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Author(s): Cynthia Schmidt-Cruz
Source: Chasqui, Vol. 39, No. 2 (Noviembre 2010), pp. 171-191
Published by: Chasqui: revista de literatura latinoamericana
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41340876
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Cynthia Schmidt-Cruz
University of Delaware

Argentine journalist Miguel Bonasso has noted that Raymond Chandler would have been h
put to create a fictional plot that could outdo Argentine reality:
En la Argentina contemporánea, el novelista policial Raymond Chandler se hubier
muerto de hambre, porque le hubiera costado encontrar una trama más negr
perversa, intrincada y decadente que la que suministran los medios a diario. (
manera de prólogo" no pag.)
Bonasso's observation is slightly off the mark: rather than trying to compete with this sin
reality, Argentine writers of fiction have found inspiration in the intricate and brazen manipulat
of political operatives and crime networks. Indeed, the novela negra thrives in this milieu.
While detective literature in the Hispanic world originated as an imitation or parody of t
classic British style mystery or "enigma" characterized by Agatha Christie and popularize
Argentina by Borges, in recent decades it has undergone a transition toward the novela negra w
derives from the North American hard-boiled genre initiated by Dashiell Hammett and Raym
Chandler.1 Mexican writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II offers a succint and cogent defintion of the g
"Una novela negra es aquella que tiene en su corazón un hecho criminal y que genera una invest
ción. Lo que ocurre es que una buena novela negra investiga algo más que quién mató o qu
cometió el delito, investiga a la sociedad en la que los hechos se producen. Empieza contand
crimen, y termina contando cómo es esa sociedad" (Salado interview, n. pag.). The novela negr
good medium, in the words of Метро Giardinelli, "para comprender, primero, y para interro
después, el mundo en que vivimos" (Giardinelli cited in Kohut, 173). Considered a variant
development of detective fiction (called ficción policial or policíaca in Spanish), the term n
negra comes from the French roman noir and the closest English-language equivalent is crime n
It has become a favored genre to address political reality, particularly in situations where the stat
involved in criminality, corruption is rampant, and wrongdoers escape with impunity.

^or a comprehensive study of how the Latin American detective genre evolved from its Bri
and U. S. roots as well as a discussion of terminology relating to variations of the genre, see Braha
i-xvand 1-17.


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1 72 The Argentine Novela Negra Critiques the 1 990s

The novela negra has the capacity to describe the world of political and e
when it incorporates the psychological thriller, to explore the inner recesse
Noir sensibility captures the notion of widespread perversion of ethical valu
political problems when the state has lost its monopoly of law enforcement
looted by social forces. The addition of intrigue and suspense to this alr
explains the popularity of this genre, as readers have turned to the novela
portrait of contemporary society. Indeed, Justo E. Vasco wrote: "Es la novel
actualmente lo más brillante de la literatura de muchos países. Y eso se debe
fuerte vinculación con la realidad social y los mecanismos que dentro de ella
Vasco' s assessment may be a bit overly enthusiastic in regard to the literar
negra, it is undoubtedly a global phenomenon; in each country it takes o
according to its society.
So how can we approach a characterization of the contemporary Arge
Argentine writer Sergio Olguin, who has declared "ficción policial" " el géne
a la literatura argentina," discusses its crucial role in representing politic
imposible pensar la novela política: la única manera de pensar lo político es a
porque delito y política se han relacionado mucho en los últimos años...el po
fácil de hacer entrar esos aspectos en la literatura, sin caer en el panfleto ni en
(Cited by Enriquez 3). Another Argentine writer, Carlos Gamerro, has pr
relato policial argentino," the first axiom being "El crimen lo comete la polic
Although there are notable exceptions, the majority of the Argentine no
been published since the end of the dictatorship in 1983 fall into two main
denounce the criminality of the state during the "Dirty War" and, with the ret
that critique social violence and political corruption during the 1990s under t
Menem.4 Another recent group deals with the crisis of 2001. In this study, I
Argentine crime novels set in the decade of the 4 90s, first to point out som
next to provide a closer look at two novels that critique political cultur
administration. El vuelo de la reina (2002) by Tomás Eloy Martínez and El m
by Rubén Correa are inspired by actual events: high level crimes that h
Reflecting this culture of impunity as well as the recent role of the press i
scandals, journalists carry out the detective function. This revision of the de
retrofit a traditional model, allowing it to narrate and critique contemporary A

2See Close, Contemporary Hispanic Crime Fiction , pages 93-139 for a d

the development of the novela negra in Argentina. He signals 1973 as the ye
own as "a new dominant in the Argentine crime fiction" (96).

3Clearly there is not universal agreement in regard to the use of the ter
Sergio Olguin refers to "ficción policial" in the sense that I am using "the
when Gamerro declares that novela negra is losing ground in Argentina (80
narrow definition of the genre as detective-centered. I am following a broader
calls the "the predominant understanding of the novela negra as a b
encompassing both detective-centered and criminal-centered subgenres" ( C
Crime Fiction , 62).

4There are noteworthy contemporary Argentine writers who practice

"literatura de enigma," including Guillermo Martínez and Pablo de Santis, a
de Oxford and El enigma de París , respectively.

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Cynthia Schmidt-Cruz 173

Menem's presidency (1989-1999) ush

structure, as new neoliberal economic
deteriorated into the economic, polit
shortly after Menem took office - in
denunciations of wrongdoing and ens
company complained that it was asked
tina, and Menem's brother-in-law wa
officials were involved in drug-mone
were involved in the scandals, accused
police corruption (Waisbord, "Readin
photographer José Luis Cabezas and
Buenos Aires, which resulted in over a
were suspected of mishandling th
nationalized industries, a key part of
government officials to enrich them
government officials, including the p
implantation of the free market system
the new neoliberal economy - financ
judging the behavior of public and po
the globalized economic model formed
of his coterie promoted frivolity an
emulate the nouveau riche who bene
Menem and his garish, pleasure-seeking
The Argentine novelas negras that
corruption and impunity, and the winn
got rich quickly and those excluded fro
from the local police to the office o
privileged or the marginal, the breakdo
norm, and scenes set in the streets of B
novels portray cosmopolitan lifestyl
global crime and terror networks. It i
journalists before they tried their hand
chronicling contemporary society.
An overview of selected works illu
chronicle. Asalto al paraíso by Marcos
two Jewish institutions in Buenos Ai
indiscreto the use of a journalist protag
lines tell the stories of television pers
the Israeli Embassy to prevent a second
been brought to Buenos Aires to can

5For a detailed account of the labyri

privatization process see Verbitsky's R

6Several biographies have been publi

see Walger's Pizza con champán . Th
accounts of his life and political career,

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1 74 The Argentine Novela Negra Critiques the 1 990s

attempt to investigate the first attack and forestall a repeat is thwarted by the
Argentine functionaries with the terrorists.
Other novels narrate the dark side of the seemingly comfortable lives of
décimo infierno by Метро Giardinelli tells the hair-raising tale of a business
go on a frenzied killing spree, beginning with the murder of the man's wife
"una novela menemista... Expresa lo que ha sido este gobierno: una forma d
corrupción absoluta de valores, ... un vértigo de acción irreflexiva." (Giardine
Both Las viudas de los jueves by Claudia Piñeiro and Retrato de familia con m
focus on the hypocrisy, decadence, and desperation that hide behind the wall
communities called "countries" where the nouveau riche end up murderin
members in an effort to preserve their privileged way of life. In Carlos
caníbal , politicians, businessmen, and beautiful models accompanied by tann
the legendary restaurant Almacén Buenos Aires unaware that the exquisite d
palate are made of human flesh. Other works depict the marginalization and
working class as well as the breakdown in social ties brought about by the gl
economy. Puerto Apache by Juan Martini represents the violent and precarious
in a squatter settlement a stone's throw from the elegant Puerto Madero. L
portrays the social changes in outlaying Buenos Aires neighborhoods, where t
traditional bonds of friendship between restless youth with little hope for their
It thus comes as no surprise that writers have found this genre to be ideal
Menem administration and the lifestyle his behavior spawned. In this study,
de la reina and El muerto indiscreto make use of the novela negra to depict g
as well as the spirit of excess and moral abandon that characterized this per
novels incorporate scandals that surfaced during the Menem presidency and
investigative reporter in denouncing official wrongdoing and impunity. Bo
versions of Menem and highlight the president's greed as well as his skill at
evading justice. They are set in an Argentina that has been infected by the
transgression of moral norms.
In her study Juegos de seducción y traición , Ana María Amar Sánchez exam
[que] trabaja las formas populares" (21). She explains how popular literary fo
with their reproduction of formulas: the reader experiences pleasure up
anticipated, is consoled with repetition, the return to the same (30). When certa
codes and transform them in a key point, they betray the reader's expectatio
the reader's seduction and betrayal, opens to the possibility of a political
Sánchez notes that the detective genre has modified the canonical component
truth, and justice - as it carries out a progressive politicization of crime (47)
these novels reproduce and transform formulas of the hard-boiled genre as the
in Argentine history.

Hard-boiled Journalists

The investigation of crimes - the basic stuff of detective fiction - is the focus of El vuelo and El
muerto. As may be imagined, in the triad of "crime, truth, and justice" the last term is absent. The
failure of justice is connected to the alteration of another triad of detective fiction - that of criminal,

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Cynthia Schmidt-Cruz 1 7 5

victim, and detective - as an invest

transformations of the classic formula al
Journalist as People's Detective," Hora
Argentina has played in a political sys
Walsh and Raymond Chandler as the bas
by Página/12, the Argentine daily cred
1990s. Walsh's Operación masacre , the n
of Peronist militants in the aftermath
expelled Perón, is considered the first L
a special military unit in 1977 the day aft
epitome of the lone reporter working ten
unpunished. Chandler's fiction establishe
in North America - for instance the cen
police corruption - which would becom
crime fiction.
This mix of Walsh and Chandler crea
Argentine crime novels as they combine
the story of determined investigativ
corruption that prevailed during the Men
Taking a cue from detective fiction, in
death-detection-explanation. The initi
amusing twist: instead of the typical
"resurrection." In the men's room of a p
into a man he believes is Luis Kunny, a
accident two years earlier. Dargas will sp
Kunny really alive? If so, why and how
Another classic formula that Correa incor
of the "crime" - the trail of corruption
staging of his death - and that of Darga
a second time, a traditional "detached" in
discovers that he is being pursued by hi

El muerto indiscreto incorporates the investigative focus of the classic detective story. Several
investigative teams - a local police team, the regional Buenos Aires police, and private investigators
from a U. S.-based firm - play an important role. The "policia científica bonarense" works on the
case, reconstructing the accident that presumably caused Kunny's death. They find a series of
inconsistencies that lead them to believe that the accident was staged and that the body is not
Kunny's, and Dargas discovers that the police experts had been pressured by the Ministry of Justice

7Indeed, the title of Close's article, "The Detective is Dead. Long Live the Novela Negral " spells out
this change. Close's analysis demonstrates that, with the trend of "criminal ascendency" reflecting
regional crises (147), the old style private eye has practically disappeared from Latin American
"detective" fiction.

