House of Beauty

Written by Melba Escobar

Review written by Adrian Magson

Adrian Magson is the author of 22 crime and spy thrillers. His latest book is ‘Rocco and the Nightingale’ - the fifth in his French police series set in Picardie in the 1960s. His first standalone, ‘Smart Moves’ (The Dome Press) is out in August. More information: https://www.adrianmagson.com/


House of Beauty
4th Estate
RRP: £12.99
Released: March 8 2018
HBK

Karen is a beautician, pampering wealthy Colombian women in House of Beauty, an upmarket beauty parlour in Bogota, waxing, manicuring, massaging, listening to their complaints about husbands, lovers, and breast implants, while remaining almost invisible, and wondering when she will ever get to see her son, Emiliano, back home with her mother. Money is tight… unless you can supplement it in another way.

A rich boyfriend is one. A form of prostitution, one might say, although nobody wants to call it that as long as you don’t use a condom. Then it’s love.

Colombian society, where to call someone ‘an Indian’ is derogatory, isn’t fair, nor is it forgiving, even of misjudgements, and any beauty is only skin-deep. And for Karen, the day a young girl called Sabrina Guzman comes for a treatment, the implication being that she wants to become ‘a woman’ for her boyfriend, it becomes a misjudgement by default – and a burden. Because Sabrina turns up dead, and the last person known to have seen her alive is Karen.

This crime, though, which involves wealth and influence, the two worst enemies for lowly people like Karen, is the least of the story here, while being background-and-centre to it. Inequalities, distrust, guilt and desperation all feature, driving Karen to seek out the truth while being pursued herself by the dead girl’s mother for whatever she knows about the murder, because the prosecutor’s office and the police move with grinding slowness, or not at all.

The book is a small but interesting window, slightly frosted one hopes, on Bogota society. The writing is accomplished enough, yet oddly disjointed in structure, jumping from one viewpoint to another, intermingling the narrator’s voice (that of Claire Dalvard, a French/Colombian woman of a certain age, who meets Karen in the salon and relates her story), with that of Karen herself. These jumps proved something of a distraction, although I was interested enough to want to know what happened in the end.

Sadly, it’s hard to feel much for Karen, who is a victim of her society and circumstances, because in the end she doesn’t really deserve it. She’s just a piece of flotsam on her way through the city, in the end guilty by association and circumstance.



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