K Ferrari’s latest novel Like Flies From Afar is black Argentinian crime fiction. Translated by Adrian West, it is a descent into the life of a crime boss, desperately trying to work out who is trying to get to him. Shortlisted for the CWA Crime in Translation Dagger, it is a short, pacey, drug-fuelled fever dream of violence and entitlement.
Luis Machi is very comfortably at the top of his criminal empire. He has all the trappings of wealth, a rota of mistresses, a constant supply of drugs and an ever suffering wife waiting at home. But something is rotten. On his way home after a big night he gets a flat tyre and on when looking for the spare tyre finds a body chained and padlocked into the boot with its face obliterated. And so begins Machi’s paranoid odyssey as he tries to dispose of the body while also trying to work out who might have betrayed him.
The structure of the book allows for the delivery of an episodic, non-linear history of Machi’s rise to power, peopled with those not much better than him and those who were just crushed along the way. Being Argentina, Machi was given his start by the corrupt military, taking over a clothes making factory and randomly denouncing some of the workers. From there he moved up to running a nightclub and a range of other criminal enterprises including fight-fixing. At each point along the way, another person emerges who could have an axe to grind with Machi.
Despite its shifting narrative point of view and non-linear structure, Like Flies from Afar is one note with a fairly simple plot. But it is also not very long, at just over 200 pages, so is a relatively brief decent into Machi’s violent world. Definitely enough time to explore the radiating impact of a powerful, amoral personality. For all that, readers who are happy to stick with this form of ultra-violent narrative are likely to very quickly find themselves quietly cheering on Machi’s anonymous tormentor.