8 Waisbord reports that Página/ 12 "has become synonymous with watchdog journalism in
contemporary Argentina," adding that "one of its main contributions has been to put watchdog
journalism at the center of the Argentine media and to push other dailies to produce investigations"
( Watchdog 77).

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1 7 6 The Argentine Novela Negra Critiques the 1 990s

to alter their report. "La policía bonaerense estaba lejos de ser la cima de la ho
perfección," concedes Dargas, "pero los peritos jamás habían visto una mani
grosera a la hora de validar las conclusiones de una autopsia" (88).
A second investigation into the "accident" is opened when Kunny's "wid
reckless road repair work contributed to the fatal crash, sues GAJA, S.A., the c
highway reconstruction. GAJA hires a North American detective agency named
the investigation. These independent investigators soon discover the flagrant
evidence and also the reasons behind the failure to establish the truth of the matt
vieron ... que detrás del caso se estaban moviendo fuertes intereses vinculad
gobierno" (271). GAJA will use the information obtained by the O'Higgins a
government, obtaining multi-million dollar contracts for public works. And of co
will get his cut of these contracts. This systemic corruption - of top governm
enterprise, and independent investigators - is what propels the reporter onto t
and expose the facts behind Kunny's disappearance.
Characters in El muerto also draw on detective conventions. Recallin
observations about the seduction of the reader with the repetition of formul
reencounter stock characters from Chandler's fiction: a reporter who resemble
femme fatale. Dargas has much in common with Chandler's Philip Marlowe: si
is a down-and-out character who becomes a solitary crusader in search of truth, c
the Kunny story when all odds are against him and the newspapers of Buenos A
vested interests, decide not to run his investigative report. Sexy dangerous
collusion or at odds with their tough guy counterparts are a standard feature of h
fiction. In El muerto , the femme fatale is embodied by the character of B
beautiful and manipulative mistress whose know-how, ambition, and taste for l
heady accumulation of a vast fortune. When Dargas shows up to interview he
Miami estate, Belle attempts to seduce him and he flees in terror. Belle's aggr
decadent lifestyle represent "the nastiness" of which Dargas fears he may become
Criminality and suspense are also central features of El vuelo de la reina , w
two interconnecting plot lines, each involving a cluster of crimes. The first crime
government wrongdoing, has to do with an arms sale scandal and its spin-
enrichment, and money laundering, as well as the suspicious deaths of several o
second plot line centers on the sentimental relationship between two jour
magnate GM. Camargo and reporter Reina Remis - who are working to
corruption. Reina becomes an obsession for Camargo, and this plot line culm
passion: he murders her when she tries to leave him.
The story of official wrongdoing is introduced with the news of the suicide of
accused of contraband arms sales. He was suspected of receiving a multim
distributed among the complicit parties. A film of him negotiating the transf
dollars to a Luxembourg account had been made public, and a judge had ordere
organizer of an "asociación ilícita." Despite the fact that his widow found him w
in the mouth, the official version will be that Valenti 's death was accidental, not

9This detail is also reminiscent of Chandler's fiction - for example, Marlowe

the overtures of the alluring Sternwood sisters in The Big Sleep. Other examp
threatening women are "little Velma" who converted herself into Helen Gr
Lovely and the platinum blond Linda Loring in The Long Goodbye. (For more o
see Horsley, 81-82). Neither El muerto nor El vuelo is free of the stereotypical
of women that characterizes hard-boiled detective fiction.

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Cynthia Schmidt-Cruz 177

Camargo, pushing to get to the bott

American cities. He hits pay dirt w
Paulo daily O Jornal , with news ab
dollars in a Banco do Brasil account.
be a money laundering front, deposit
it to a bank in Uruguay.
The crime of state is inextricably
tired of hiswife Brenda, becomes in
they develop an intense personal a
cheating on him with a Colombian j
on her from a window that faces the
revenge her treachery, he secretly a
who is infected with an unnamed dise
newspaper. Believing he has humb
advances, and Camargo shoots her d
While the story of the state crime
passion begins in medias res with C
date: July 1, 1997. This time referen
Robert Mitchum. Mitchum's death
Camargo as their mutual fascination
the death of the fictional Senator Val
The public crime mirrors or interfa
between Camargo and Pimenta Ne
Camargo with the information that b
Neves will murder his lover Sandra
third chapter, entitled "Una pasión
Neves, as Camargo reflects that Nev
Camargo's comparison of their mor
heinous crime. The relationship betwe
the crime of state and crime of passio
El vuelo incorporates the triangulat
victim, and detective (in the form of
"detectives" investigating the crime
passion. There is a strong presence o
us close to the twisted thoughts of
first and second person narrators e

10For an analysis of the HIV/AIDS m

11 The crime that the fictional Cam

Neves, director of the Gazeta Merca
his project for the novel was all but a
hasta en los más mínimos detalles c
[Martínez]. Esa extraña circunstanc
(Denoy). Martínez wrote an article
published in La Nación on September
title, "Una pasión brasileña," and the

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1 7 8 The Argentine Novela Negra Critiques the 1 990s

flouts the law (Priestman 34). 12 The thriller atmosphere is heightened with ref
noir films. When Camargo meets Reina in the press room at time of Mitchum
Mitchum's starring role in Night of the Hunter , and its message of good and
Reina, Camargo compares his vigil to that of James Stewart in Hitchc
Additionally, Camargo says that Reina's prose is "tan insidiosa como Patric
arguably the queen of classic American noir. These allusions to iconic no
conjure up visual images and sensations that help create a mood of paranoia an
Reina serves as a femme fatale: it is Camargo 's obsession with her sensuali
commit the crime of passion. As victim, she trapped in a noir world where j
impossible. When her doctor advises her to report her attack to the police, sh
aconseja que vaya a la policia? ¿Vive en Buenos Aires o en Oslo?" (262). Bue
as an urban space rendered unsafe by poverty and homelessness, where crim
jeopardy if they make the mistake of going to the police. Indeed, in Game
"Decálogo del relato policial argentino," axiom seven is "El principal sospecho
la víctima" (91).

