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Books: Imaginary Crimes

Green traces globalisation of bewilderment

Imaginary Crimes

by Toby Green

(Mkuki na Nyota
Publishers, £9.99)

Toby Green has written a messy, confusing, blurred - and ultimately deeply satisfying - global mystery story.

Arising out of the ecology of globalised cultures, travel and paranoia, Imaginary Crimes follows Elena, Gabriel and Dolores as they are swept up in the conspiracy theory of sinologist Kent Piree.

The US academic is obsessed with finding the clues to an as yet uncommitted crime that lie in decoding the books of Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges.

Through urgent persuasion and outright bullying Piree prevails upon his companions to gather together copies of Borges's output, secret them in the covers of other works and ship them back to Argentina for analysis and action.

Although structurally the novel takes place in four capital cities in 2004, the narrative is not solely lineal.

It oscillates in time, with the principal characters repeating behaviours, meetings and relationships. Time doesn't walk in straight lines here, it shuffles hesitantly and in confusion.

Apart from the shadowy Piree, whom we are never really allowed to understand, Green provides deep and moving insights into the personal stories of his conspirators.

Middle-class Elena works rather aimlessly in bookstores, always planning to devote time to her palindromic novel but never quite getting there.

Gabriel, a west African migrant worker, occupies an uncertain and insecure place in the societies where he barely counts as a human being.

Dolores, inflicted with mental illness and further burdened by the prejudices of a fascist father, is ultimately the most sympathetic character, perhaps because she is certainly the one who grows most in consciousness as the confusion of repeated events envelopes them all.

Green lists Borges as one of his principal influences and this is clearly a homage to the man and his literary output. Yet Imaginary Crimes is more than just the product of a pupil experimenting with the techniques of his master.

Rooted in one particular event during the year in question, this book is a powerful description of our current bewilderment at the opportunities and threats presented by the globalised trade in people, goods and ideologies.

Paul Simon

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