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Eric Stener Carlson
The Saint Perpetuus Club of Buenos Aires
Reviewed by: Mario Guslandi © 2009

Tartarus Press, UK
Hardcover First edition
ISBN: 978-1-905784-16-5
Publication date: November 2009
233 pages; £ 25.00/ $ 45.00
Date reviewed: 12-12-2009

Index:  Horror  General Fiction  Fantasy

It's no secret that I'm not very fond of novels, especially in the field of dark fantasy. To me long fiction often gets boring, unless of exceptionally high quality (e.g. Dan Simmons' The Terror) or composed by several intertwining plots (e.g. the early Stephen King novels).

So when Ray Russell of Tartarus Press encouraged me to read The Saint Perpetuus Club of Buenos Aires, the debut novel of Eric Stener Carlson, I still had my reservations. However, knowing that Tartarus is always providing top-notch fiction either from the past or by new, emerging authors, I reluctantly started reading…and never stopped.

What kind of book is this? If I have to put a label on it, I'd be tempted to describe it as a cross between "magic realism" (but maybe I'm simply influenced by the south American location of the story) and supernatural fiction. Whatever it is, believe me, it's quite good, a captivating novel written in a sparkling style, precise yet imaginative.

Miguel is a civil servant living a rather dull existence. While browsing in a bookstore he discovers, hidden in the pages of an old copy of "Lives of Saints." under the entry Saint Perpetuus, a hand-written diary of a man claiming to be "a saint" and, more importantly, to know the secret of how to control time. Miguel's hunger for that powerful knowledge leads him across Buenos Aires more elusive bookstores to retrieve further copies of the books containing the additional chapters of that intriguing diary.

While Miguel, neglecting his job and his family, pursues his obsession, he realizes that members of the secret society named The Saint Perpetuus Club are scattered about the city, holding the key to the "salamanca" a forbidden, subterranean place where the Devil himself can satisfy human desires. I won't give away more to avoid spoiling things for the reader.

One of the more fascinating aspects of the book is the description, through the words of the anonymous "saint," of an enthralling Buenos Aires, with his subways, parks, avenues, hidden corners, each of them imbued with forgotten legends and old history that Carlson clearly knows in detail.

A native of Minnesota, Carlson first went in Argentina as a member of a forensics team looking for the remains of the victims of the military dictatorship which ruled the country in the ‘70s and early ‘80s and subsequently has written two non-fiction books dealing with tortures and disappearances occurred in that period (I Remember Julia: Voices of the Disappeared and The Pear Tree).

Living in Buenos Aires he got so acquainted with the city's historical and topographical secrets that he is able to make his characters in the novel perform an extraordinary journey in time and space within the famous capital. The engrossing plot and the enticing background make the story a delightful reading experience even though, to me at least, the final part of the novel appears to represent a sort of anti-climax, compared with the brilliant quality of the first 200 pages or so.

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