Incorporation and transformation of historical elements

Through the incorporation of actual people and events, El muerto and

critique of contemporary Argentine reality. Walsh's Operación masacre
investigative journalism by using novelistic techniques to narrate the facts of a
El vuelo could be considered fictional continuations of the tradition establish
their plot lines are inspired by actual scandals that have gone unpunis
investigated by journalists who may fancy that they are following in Wal
expose wrongdoing. Indeed, Camargo 's investigative work is put side to side w
narrator informs us that Camargo 's exposé of the deplorable conditions in
abandono , became a classic and was used along with Operación masacre in
(Martinez 74). Both El muerto and El vuelo are novels about investigative jour
In each novel historical elements are woven into fictional plots. El muerto
extensive cast of characters who are thinly disguised versions of individuals
Menem government. Kunny is introduced as one of the "Doce Apósteles" of S
president. These men were Jalil 's closest friends and advisors who orchestrated
the presidency and were awarded top level posts in his administration. While
a way of doing business in the Jalil government, the scandals provoked by
constant negative attention from the press. When Jalil uses him in a scheme
powerful businessmen, the Born brothers (the real name of a wealthy Ar
business world), Jalil suggests that it is time for Kunny to stage his own death.

12The novel begins in the third person and switches to the second person i
Camargo reads about Pimenta Neves 's crime of passion and reflects on wheth
paper. Chapter Four returns to the third person, but Chapters Seven and Nin
person as Camargo contemplates Reina's betrayal, and plans and executes his
destroy her. Martinez spoke about his use of the second person in an in
escribía sobre Camargo, yo recuerdo que decía...ahora voy a bajar a mis propio
una sensación real que sentía, la exploración...y por eso hay un momento en
soy incapaz de capturar al personaje en plenitud, tratándolo en tercera perso
segunda, porque no podía verlo de otro modo" (Martínez, "El tono de la nove

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Cynthia Schmidt-Cruz 179

double cross Jalil, keeping the presid

fugitive status.
The reader with a basic familiarity
Jalil as a very slightly altered versi
intrigue are products of the autho
events, or, as was my case, who were
much of what seems to be fiction is
Only superficial details differentiat
his fictional double in the novel, sp
middle name Saúl) and ethnicity: J
Syrian origin, has been called "el turc
closely associated with Menem, and on
underlings to a godfather type f
predilections identify him with Mene
contrast with delusions of grandeur -
Menem, the fictional Saud was separ
for political ends when he set his s
extended family - "cuñados, primos
humanitaria en los cuales ellos pudie
comisiones ...fueron a sus bolsillos"
Zulema Yoma, as well as Menem's br
While Jalil's "double" is obvious, t
Kunny, the eponymous "muerto ind
Indeed, the reader who allows herse
life parallels, becomes the ultimat
secundario, pero bien que estaba
Menem collaborator - one of his "do
funcionariado de los 4 90" [que est
While the fictional Kunny becomes
distinction of being the third Menem
"enriquecimiento ilícito" of over a
having augmented his personal wort
("Alberto Kohan intento justificar s
However, the novel contains many
read biographies and articles about
novel leapt out at me from the ar
composite character: he also incorp
Spinosa Melo, Alberto Brito Lima, an

13Cerruti uses the nickname to ent

Vázquez points out that "el título m
mafiosa, especie de club de hombres
apelativo es un santo y seña para lo
sicarlistas, obedientes/obsecuentes d

14Numerous articles provide the

"Procesan a Kohan por enriquecimie

15 In Pizza con champán , Sylvina W

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1 80 The Argentine Novela Negra Critiques the 1 990s

Rubén Cardozo was another of Menem's twelve apostles. Cardozo' s res

government post due to his involvement in a voucher scandal, his subsequent
to Paraguay and consul in Miami, as well as his obituary and his return from th
life of the fictional Kunny. In his diplomatic destinations, Kunny repeats the
funds and involvement in drug trafficking in which Cardozo reportedly wa
detail of the bill from Hong Kong Grand tailors for thousands of dollars for
Kunny charged to the government is taken from published accounts of C
Kunny succumbed to the charms of Belle Rocco, his secretary, while the real lif
press attaché in Miami, Anabel Lodko.16 Kunny's complaint to "El Flaco Ustin
his share of the booty (37) reiterates a demand that Cardozo made to Bauzá,
functionary (Cerruti 319). Finally, when Kunny stages his death, his obitua
"Falleció ayer Luis Kunny" and is dated March 17, 1997 - the same date and
obituary in La Nación. What is more, Correa ran into Cardozo in Buenos
publication of his obituary!17
The episode regarding Kunny's Chilean ambassadorship corresponds to
Spinosa Melo. The fictional Kunny filmed sex and drug parties in the am
which Belle Rocco, his beautiful blond partner, served as the lure. He then
attempt to extort wealthy Chilean industrial giants who succumbed to Belle
may think that this episode was inserted for the obligatory kinky sex scenes
turns out that Correa is not inventing - according to several sources Spin
negras" at his residence with the participation of his stunning second wi
Sylvina Walger informs:
Al embajador en Chile, Oscar Spinosa Melo, le tocó inaugurar la
macia non sancta luego de que fuera acusado por prominentes figu
tismo de chantajearlos con dar a conocer videos y fotografías qu
protagonistas de las singulares fiestas que el funcionario argent
residencia y a las que no habría sido ajena su ex segunda mujer, la
Sword. (266)
Additionally, the fictional Kunny's assault on a woman in a hotel in Recoleta is taken from the
escapades of the roguish Spinosa Melo.18
A fourth individual who inhabits Kunny's body is Alberto Brito Lima. And again, fact is stranger
than fiction. Kunny's outrageous stall tactics when he was ordered to leave the Miami consulate

events involving these men that Correa attributes to the fictional Kunny.

