leonardo Padura’s THE TRANSPARENCY OF TIME (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 416 pp., $30), is about to turn 60, and he hates everything about it — aging bones, decrepit appearance, medicine-assisted libido — all the more because his partner still adores him, to his bewilderment. His mood darkens further with the arrival of an old friend, Bobby, who’s nursing a broken heart and angry because that faithless lover absconded with a spiritual relic Bobby believes has magical powers.
Conde’s a skeptic, at least until people start turning up dead, and the truth proves weirder than he reckoned. Padura, unsatisfied with mere “Maltese Falcon” homage, dots the narrative with scenes stretching back to the 13th century, where a Catalan peasant doubles as trickster figure. Padura, ably translated here by Anna Kushner, is more successful sticking with Conde’s hard-boiled, secretly terrified worldview than the historical stuff, but I admired the ambition nonetheless.
Sarah Weinman’s column appears twice a month.