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Tuesday, 31 December 2019

‘The Mongolian Conspiracy’ by Rafael Bernal

Published by Pushkin Press,
9 May 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-78227531-2 (PB)
(First English translation of a 1969 classic cult thriller)

Mexico City in the 1960s, and the city is getting ready to welcome the American president when there’s a rumour that he’s going to be assassinated during his visit. It’s been reported by Russian agents from Outer Mongolia, and the Colonels can’t afford not to take it seriously. They got to Filiberto Garcia, a police officer who’s still the man they ask to kill opponents of the regime... except that Garcia soon begins to suspect the whole Mongolia thing’s a cover for skullduggery closer to home.

Reissued with a new translation by Kathleen Silver, this noir classic is a cracking read. The narration’s nominally third person, centred on Garcia, but it slips in and out of the first person as we share his thoughts. He’s in his fifties, disillusioned, foul-mouthed and haunted by his dead. He keeps himself to himself, mixing only with the inscrutable Chinese poker players in the city’s Chinatown, one dirty, neglected street, and with his friend ‘the professor’, a former lawyer turned hopeless alcoholic. You warm to Garcia in spite of his violent life because you get the feeling that deep down, unlike the politicians he obeys, he does have a sense of justice, and his youth as a revolutionary was motivated by conviction, not power-greed. His gentleness with the runaway Chinese woman Marta is endearing, in spite of his annoyance with himself for not taking her straight to bed. He’s forced to work with two agents, a Russian and an FBI man, and these characters too are well drawn. The action’s fast, the body count high (the colonel complains that Garcia doesn’t leave anyone alive for him to interrogate), the plotting clever, and the atmosphere vividly claustrophobic.

A dark, atmospheric treat for fans of Chandler and Hammett.
Reiewer: Serena Fairfax

Rafael Bernal (1915-1972) was a Mexican diplomat and the author of many novels and plays. The Mongolian Conspracy was published in 1969 and is regarded as his masterpiece.


Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

Click on the title to read a review of her recent book Death on a Shetland sle

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