16Sources for information on Rubén Cardozo include Walger 268-68, Clarín articles "Falleció
ayer Rubén Cardozo" and "Los casos que conmovieron al Servicio," Microsemanario "Embajadas
del escándalo," and Carlos del Frade "Aviones y pistas clandestinos."

17The author explains: "The real thing with Cardozo is that he supposedly died from a heart
attack by late March 1997; I was in New York at the time and got the news through the Internet.
..And then, more than a year later, that unexpected encounter at El Mirasol. I remember that
unconsciously I said 'look, here comes the dead man'. And after a casual, irrelevant five minutes
talk, he and the man I renamed Del Morral left. Never heard of Cardozo again since that night and
never looked for him." From an e-mail correspondence with Rubén Correa, April 8, 2008.

18 For details, see Martorell 's book, Sanz's article, "El embajador del miedo," and articles in
La Nación-. "Spinosa y Vázquez, a los ojos de Chile" by Federico Quilodrán, "Spinosa Melo
desmiente," and "Revés de Spinoza [sic] Melo en corte." Spinosa Melo's account of his
diplomatic career, Sobre el volcán , refutes many of the charges of wrongdoing.

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Cynthia Schmidt-Cruz 181

correspond to the behavior of Brito L

Finally, the episode in which Kunny
happened to Juan Carlos elot, who se
and who has also been accused of corr
denies accusations of illicit enrichmen
elot's protestations of innocence (Walg
To create his muerto indiscreto, Cor
shadiest functionaries in Menem's g
individuals serves to convey the extre
law and the sentiment of impunity.
Secondary characters representing
historical counterparts, for example t
secretary to the president. The name
Menem's personal secretary who enjoy
Hernández was among the first indiv
Switzerland for money laundering, an
account connected to Hernández. Open
housed in Lichtenstein, it is said to
Hernández's involvement in intrigue
incorporates these aspects of Hernánd
are his servility and degree of intima
relentlessness. Among his sources of
have an audience with the president (
en Andorra, la White Shark Fundati
country of the ghost firm). Portraye
eliminate Kunny.
Incidents of fraudulent schemes in E
the Menem government, for instance
was the distribution of supermarket
enriched a government functionary b

19Kunny's string of puerile excuses f

experiencing spikes of high blood pres
to take leave of the president, that he
residents who want to vote in the n
behavior is related in detail in Micros

20For information about the investiga

following articles in La Nación : tw
promete develar" and "Viajan a Suiza
Aleonada Mon, "Suiza investiga a más

2 Fernández has been implicated in

allegedly refused to cooperate with t
ingresado al país como parte de pago p
caso Armentano y la injusticia").

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1 82 The Argentine Novela Negra Critiques the 1 990s

bought with government money. The novel mentions "dinero del narco
campaña de Jalil" (37), an accusation that has been levied against Menem' s p
Other mentions of official wrongdoing in the novel cannot be document
amount of money the president has made in undercover deals. Since leaving
under investigation for illicit enrichment - bribery, fraud, kickbacks, and e
2009 he was indicted for embezzlement and a freeze was imposed on one hun
his assets. The extent of Menem's fortune is unknown although in 1995 he repo
had reached 1.5 billion dollars.23 El muerto echoes this misconduct, highlig
illicit dealings. He has received nearly twenty-four million dollars from Kun
of each "business deal" that every good jalilista was obligated to render to
knew that Jalil did not keep his money in Switzerland as legend had it - onl
the event that "en algún futuro muy remoto e impensable, a algún juez indis
se le ocurriera rastrear el dinero del presidente" (360). Dargas speculates i
¿Cuánta plata juntó el Libanês? ¡Quién puede saber eso!... Entre nosotros, con los
otros muchachos, varias veces hicimos juegos sobre todo lo que juntó en estos años.
¿Y sabés de que cifras llegamos a hablar? ¡De mil millones, mil quinientos millones,
y hasta de dos mil quinientos millones de dólares! (Correa 360-61)
Thus, those close to Jalil believe that he possesses billions in secret overseas accounts.
Even more serious is the fact that Jalil's cronies can operate with impunity, eliminating
individuals who have become a political liability, including his own functionaries. In El muerto
indiscreto suspicious deaths occur that Dargas links to Jalil. Three people involved in the faked death
of Kunny met "accidental" ends that Dargas called "los medios de ejecución de algunos de los que
sabían demasiado... [e]ran muertes muy selectivas, avisos para navegantes... para que el silencio se
impusiera" (322). The series of suspicious deaths related in El muerto resemble real life events: in

22For information on the "bonos" and "guardapolvos" schemes, see for instance, Verbitsky 115-
16, Cerruti 342, and Wornat 81-82. Discussion of the implication the involvement of Menem's
relatives with a drug trafficking ring can found in Wornat 161-64, Cerruti 254-57 and Waisbord 34-

