Sunday, January 13, 2019

"Sins as Scarlet"

Nicolás Obregón is a Londoner, a Madrileño, and a full-time writer. He has worked as a security steward, a travel writer, an overnight guardian, an ice rink attendant, a bookseller, a post boy, an editor in legal publishing, and an odd-jobs man for a failed mineral water company. (Not in that order).

His first novel, Blue Light Yokohama, was published in 2017 across the world. It was conceived while traveling on a bullet train from Hiroshima to Kyoto.

Obregón applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Sins as Scarlet, the sequel to Blue Light Yokohama, and reported the following:
From page 69:
A mile south­west of the Wanderlust, Iwata turned on Maple and parked behind a slaughterhouse. The main road was mobbed, the whole neighbourhood turned into one teeming open market, a circus without the roof. The Spanish language, in all its variegation, could be heard – haggling, joking, promising. These exchanges competed with car horns, electronic toy dogs yapping and a blind man playing De Colores on his keyboard.

Santee Alley catered to any low­cost whim: novelty contact lenses, plastic aquariums containing hatchling turtles, baby onesies with madcap slogans:


Iwata made his way through the bustle, soapy bubbles swirling through the air around him. Men with flags coaxed cars into overpriced valet lots. On every other street corner hucksters carrying more balloons than seemed possible resembled giant multicoloured rasp­berries. Ground­ floor living rooms had been turned into makeshift taquerias with cubbyhole toilets that charged seventy­ ve cents to shit. A fast­food truck doled out huaraches, quesadillas and tlacoyos, dishes that pre­dated Christopher Columbus.
This page might not necessarily be the most representative one in the novel -- Inspector Iwata is investigating the murder of a transgender woman on the train tracks behind Skid Row. Early on he suspects that there may be a serial killer at work in the Los Angeles underbelly - unseen by the powers that be. In this passage, Iwata is passing through Santee Alley to buy information from a local snitch. Although not much is 'happening' in this scene, it does give the reader a sense of place. And that is something that I always strive for. In my eyes, setting is absolutely crucial -- it should serve as one of the main characters. Los Angeles is often portrayed as seedy, glamorous, even dangerous; a city of liars, movie executives, hopefuls, rubbing shoulders with the helpless. In my book, Sins As Scarlet, I certainly wanted to exploit those tropes. But I also wanted to delve into the Los Angeles I live and breathe every day that usually doesn't make it into the books and movies. The great swathes of city that are overlooked by Hollywood or even the greats of Noir. Inspector Iwata explores the LA underbelly, rifling through the pockets of cultures and subcultures that are so often driven past. Ultimately, it's a mystery novel full of lies, corruption, and murder; it tips its cap at all the tropes of the genre. But the heart of the book is the city itself and her secrets hiding in a thousand alleys, under a thousand bridges, on a thousand street corners.
Visit Nicolás Obregón's website.

--Marshal Zeringue