Book Review: Like Flies from Afar by K. Ferrari
By Gabino IglesiasMarch 26, 2020
K. Ferrari’s Like Flies from Afar does not feature your average protagonist. Luis Machi has a cocaine habit, an affinity for women who are not his wife, millions of dollars in the bank, and a bloody corpse in the trunk of his BMW… but as far as the body goes, he’s completely innocent.
Like Flies from Afar is one of those rare pulp gems that grabs readers by the throat and doesn’t let go until the last page. Ferrari does this while also breaking some important “rules.” For example, the main character is extremely unlikeable, and the secondary characters all fall in the same category. While one definition of noir is literature about good people caught in bad situations, this narrative belongs to the opposite and just as accurate camp: noir about horrible people thrown into awful situations and doing bad things to get out of them.
The plot of Like Flies from Afar is deceptively simple. Mr. Luis Machi is a rich Argentinian man living in a great neighborhood who made his money by associating with all kinds of crooked cops, bought politicians, and career criminals. He spends his days having sex with whomever he wants, ignoring his wife and kids, snorting cocaine, and driving around in his black BMW as he looks down at the peasants outside his window. On a day like any other, Mr. Machi gets a flat tire and finds the bloody corpse of a man with his face blown off stuffed in the trunk of his car. Who is the dead man? Who put him there? What message are they trying to send Mr. Machi? There are more questions than answers, and Mr. Machi quickly starts to realize he has very few friends and a lot more potential enemies than he ever thought possible.
This is a profane, funny, and brutal novel that moves forward at breakneck speed at all times. It’s packed with insults, violence, guns, and despicable people. All of that adds up to a superbly entertaining novel about trying to get rid of a body when you’re all alone and you call attention to yourself wherever you go. Also, Mr. Machi is a memorable character. He’s a vile businessman, a bad father, a remorseless womanizer, and a junkie, but he’s a lot of fun to read, and the situation Ferrari puts him in is simultaneously hilarious and awful:
He takes another look at the blue-suited cadaver in his trunk. Suppressing the disgust touching the lifeless body provokes, he turns its head around to see if he knows the guy. But Mr. Machi can’t see the man’s face. There isn’t one. Where a face should be, there’s only wreckage: bones, organic matter, blood, and filth. Mr. Machi feels himself heave again and tries to steady his stomach. He wonders: how close did they have to be when they shot him to do that to his face?
Ferrari, who works as a janitor for the Buenos Aires metro at the Pasteur-Amia station on line B and was deported from the United States in the 90s while looking for work, is well attuned to how sociodemographic elements alter people and perceptions and the way class resentment can be an underlying theme when constructing a narrative. Anyone who dislikes new rich ostentation and people who think you are what you own will gleefully devour this novel, and Mr. Machi will give them enough reasons to never doubt their feelings:
Why are they calm and not me? Mr. Machi asks himself. Can these lowlifes pay what I pay to keep myself safe and sound? He shakes his head, hands gripping the wheel as though he suddenly detests the car’s soft interior, the grace of its power steering, its flawless black exterior. It doesn’t surprise him that this kind of thing happens—the corpse, the trunk, the mystery. What surprises Mr. Machi is that it’s happening to him.
There is nothing new about a mysterious corpse stuffed in a trunk and being forced to get rid of a body. There is also nothing new about guns, cheating, greasing politicians’ hands, and dislikeable characters snorting coke through life while thinking every problem can be solved by throwing money at it. However, and this is crucial, Ferrari takes these elements of crime fiction and makes them his own while mixing them together flawlessly with witty, crackling dialogue, superb pacing, and lots of humor. Like Flies from Afar soars because Ferrari knows he’s writing pulp, but he clearly understands that pulp can be a vehicle to explore society without sounding preachy. Pulp can take a few classic elements and use them while breaking every rule in the book and replacing them with great rhythm and scenes that stick in readers’ minds. For example, there is a scene where a man is forced to live up to the message on his t-shirt that is worth the price of admission.
Mr. Machi likes money, and he likes the things money can buy. Ferrari writes about what money and consumerism look like together:
If it’s tobacco, it’s Cohiba, or else Montecristo. If it’s a lighter, it’s a Dupont. The watch is a Rolex; the pen—a Montblanc; the shows—Crockett & Jones; suits or shirts are Brioni, Armani, Versace, or Scappino. Ties: Italian silk, preferably Marinella. Whiskey, Chivas. Car, BMW, or course, or a Mercedes of even an Audi. Someday it’ll be a Rolls or a Bentley, he thinks.
However, he goes deeper than that and explores the differences between those who hustle to make their millions and those who are born into wealth. That, along with his exploration of how money opens doors and makes enemies in equal measure, make this a smart read that goes above and beyond its pulpy core. In fact, this is a superb read that should be read by all fans of crime fiction. It’s also a book that hopefully opens the door to Ferrari in the US. Put him on your radar.