Invisible Country, by Annamaria Alfieri
As far as mysteries go, this is a reasonably compelling one although it does not appear to be the sort of mystery that leads to a series. At the core of this story we have a group of people who live in a small village that has an oversized role in Paraguay simply because it was a village that managed to hold out longer than most from being taken over by the allied forces of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay during the disastrous War of the Triple Alliance. Indeed, the latter stages of that war make the context of this particular novel, which is full of the question of how it is that the leaders of the Paraguayan regime are going to survive the disasters of war and how a nation that lost 90% of its male population is going to survive on a demographic level. Likewise, the novel is full of questions about the nature of trust as well as the problems of relationships and the celebration of life even with the complications that are involved in life in evil times such as those experienced by the characters where folly and war and bad government had disastrous consequences of the people of Paraguay.
This book is about 300 pages long and serves as a classic murder mystery set in an exotic location, namely a small village in Paraguay which has only about a handful of men left after the exactions of the military and the horrific casualties of war. The town priest delicately discusses the desirability of polygamy as a means of solving the demographic problem, with a heavy heart, and after his sermon, which is not uniformly positively related, he finds that one of the few surviving men of the town, the handsome and politically well-connected Richard Yotte, has been killed and is in his belfry. This demands an investigation, and the priest forms an alliance with some of the more clever people of the town while dealing with a slimy comendante who is seeking to use this murder as a way of getting rid of the priest and also getting his hands on his attractive niece, who is nursing a fevered Brazilian officer even as her father is nursing his crazed son in the woods. There are a lot of secrets that become more complicated as the plot moves its way to resolution and people try to cope with the horrors of war that find themselves having fully reached home by this point.
This is the sort of novel that is a compelling read but tends to cut against the existence of a sequel. This is by no means a bad thing. One wonders is there would be enough mysteries for an intelligent and thoughtful priest to solve in a postwar Paraguay that had been nearly destroyed by the imperial ambitions of its leader, but the novel is compelling enough that one cares about the well-being of its characters. If this book would be hard to adapt to a movie without an R-rating, it certainly offers some reflective material concerning life in a small town that is dealing with the complications of a destructive war and the prerogatives of demographic survival in the face of paranoid leadership and a struggle over wealth and power even in a nation that is falling apart nearly completely and whose survivors are deeply traumatized by war and starvation and occupation. And, as might be imagined, the author does a good job at showing sympathetic people who cross various borders and whose behavior is not strictly moral. Whether we are dealing with a priest losing his faith or a godly woman committing adultery or a saucy young woman in love with a Brazilian nobleman, there is a lot to interest the reader in this fascinating tale of a murder mystery entwined with high politics.