(This article and its content were first published on thebubble.com, May 5, 2015).
More than 100 days later, the case rumbles on. The two competing autopsies, proclaiming precisely different verdicts as to how prosecutor Alberto Nisman died, are now under review. One says suicide, the other murder. The results are expected within days, but it’s unlikely even this verdict will do much to deter the pervading whispers of conspiracy and intrigue inevitably rife since the discovery of Nisman’s body in January.
He was found with a lethal bullet wound to the head just hours before he was due to attend Congress and ask them to indict the President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner with evidence he had amassed. According to the late prosecutor, it was proof that she had a hand in whitewashing the botched investigation into the 1994 AMIA bombing, the deadliest terror attack in Argentine history, by agreeing in secret to absolve suspected Iranian involvement.
If to you all this sounds like a spy novel, or the latest screenplay for an increasingly paranoid Hollywood production line, you’re not alone. Two weeks ago, a book entitled The Prosecutor: A Fiction Too Close To Reality was released under the pseudonym RS Pratt. It was written “at a frenetic pace” according to publishers Emecé, who playfully refuse to tell us the identity of the author while making assurances that it is “one of the top Argentine writers currently working.”
How tantalizing. Not just a marketing gimmick, surely? No doubt the ropey nature of the case; its unresolved enigmas and divisive implications require some form of pre-absolution. We still don’t know the full truth of what happened after all, and publishing anonymously protects the author. As does the rumored narrative of the book, which apparently “combines the two hypotheses” of what happened to the late prosecutor.
Then again, a mystery within mysteries is a good selling point for a murder mystery. The sheer drama of the case and the fact that it reached the highest office in the land made it a global obsession. But it’s the mysteriousness that keeps us coming back. Everyone may be proclaiming an assured theory about Nisman’s demise, but none of us- or at least perhaps the overwhelming majority of us- don’t know the full of it. The facts remain out there, in the intangible ether, and until we get our hands on them- if we ever do- we will continue to guzzle down news bulletins, off-the-cuff comments and myriad theories hungrily.
This is the context the book is published in. It is guaranteed to sell, and so make money for Emecé, its associates and whoever the mystery “top” Argentine writer may be. There have been difficulties and dangers the team was forced to negotiate; several traps placed in between the light bulb moment and the cashing of the royalties cheque. Not least of all was the minefield of libelous. The book is sub-title-explicitly a work of fiction, even though it is beyond obvious what it’s about and whose face it is concealed on the front cover. With the jury out on real world events, the production team had to tread carefully.
To reinforce their case that this is a work of fiction and not another extended analysis article to the tune of which we have been treated since Nisman died, all the names have been changed. Why even bother with supposed ambiguities? One assumes it can only be the legal small print. “One of the top ten authors in Argentina”, whoever she is, cannot surely be hoping to leave us chin-scratching over who “President Cristina Hernández de Larcher” or “Prosecutor Lerman” (the guy who ends up dead) is.
While it appears to read like a Le Carre novel, however, the Nisman book won’t offer readers a shocking glimpse into just how dark and sinister the realities of political intrigue and scandal are in Argentina. We know that already. Corruption? Mass surveillance? They’re met by a simple shrugging of the shoulders by many, so endemic that they generate as much apathy as outrage, despite the best efforts of those who denounce them.
Nevertheless, El Fiscal, surely a guaranteed cash-cow for the publishers, does represent achievement outside of bulging bank balances. Firstly, the sheer feat of its writing. A 234-page novel in thirty days (the publishers say the following 46 days were used for distribution). A readable 234-page novel in thirty days, is an impressive flurry of keyboard pounding, of drafting and redrafting, whichever way you look at it.
The book assumes the guize of an historical novel, with a mysterious Zorro-lite novelist cast as the scribe of a taught, murkey spy thriller in the mould of John Le Carre (of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy fame). Though fictional, Le Carre’s works offered readers a glimpse into various theatres of concealed conspiracy at the highest level, from spying during the Cold War to the 21st Century arms trade, that were typically billed as being far more glamourous and exciting than their uncomfortable, sinister reality in fact was- something Le Carre countered with his often bleak prose.
More importantly, perhaps, it how the book seems to have captured an essence of the zeitgeist in Argentina since the case broke on January 18. Cranking up the hype, Emecé told us how the mystery writer came to them within a day of Nisman’s death.
“That night this person completed the complaint filed by Nisman and called me back the next day telling me that the case –directly the death- was a Le Carre novel.”
Indeed, it is less that the book emulates a Le Carre thriller, more that reality did. Living in Argentina, especially here in Buenos Aires where the events unfolded, we have all found ourselves part of the wider cast of players on a concrete and asphalt stage, as a sinister but ultimately captivating story plays out before us. The entire country and beyond set buzzing with accusations and debates, theories and denunciations. The book had to be written and was always going to be written because people are hungry for content on this case. El Fiscal offers up a narrative, story-telling account of the events that is apart from the grim theater of political spin or the televised journalistic scrum which surrounds anyone involved or associated with Nisman or what happened should they poke their head above the parapet. In an oblique way, it’s a public service.