Longueurs in Lis­bon

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - JENNI FRAZER

RICHARD ZIMLER, who comes gar­landed with awards and ap­proval, chiefly for his break­through novel, The Last Kab­bal­ist of Lis­bon, is an Amer­i­can who made his home in Por­tu­gal more than 30 years ago. But, read­ing his lat­est, The Night Watch­man (Cor­sair, £7.99) — again fea­tur­ing a pro­tag­o­nist of Amer­i­can back­ground, this time in Lis­bon — is, for me, like crash­ing through a for­est with trees re­peat­edly reach­ing out to hit you in the face.

His hero — Hen­rique “Hank” Mon­roe, born and raised in Colorado and now liv­ing in Lis­bon — is surely the most im­prob­a­ble po­lice­man to grace the pages of any crime thriller. Al­legedly a chief in­spec­tor, Mon­roe is still so un­sure of his abil­ity to speak Por­tuguese that there are days when he doesn’t trust him­self to use the sub­junc­tive — awk­ward, I imag­ine, if try­ing to put a hy­po­thet­i­cal case to a sus­pect.

Stranger still than his lin­guis­tic in­abil­ity is his ten­dency to go off into a fugue from time to time in which he is taken over by a (largely benev­o­lent) al­ter ego, Gabriel — who smokes and curses, which Mon­roe him­self does not.

We meet Mon­roe — who has an in­ex­pli­ca­ble (but un­ex­plained) in­ter­est in the Jews of the Holo­caust — when he is about to in­ves­ti­gate the mur­der of a rich Por­tuguese busi­ness­man called Pe­dro. Pe­dro has a sis­ter called Sylvia, a wife Su­sana and a daugh­ter Sandi. Are there no women in Por­tu­gal whose names do not be­gin with the let­ter S?

Mon­roe also has a weird brother with OCD, a scarcely sketched out wife, and two pe­cu­liar chil­dren. There is a plot of sorts but it takes Zimler 422 very long pages to de­velop and re­solve it.

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