23Wornat reports "[En] una noche de 1995 se realizó una fiesta.. .en la que Carlos Menem,
rodeado de sus íntimos, festejó las dimension que entonces alcanzaría su fortuna: mil quinientos
millones de dólares" (147). By the time that El muerto indiscreto was published in 2003, Menem
had been under investigation for two years for alleged cases of corruption during his presidency. By
March 2004 Menem faced a complicated judicial situation, with a series of cases initiated against
him by Argentine courts. The charges included 1) maliciously omitting a Swiss bank account from
his sworn declaration of properties as head-of-state, money possibly received from illegal arms
trafficking, which would constitute crimes of ideological falseness and money laundering; 2)
"bribery and fraud against the State in the construction of two jailhouses during his mandate"; and 3)
abuse of power ("The Menem Case," The Santiago Times. March 31, 2004). However, Menem, then
married to a Chilean citizen and former Miss Universe, Cecilia Bolocco, was residing in Chile with
his wife and their son and refused to return to Argentina to face the charges. In December 2004 he
finally returned to Argentina. The trial has been long and drawn-out. On June 4, 2009, Menem, along
with eight of his ex-functionaries, was indicted for embezzlement ("el pago de sobresueldos") and a
freeze was imposed on one hundred million dollars of his assets. Evidence connected to the case
indicated up to four hundred million dollars in embezzled funds. (Fernández Moores for Clarín , June
4, 2009 and "Un sobresalto," Página/12, June 4, 2009)

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Cynthia Schmidt-Cruz 183

the 1990s over a dozen potential witn

other government scandals meet strang
Thus, many aspects of the characters
detailed above, some of the most incrim
may be based on insider information
never be neither confirmed nor dispr
that he became a billionaire from illic
guise of fiction, El muerto indiscreto
impunity that prevailed during a recent
An equally unsettling image of Arg
scandal and its spins-offs that Cam
Argentina between 1995 and 1998. Ar
tional agreements. Government offici
that the arms had been sold to Vene
original crime including the seemingl
series of suspicious deaths mentioned
witness in the ongoing arms sale invest
and his death was declared a suicide. H
play - for instance he was right-handed
In the novel, as mentioned above, th
Senator Valenti, who appears to be atth
scheme. Valenti had negotiated an arm
the weapons had been sent to different
of sixteen million dollars to an accoun
Croatia, Albania or Serbia, and it was sp
with the president receiving the laigest
investigate if the suicide was genuine
quiet (35). Thus, the figure of Valent
official scandal - illegal arms sales, illi
A central element of the historical c
remains unnamed in the novel, but
description that stresses the falseness
body with a simulacrum of youth:
Era un hombre pequeño, esmirr
Unas hebras de pelo falso y ret
coronilla. La cirugía plástica le da
un muñeco de torta. (32)26

24In response to the allegations of h

that summarized the suspicious dea
Clifford Krauss.

25Estrada had been maintaining silen

believed that he was about to talk.
person involved in arms trafficking,
trafficking to Croatia and had hinted t
by Gutma, Calv, and Santoro and Cliffo

26Wornat describes Menem's obses

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1 84 The Argentine Novela Negra Critiques the 1 990s

Many other characteristics are taken from Menem, such as his tendency to depre
his reputation as a mujeriego , and his taste for "trajes de seda lustrosos que r
que debía ser la elegancia" (118).
The episode in El vuelo about the president's mystic vision and his internm
are also inspired by Menem's life. In Menem , la vida privada , Wornat n
tendencies (101) and observes that he had a special affinity with Jesus C
declaration: "Yo, como todos, tengo un ángel protector...Y el mío ha sido siem
Cerruti documents Menem's intent to use a spiritual retreat for political pur
participation in bread-making: "lo había pensado como una maniobra publ
periodismo al convento de los monjes trapenses en Azul y se fotografió amans
religiosos" (368).
The novel mocks the president's spiritual tendencies. Soon after the news o
transaction breaks in Camargo 's paper, another daily reports that the president
Jesus Christ - taken as a sign of divine recognition of the president's inn
president will retire to meditate in a monastery in the pampas. Of course this is
draw public attention away from the scandal, and it is successful insofar as a ma
to the president and the mystic vision resonates with a superstitious public:
"El Presidente tiene visiones místicas" era el título de El Heraldo en la edición del
día siguiente. Camargo estaba seguro de que el diario rival no publicaría una sola
palabra sobre los escandalosos depósitos en el banco de San Pablo. ...[E]l presidente
los había colmado de favores... Calculó ese silencio, pero no el efecto teatral de un
título más llamativo. Visiones místicas. En un país que había sido gobernado por
magos y adivinos, esa frase era un imán. (84-85)
The press transmits images of the president kneeding dough with the monks: "El jefe del Estado
argentino, con la camisa arremangada, hunde sus manos en la humilde parva de harina y agua
salada" (93-94). Thus, the episode about the fictional president's feigned mystic vision and spiritual
retreat serves to parody Menem's mystic bent as well as his shameless tactic of preying on the
populace's credulity for political gain.
Other episodes relating to the president are purely fictional, but contain details that correspond
to Menem. A prime example of an episode that blends fiction and elements of reality is the fictional
ex-president's suicide in 2003 - he plunges his private jet into the sea at Viña del Mar because his
second wife, a Chilean singer and actress, was going to leave him (169). The suspicion of his hidden
wealth is confirmed at the reading of his will when the notary announces that the ex-president's
fortune was over 389 million dollars instead of the almost three million dollars he had declared as
his only capital when he left office. " 'Yo sabía, yo sabía', se oyó decir a la primera esposa. 'Murió
como vivió, engañándonos a todos'" (170). Of course Menem did not commit suicide (perhaps the
novelist envisioned this as appropriate poetic justice for the corrupt former head of state) but he was
married to a Chilean beauty queen, and the fictional first wife who is quick to denounce Jalil as a
scoundrel resembles Menem's ex-wife Zulema Yoma, whose spats with her husband during his
presidency outdid soap operas.27 The report of a secret fortune, like in El muerto , speaks to his
corruption and misbegotten riches.

