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,