Imagine a James Bond wannabe, called Jaime Butt. He is a butt of his colleagues’ jokes, got the job because of his family ties, but finally lands a case that gets him out of a chair and into the thick of it. Meet Jaime Bunda in Luanda.
This is one more book in translation I got from my mum for Easter (The Shape of the Ruins was another) and I did enjoy it, even if it is a bit out of my usual area. Also, this may be because this book sits in a niche that is not too big: comic crime fiction.
It all starts when the eternal intern in the crime unit Jaime Bunda (butt in Portuguese) finally gets assigned a case. A murder of a young girl. Jaime is excited to finally have the opportunity to prove himself, but at the same time, he is this combination of clumsy and brilliant that is really unsettling to people.
In his allocated car with a driver, Jaime starts with a visit to the local detective allocated to the case. He happily drinks his whisky and confuses the hell out of him with his mysterious pronouncements and clues. Very satisfied with himself he moves on to get dinner. And so it rolls, Jaime in turns flailing, improvising, failing, and being totally brilliant. One thing is for sure no one can keep up with him.
But the intrigue soon grows and that’s why it is not really a book about a murder, but more about a power struggle within the Luanda police force. At his relative and protector’s behest, Jaime gets deeper and deeper into a conspiracy theory that is supposed to undermine the man who may take over as the head of the force.
It is a funny book, even if not much in terms of the crime plot. Pepetela masterfully juggles Jaime’s flaws to keep us on our toes. We never really know whether we should pity or admire him. An interesting aspect running in the background is the constant sense of rivalry with the former colonists.
It did make me think (once again) how little I know about the world outside of Europe and the US. How westernized is my perception and how until recently I didn’t even feel the need to know more. On the flip side, without any real possibility of traveling, I so very much enjoy learning about other cultures and countries through books. And interestingly satire is not a bad way to learn either.
Another thing that crossed my mind as I was finishing the book is that maybe I should go back to reading some more crime. The last time I read any crime was, I believe, last October during the miraculous holiday in Cyprus. Oh, how long ago it seems…
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska