Review: Thursday Night Widows

Claudia Piñeiro – Thursday Night Widows (blog tour)

Claudia Piñeiro, author

Published by Bitter Lemon Press, paperback £7.99 (translated by Miranda France). I received a copy of the novel from the publisher for review purposes. Many thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.

First, the official blurb: Three bodies lie at the bottom of a swimming pool in a gated country estate near Buenos Aires. It’s Thursday night at the magnificent Scaglia house. Behind the locked gates, shielded from the crime, poverty and filth of the people on the streets, the Scaglias and their friends hide lives of infidelity, alcoholism, and abusive
marriage. Claudia Piñeiro’s novel eerily foreshadowed a criminal case that generated a scandal in the Argentine media. But this is more than a story about crime. The suspense is a by-product of Piñeiro’s hand at crafting a psychological portrait of a professional class that lives beyond its means and leads secret lives of deadly stress and despair.

Claudia Piñeiro’s Thursday Night Widows begins in a standard crime fiction fashion: Virginia is surprised when her husband, Ronie, comes home early on Thursday night from his usual gathering with friends – he’s usually out until 3am as they drink and play cards away from their wives, who have been dubbed “The Thursday Night Widows”. But it’s good that he left early – the next day, the bodies of the other three men in the card game are found at the bottom of their host’s swimming pool…

After this, we step back to view some of the recent history of Cascade Heights, a gated community near Buenos Aires where our characters live. It has until now felt like a safe haven – literally fenced off from the world outside, patrolled 24/7 by security guards. Rigid rules on building styles, garden shrubs and even permission for a washing line make it an enforced beauty, but it has a beauty all the same: the beauty of exclusivity and seclusion from the world’s harsh realities.

The central part of this novel is all about the slow burn – Piñeiro builds a picture of Cascade Heights and its inhabitants that is all about dropped hints and whispered rumours, setting up all the potential solutions to what is essentially a locked room mystery. The prose is smooth and elegant, like the manicured lawns of Cascade Heights, as the lives of those in the complex are laid out – though there is nothing so unpleasantly outre as a direct examination of a person or incident.

As we grow closer to the end of the novel, things start to unravel – emotionally for the women, financially for the men, in the main – with clues getting bigger about what the future holds. And then finally we return to that Thursday night of the book’s opening.

The ending is one I’ve been half-expecting, but that doesn’t make it any less shocking, as becoming so involved in the families’ lives over the course of the book only adds to our sympathies.

Overall Thursday Night Widows is much more literary fiction than crime fiction, but that’s not a bad thing; it’s a sharply beautiful portrait of a community and a psychological examination of what happens to people while trying to keep up appearances. If you are looking for something less violent and more interested in character and motivations, Thursday Night Widows could be just the right palate-cleanser.

Author Claudia Piñeiro (Twitter: @claudiapineiro) was a journalist, playwright and television scriptwriter and in 1992 won the prestigious Pléyade journalism award. She has more recently turned to fiction and is the author of literary crime novels that are all bestsellers in Latin America and have been translated into four languages. This novel won the Clarin Prize for fiction and is her first title to be available in English.
Translator Miranda France (Twitter: @MirandaFrance1
) wrote Bad Times in Buenos Aires which in essay form won the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize in The Spectator magazine. It was published as a book in 1998 and met with great critical acclaim. The New York Times described it as “a remarkable achievement” and the Sunday Times as “an outstanding book”.

Check out all the reviews from the rest of the blog tour participants…

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