[p]asó la mano por los pómulos y advirtió la flaccidez de la carne. Hacía varios meses que el
cirujano plástico Chajchir no venía por la quinta a aplicarle colágeno para atenuar los estragos del
paso del tiempo. Nada odiaba más que envejecer" (308).

27 For instance in 1990, the Menem family had a very public row triggered by Zulema's
declaration of corruption in her husband's administration. Menem temporarily moved out of the
presidential residence before his assistants managed to eject Zulema and their two children. See
Wornat 81-96 for details. The episode about the fictional president's son is not based on reality,

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Cynthia Schmidt-Cruz 185

Thus, while both El muerto and El

the crew of power-hungry and greed
portrait of an era ruled by lust for
resorted to in order to obtain it. E
focusing on lust for power and the c
Significantly, both novels empha
president - is never punished for hi
for Jalil or highly placed members
Kunny has left him "una bomba": in
recorded on ten cassettes and four V
he ends up publishing it as the boo
Dargas to access additional informat
evidence and documentation of wro
know and can only speculate what it
This lack of closure suggests that the
been told.

The frustration of justice is also u

informs us that Reina's investigation
judges and legislators:
[L]a minuciosa investigación
quedó en la nada a pesar de las
de Zürich y en los archivos de
amenazado con cárcel por el
facilidad. Todos los que debían
ansiosos por devolverle el favor
con esa excusa invalidaron los p
estuviera libre para dividir a lo
While Correa's novel teases us to u
places a disclaimer at the end of th
opposite of the challenge implicitly
personajes y lugares de esta novela
orden de la ficción. Leerlos de otro
us not to make facile connections

as Menem's son Carlitos Junior was

28Menem has been accused of au

Croatia and Ecuador, in defiance of U
while authorities looked into these c
case was filed again after President
was formally charged with involveme
of up to twelve years in prison, but s
the province of La Rioja expires in
"Menem charged with arms-smuggli

290utside of the space of the nov

instance in this quote: " 'No quise po
ninguno de los actos que hacen los
puedo negar las obvias alusiones', dij
de la Rua, who is also depicted in th
concentrates on the representation of

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1 86 The Argentine Novela Negra Critiques the 1 990s

individuals and historical events, and the fictional stories of political intrigue
actual events. What is more, continual references to current news headlines esta
for the "semi-fictional" events in Argentina and set the story in the real world
nez's insistence that we take his characters and settings as purely fictional.
opens with the crash of the Concorde in Paris on July 25, 2000; and the Arg
Monica Lewinsky's mother in Washington, D.C.
Notwithstanding the different authorial stance, the novels have in common
portrait of the administration of a president who is unquestionably modeled
the rampant illicit enrichment of government functionaries and suspicious
witnesses. What is more, the example of the free-wheeling trasgressiv
loosening of moral values in the society as a whole.

Portrait of an era

In her book, La novela de Menem: ensayo sobre una década incorregible , Luciana Vázquez
draws a fascinating portrait of what she terms "lo menemista": "un aire de época, una sensibilidad
social que durante diez años dio tono a un modo inédito de concebir la realidad" (12), a new attitude
of shameless self-indulgence. Vázquez elaborates: "lo menemista entronizará la gratificación como
un derecho inédito, liberará a la clase política de los dictados de la virtud y habilitará la circulación
de su deseo hacia los territorios menos sacrificiales" (15). This spirit of excess and transgression, this
liberation from all moderation operated in the material, sexual, and political realms. The terms
frequently used to encapsulate the new sensibility flaunted by Menem and his family were "pizza,
champagne, Versace, fiesta" (Vázquez 13). Indeed, Sylvina Walger's book about the Menem
phenomenon is entitled Pizza con champán ; in it, she chronicles "las alegres, impunes y amorales
costumbres de la Argentina de fin de siglo" (15). A hedonistic mindset, free of all limits, saw
gratification as a right and pursued guiltless indulgence in luxury and life's pleasures. This attitude
was best exemplified in the European shopping sprees of Menem's daughter, Zulemita (Vázquez
83). The pretentious social climbers indulged in the flashy material possessions that symbolized
wealth and power. In the political realm, the most evident effect of this moral liberation was
corruption - so notorious that the quip of one of Menem's ministers, "Robo para la corona," became
emblematic of the era (Vázquez 18 and 129).30
El muerto indiscreto and El vuelo de la reina , in their portrayal of Argentine society during the
Menem era, depict a pervasive network of political and social corruption with the president at its
apex. Key characters in each novel portray cardinal vices of the era. El muerto emphasizes moral
degeneration on a material level: the shameless, hedonistic behavior of government functionaries
and unbridled greed and flagrant spending, epitomized by Luis Kunny and Belle Rocco. El vuelo
focuses on the corruption of power, as Camargo 's abusive behavior mirrors the president in his con-
viction that he is above the law.

30Cerruti explains the sense in which José Luis Manzano said this: "Cuando José Luis Manzano
lanzó su célebre frase 'Yo robo para la Corona,' estaba, finalmente, haciendo una delimitación de
legitimidades. Con la misma lógica que sus amigos socialistas italianos, Manzano creía que se
justificaba cualquier método para conseguir dinero para hacer política y tener poder. Lo que no
estaba permitido era hacerlo al margen del circuito y sólo para el enriquecimiento personal" (363).
Verbitsky used the phrase for the title of his detailed investigation and denunciation of corruption in
the Menem administration's privatization process.

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Cynthia Schmidt-Cruz 187

Belle Rocco, Kunny's mistress w

excess, and transgression in both
protagonist of the "fiestas negras
businessmen to engage in kinky sexu
role in the story of Kunny's heady ac
it had not been for Belle's know-ho
he embezzled. When she accompanie
Kunny how others are taking advanta
Cada mañana, Belle preparaba p
noticias sobre los negocios de lo
firma de tal proyecto, la adjud
privatización de tales cuales po
calcular qué comisión dejaba c
fue ella quien le enganchó en su
Ultimately, Belle transforms Kun
política" (216). In Miami, depicted
palacio" (218) in a luxurious gated co
sumerism and the accumulation of st
Dargas calculates that her collection
or seven million dollars (219).
When Dargas visits Belle in her Mi
a foil for Belle's sexual and materia
residence, complete with authentic p
is fascinated by her aggressive sexu
"El veneno de Belle," "la seducción
Belle's overdetermined avarice and
balanced, sick society.
In El vuelo , Camargo mimics the de
to believe that he is above the law. In
a critique of the perceived deteriorat
hands of two senators at the funeral
tenés lameculos a tu lado y ni un so
" - Será que estoy pareciéndome a tu
that of the president and the country.
The rampant corruption among the
the country. When Valenti is foun
receiving a bribe, Camargo reflects
enferma hasta los huesos" (30). The
private contagion. Camargo refers t
pobre patria" (49), and the destitut
infect Reina. Insofar as the sick man
by these "pústulas" and uses them t
victim - a vision of once-proud Argen

Walsh and Marlowe: Templates fo

I would like to revisit my referenc

for an analysis of these journalistic
to exposing unpunished state crime

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1 8 8 The Argentine Novela Negra Critiques the 1 990s

continuations of Walsh's tradition, it cannot be said that they reproduce the

of Chandler's Marlowe. Many critics have noted Marlowe's moral su
characterization as a questing knight who stands in contrast to the depravity th
neither Dargas nor Camargo are immune to the corrupt ambience in which they
In his quest for the truth, Dargas proves to be courageous, refusing to aba
when he realizes that he is in danger, and he appears to remain uncorrupted d
his investigation he interacts with a social group that is giddily rich from b
extortion. But while Dargas may project the image of a solitary crusader for
informing us that his investigation becomes the novel we are reading, he al
value attached to stories of crime and scandal.31 Although we never leam if D
from the story - this is beyond the scope of the novel - this disclosure serves t
a destitute but determined journalist to the author of a potentially lucrative boo
the president and his men.
In El vuelo the detective-reporter is a complex character. The criminality
the frame for a story of individual criminality and Camargo is a contradictor
roles of both a respected newspaper magnate who is fighting for just
psychopath. In this sense Camargo embodies the good and evil tattooed on the
character in Night of the Hunter. The novel incorporates a dual explanation f
hand, as mentioned above, Camargo mirrors the president's extreme arroganc
there is a psychological explanation for Camargo's violent behavior: the
abandoned him in childhood is blamed for his traumatized masculinity, repea
misogynistic view of women. Behind his extreme pride, it turns out, is a
abandonment and humiliation.32 Thus, with its exploration of human am
frailties, El vuelo goes beyond the circumstantial realm of the hard-boiled
duality of the detective who also contains the criminal reflects Borgesian me
about the precarious nature of human identity, recalling Borges 's stories in wh
dissolved between heroes and traitors, between investigators, killers, and vi
inside the disturbed mind of the killer we find ourselves caught in the amora
noir thrillers.

Watchdog Journalism

Both novels incorporate strong accusations aimed specifically at a "fiction

Argentine Republic who is modeled on Menem, and both highlight the watc
and Camargo in investigating and exposing stories of corruption. Dargas
working the Kunny case even when he is isolated and out of funds and his life i
is indignant that the president is deceiving the people, and insists on the wa
paper: "A mi diario no lo puede asustar ni comprar" "[Q]ueremos que la gente

31 For a discussion of the role of money and the appropriation of the text for
quemada , see Masiello, 201-03.

32In an interview with Edmundo Brácho, Martínez compares Camargo's fea

Argentina. To the inquiry as to whether Camargo's "gran soberbia" and t
incapable of assimilating can serve as a metaphor for Argentina, Martine
Argentina ha visto castigada su arrogancia por una forma imprevista de hum
abandono..Argentina ha descubierto finalmente que significa muy poco en el

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Cynthia Schmidt-Cruz 189

a podrido en Buenos Aires." "El pr

para él. Tenemos las pruebas" (Martí
Casting journalists as "the people's
the mainstream news media since th
book Watchdog Journalism in Sou
esteem enjoyed by the Argentine p
corruption. In particular, he cites t
scandals that surfaced during the M
the arms sale scandal (33, 38). Howe
press exposure did not mean that
watchdog reporting in regard to tr
journalists interviewed "were highly
effective change when institutions a
Argentine case as an example of the
resolution for the corruption they
corruption and many of the wrong
stories do make a difference. They
existence of corruption and forcing
nalism - the profession of the prota
fictionalize historical events, thus p
El vuelo de la reina and El muerto indiscreto , as fictionalized versions of the atmosphere of
corruption and impunity in the Menem administration as well as the self-indulgent spirit of excess of
the era, also participate in consciousness-raising. Using the forms of seduction and betrayal
identified by Amar Sánchez, at the same time that they produce pleasure, these novels present a
social chronicle of the 90s and raise critical issues about politics and morality.

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