Jarv’s Favourite Books. Number 3: Adios Muchachos by Daniel Chavarria

That’s enough of the highbrow novel reviews for a while. Anyone that sees the bookshelf at Casa Del Jarv can easily spot a vast contradiction. On one hand there are works such as The Incredible Lightness of Being, or Kafka, and then bang next to it is some gloriously seedy piece of trash like Eric Van Lustbader’s Ninja. I read pretty omnivorously, and as such there’s no real genre that I stick to. With that minor apology, it’s time to review one of the most gleefully trashy novels that I’ve ever read: Adios Muchachos.

This is a really, really sleazy novel, in fact the whole point of it might be to be little more than an unashamed piece of filth. With that in mind, I have to say that Chavarria’s slight book is more fun than a whole crate full of monkeys. Set in Castro’s Cuba, Adios Muchachos tells the story of Alicia. Alicia is (and there’s no real sugar-coating this one) a hooker and a scam artist. She’s taken to prostitution with a real bang, and developed a con that sees her riding on a bike around the streets of Havana looking for marks to screw. She won’t accept money from them, rather she deliberately breaks the air conditioner or some such and persuades the mark to replace it. Her eventual goal is to find a rich European or South American to marry her and take her away from the poverty and misery of Cuba.

Enter Victor. Victor is the head of the De Groote Tropical Division. He’s persuading the board to finance his plan to have holiday makers explore the reefs around Cuba looking for sunken ships and buried treasure. Victor is also a pervert, and he persuades Alicia to become the private whore for himself and his wife Elizabeth. Things are going swimmingly for everyone until a freak accident sees Elizabeth die, and Victor and Alicia attempt to ransom the body for millions.

What this actually translates to on the page is a whole shit load of nasty sex (really nasty sex), an exciting heist story, and frequent comic interludes. Chavarria knows full well that this is a piece of pulp fiction, and revels in the seedy, dirty world he’s created. Havana springs from the page in this novel- it’s a tropical trash heap, a home for whores and marks, and the actions of the characters are driven primarily by lust and desperation. There’s no depth of perversion that the characters won’t sink to in this novel, and the cavalcade of freaks and weirdos that leap from the page is an endless source of fun.

Alicia, in particular, is gloriously written. She’s no tart with a heart, rather every action that she undertakes is driven by the sole need to save her own ass. She’s proud and capable, and despite being hugely manipulative, sports a nice line in humour. I particularly like her rationale for becoming a prostitutes:

Well, they could take their fucking morality and their fucking principles and stuff them. A whore and that’s that!

I’ve always had a soft spot for characters like this: those that take the morally objectionable and revel in it, and Alicia is arguably the queen. When the scheme is falling down around her ears, she’s not upset, she’s angry and notes that if the ransoming the body doesn’t come off then she’ll have to shed all pretense and become a straight hooker:

The only viable option was to become a normal whore… no disguises, no pretense, just fucking for the money and the glory.

She is awesome.

Aside from Alicia, the other aspect of Adios Muchachos that makes it such a cracking read is that it is frequently very, very funny. When Alicia is running the ransom scheme she dons a variety of disguises, one of which she memorably describes as “Chubby American”. However, the real high point in the comedy stake comes in the parade of freaks that populate the novel- the Dutch Jan van Dongen that Alicia describes as “a nose with a man attached”, Elizabeth herself, or (best of all) Bos, the “jolly red giant”. These minor characters fill out the novel and are all hugely entertaining.

The ransom exchange itself is flat-out hilarious. The scam is so elaborate, and there are so many times that it could clearly fall down that it’s an absolute joy to watch it unfold. Alicia and Victor are clear amateurs, they obviously haven’t got a fucking clue what they’re doing- for example the proof of life photo is a masterpiece of farcical writing. They’ve got the body in a freezer, and have to defrost it to get it in position to take the photograph. This translates to a huge palaver when they discover that the corpse has stuck to the side of the freezer. Eventually, after much manipulation, they manage to pose it sitting in a chair using broom handles. Not all is well, however, and when they take the picture they end up with:

Victor took the first Polaroid and waited for the image to emerge. And there it was… a perfect picture of a corpse tied to a chair

This, clearly, will not do, so Victor devises an elaborate way to move the limbs and forces Alicia under the table to manipulate the corpse like a giant muppet so they can eventually get a passable picture. Very funny stuff.

Overall, this is a cracking romp. It’s gleefully seedy, and unashamedly crass. It’s partial crime fiction, and partial filth and really is one of the most entertaining romps that I’ve read in a long time. I haven’t blown any of the twists here, and there are a few, but if you’ve nothing to read and fancy taking a trip with lowlifes, scumbags, hustlers and Alicia- the pedalling queen of Havana’s whores, then you can do far worse than give Adios Muchachos a whirl.

Until next time,

Jarv

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

19 responses to “Jarv’s Favourite Books. Number 3: Adios Muchachos by Daniel Chavarria”

  1. Jarv says :

    I’d actually like someone to film this one.

