The She-Devil in the Mirror is a peculiar novel: it’s a murder mystery with a social conscience. Mixing entertainment with serious social issues is difficult to do well in art, but Horacio Castellanos Moya manages to create a story that is suspenseful while exposing injustice, hypocrisy, racism, class differences and corruption in a Central American country that is recovering from a civil war.
Told through the voice of an upper-class, neurotic woman, the story unfolds in San Salvador, where the narrator’s best friend, Olga Maria, has been killed by a hit man. Why would anyone want to murder a “respectable” woman who apparently didn’t have any enemies? That’s what the narrator, Laura Rivera, sets out to find.
Laura has a perceptive eye and an opinionated tongue. As each of the characters appears, she provides profiles that are peppered with cutting remarks. She doesn’t like dark-skinned people, poor people, priests (especially the left-leaning kind), and boring men, such as her husband, whom she divorced.
Though Laura tries to paint Olga Maria as a devoted wife, she tells us that Olga had a series of secret lovers who may have benefitted from her death. There’s Jose Carlos, a photographer who had to leave El Salvador because he was involved with the Communists during the country’s civil war. On his return, he falls in love with Olga and takes pictures of her in the nude. There’s Yuca, a wealthy businessman who is making a move to run for president of El Salvador. Addicted to cocaine, he can’t get an erection. And much to Laura’s surprise, her husband, Alberto, also had an affair with Olga. Educated in the United States, Alberto is a financial wizard whose investment company in San Salvador has tanked, affecting many of the landowners who are rebounding from the effects of a war that sought to redistribute wealth.
As rumors and speculations abound about the motive, Laura becomes frantic and fearful for her own life. She can’t trust the police because she fears that they are working with the government to cover up the murder. She fears that rich business people with ties to the Cali Cartel might want her dead because she is being too nosy.
Early in the book, Laura states, “In this place everyone knows everything about everybody.” That may be true at the superficial level of a close society, but when it comes to murder, information and the truth become more elusive.
At the end of the book, Laura claims: “With Olga’s murder the same thing will happen that happens with all the crimes committed in this country: the authorities will never find out anything and people will simply forget about it.”
Horacio Castellano Moya does an admirable job in creating a narrator who is unbearable at first with her arrogance and catty remarks, but evolves into a humane person as the case wears her down and her neurosis spirals out of control, talking faster and faster to who knows whom.
Posted: April 20, 2012 at 6:46 pm