Swimming Without Getting Wet by Carlos Salem

Matar y guardar la ropa by Carlos Salem. 2008 French title: Nager sans se mouiller. Not available in English, sadly.

Remember last week I mentioned I bought three crime fiction books at Quais du polar? Well, here is the billet about the first one I read, Matar y guardar la ropa, the second book by Argentinian writer Carlos Salem.

Salem_NagerIn the first chapter, we meet Number Three in the course of action: he’s killing a man in an elevator, in cold blood. Not surprising since Number Three is a professional killer. His real identity is Juanito Pérez Pérez and in appearance, he’s a successful but dull executive in a large corporation. He’ll turn forty soon, is divorced from Leticia and has two children Antonio (10) and Leti (15). After finishing his job in the lift, he’s on holiday, going to a camp-site with his children for he first time in two years.

On his way to pick up his children, Number Two, his boss in the Firm contacts him to send him on a surveillance job right away. Juan must watch the victim of a future job, the driver of a certain car in a campsite. Unfortunately, Juan knows the licence plates of the car since it belongs to his ex-wife. Unable to walk away from the job, he drives to the camp-site with Leti and Antonio, only to discover that they will be staying in the camping space right beside his ex-wife and her new lover, the judge Beltrán who shouldn’t be there without bodyguards since he works on touchy cases. Who is he supposed to watch? His wife or the judge? Anyone would be ill-at-ease in such delicate circumstances…especially when the campsite happens to be for nudists.

So here is our Juanito, on a job for the Firm, a job that possibly involves his ex-wife or a judge he admires for his valuable contribution to the justice of the country. And in the said ex-wife’s eyes, he’s just Juanito, boneless, boring corporate executive. When his childhood friend Tony, the one he injured twice while trying to protect him, shows up in the same camping with his lethal blondie of a girlfriend, Juanito thinks the world is kind of small. When he accidentally stumbles upon his co-worker Number 13 in the lavatories, he starts thinking these are two many coincidences to be true. Is he really on a job or did the Firm decide it was time to eliminate him?

In a way, Matar y guardar la ropa is the mid-life crisis of a professional killer. Juan regrets not finishing medical school, wonders about his unofficial job and is plagued with guilt about what he did to Tony. He’s in a stressful moment of his life. He’s mulling over the failure of his marriage, he doesn’t have a real connection with his children, he’s still haunted by the death of his mentor, the former Number Three, the one he was ordered to kill. When he meets young, beautiful and sexy Yolanda in the camp site, he turns into a horny teenager and starts re-assessing his life. Can he start a new relationship? Can he mend the broken bond with his children? He has trouble reconciling the official Juanito, a person who needs to be a wallflower to be invisible and cover his illegal activities with the efficient Number Three he has become for the Firm. It’s the first time he has to be the two persons at the same time under the eyes of his children and ex-wife and his two personalities permeating into one another. His conscience starts nagging at him about the people he killed, his life style. But is quitting his job at the Firm even an option?

Salem’s style has a steady pace, showing the events through Juan’s eyes. The absurdity of the location, the nudist camp site, is an opportunity to bring comic situations into the mix. How do you conceal a weapon when you have to go around stark naked? How do you behave when you’re ruining the romantic getaway of your ex-wife with her new lover and that you’re there with the children? It brings light moments in the heavy atmosphere, since after all, a life is at stake.

Salem’s novel is gripping in many ways. It’s a page turner as the reader wants to know the ending (What’s behind the surveillance? Who’s the real target?). I became engrossed with the personal anguish Juan feels and I wanted to know what was going to happen and what turn Juan’s life was going to take.

Highly recommended. Well, to those who can read in French or in Spanish…

  1. April 7, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    I know I’d like this. It reminds of Ronald de Feo’s novel Calling Mr King–a story of a hitman who begins to discover an inner life. Excellent and highly recommended


    • April 7, 2013 at 4:47 pm

      You’d probably like it but I’m not sure you’d find it Noir enough. But still the context is entertaining.

      “hitman”: why didn’t the dictionary have this word? That’s why I struggle with writing about crime fiction, I always lack the proper vocabulary, despite reading all your reviews. Pff.

      I’ll try to remember about Calling Mr King. I want to read Salem’s first novel now.


  2. April 7, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    I like the idea of farce mixed with thriller mixed with mid-life crisis! The nudist camp setting certainly does make it sound fresh and different. I like the title – I assume it’s a reference to Juanito trying to be a hitman without being affected by it? Or is there a pool in the nudist camp? 🙂


    • April 7, 2013 at 9:22 pm

      “Farce” is a bit too strong a word.
      The title is what Juan’s mentor, the former Number Three, says about Juan. He wants to be a hitman without the consequences, not only being affected but also the other consequences.
      There’s also a pool at the nudist camp, although why one should go to the swimming pool in the summer when the Mediterranean sea is just there is beyond me.

      (Carlos Salem lives in Spain, the nudist camp is in Murcia)


  3. April 7, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    I see this coming to us in english evetually we have a number of other Argentina crime novels translated so this would be the next writer to pick by the sound of it ,all the best stu


    • April 7, 2013 at 9:23 pm

      I really hope he will be translated into English.


  4. April 8, 2013 at 11:55 am

    It does sound rather good, so I share that hope it will be translated into English.


    • April 8, 2013 at 9:12 pm

      I hope it will be too.


  5. April 8, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    This sounds fantastic! I’ve been craving some crime, so this will be going onto the reading list, right up to the top – I already checked whether I can get a hold of the original version here in Germany. The good news is, I can! 😀


    • April 10, 2013 at 11:40 pm

      Thanks for visiting.

      I’m happy to know he’s translated into German.
      If you want to discover crime fiction books, try Guy’s blog (His Futile Preoccupations), link in the blogroll.


      • April 11, 2013 at 7:25 am

        He’s been translated into German too, but I actually want the Spanish original and happily I can get it here! Thanks for the tip re: crime fiction, I read Guy’s blog quite regularly. This book for some reason struck a chord with me.


  1. December 5, 2013 at 11:18 pm
  2. December 27, 2013 at 12:07 am
  3. April 13, 2014 at 9:01 am
  4. May 31, 2016 at 1:40 pm
  5. July 31, 2017 at 8:00 pm

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