    Except you’d have to cut a lot of the sex from it for it not to be porn. I hereby nominate La Mendes as Alicia.

  2. Xiphos0311 says :

    I agree with you Jarv on this book, it’s pure slumming reading wise yet when it’s all said and done it’s not mean spirited or reveling in the baser instincts of the human heart and mind. In my opinion it’s a story of survival and strength with a whole lot of funny and some interesting observations. Totally recommend it and I’m going to find it and read it again it’s been a long time.

    • Jarv says :

      Yup. It’s a dirty, sleazy romp- yet it’s so gleeful and likable that I’d never describe it as mean spirited.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        That was a smart choice be Chavarria the story, at several points, could have easily gone the other way into a cruel and mean spirited direction yet Chavarria wisely doesn’t commit totally so you never loose the goodwill built up towards most of the characters.

        I wonder how different the book is in English? Translations always lose a little flavor from the native language and i read the book in Spanish so I should try it in English and see if I can spot the differences. On the other hand it’s been like 15 years since I read it so I probably won’t recognize anything.

      • Jarv says :

        No idea. I’ve only read it in English.

        The other smart choice is that he does allow a happy ending of sorts- not the heist, but it’s clever how he finds a way out for all of them.

  3. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    geez, this was a strange book. It reads like John Waters and Zalman King and the Cohen brothers got together and made a movie.

    Not really quite my thing, but you make a good point. It was never terribly mean-spirited and clearly meant to just to mostly trashy fun with a somewhat serious undertone about surviving in a world where you seemingly don’t have many choices.

    Good review and nice shout-out to that corpse muppet, arguably the most hilarious portion of the book.

    I’d kill to see that scene in a movie.

    In other news, and this review reminded me, I picked up a copy of Bitch Slap for 99 cents from a defunct Blockbuster and watched it last night with beer.

    Enjoyed it a whole lot more the second time. It’s funny how they made the movie that Machete, Sucker Punch, and Hobo with a Shotgun (yea, sadly, it sucks) wanted to be, and it’s about three times as good.

    Also, love the opening credits with ‘director of craft services’ and ‘poet laureates’ in there. And for all the BS scholars out there, something I missed first time around, but; is that implication at end of movie that Pinky, in addition to being this mythic Keyser Soze character, is also, possibly, the literal Devil?

    There was an odd moment there where I half expected to see the ground open up and the car drive in. That look on her face is almost the same one that Kim Novak has at end of Devil’s Triangle, and so I thought they were going for something there.

  4. Tom_Bando says :

    Halfways thru Belisarious, a not-bad write up of everyone’s fave Justinian age Byzantine general. His wife Antonina is basically Alicia here w/ more $$.

    Interesting book there Jarv.

    My wife is from the Caribbean and she sez they’re mostly crazy down there. You gotta watch the Dominicans.

    • Jarv says :

      Mrs Jarv is also Latina.

      Very moody and tempermental. Makes up for it in other ways

      • Tom_Bando says :

        Mrs Bodet isn’t a Latina, but a Black Carib. But I grant you the moody and temperamental stuff. It’s in the air down there!

      • Jarv says :

        Fair ‘Nuff. I think it’s in the blood. Mrs Jarv is half Brazilian from SF.

        Give this book a spin- no giant robots but trashy as hell and good fun.

        I really want someone to film it. Maybe we should do it after Astrodykes breaks all box office records.

    • Tom_Bando says :

      Jarv-well no Giant Robots in Belisarius either(unless you count Justinian himself–)but it’s still a worthy read.

      Sure I’ll give this a looksee sometime.

      Under N*O* circumstances is Cokey to be allowed ANYWHERES near it.

  5. Xiphos0311 says :

    Here’s a friendly tip. You never want to end up in jail for any length of time for any reason anywhere in the Caribbean basin. You just don’t, I wish somebody clued me into that little fact.

    • Tom_Bando says :

      I hear St Martins is a place to NOT go to jail in esp.

      • koutchboom says :

        Hehehe St. Maarten was cool its just like one giant resort. Good times there. NOW Dominican Republic and Trinidad those places were much more raw, always felt like I was one slip up away from getting put into white slavery.

      • Tom_Bando says :

        Mrs Bodet worked in SXM as they call it for about 10 years, sez it’s become really crime ridden since. It’s like ‘gold traders is us’ along w/ drugs galore. She’s from Dominica, which for the most part sounds like it’s (relatively speaking) unspoiled by the swarms of tourists. Must be the mountains.

  6. L Bronco says :

    whew! Nice write up jarv.

    Here’s as good a place as any-I finished “Blood Meridian” man that dude can write. I generally have a good vocabulary-but boy does he push it.

    Interesting fact-the novel is largely based on researched fact in regards to the Clanton Gang-There really was a judge Holden-he was a child-murdering sonuvabitch…Creepy.

  7. ThereWolf says :

    Hopefully, I’ll give this one a go at some point. I don’t read a lot any more, though I try. I can only read on the bus to and from work. If I read at home or on holiday – I fall asleep. It’s really irritating when that happens.

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