Paperback reader

Our Lady of the Assassins

Fernando Vallejo <em>Serpent's Tail, 144pp, £6.99</em>

ISBN 1852426

Fernando, a writer, returns to his home city of MedellIn, after a 30-year absence, to discover the city subsumed by death and corruption. Fernando Vallejo's autobiographical novella is far from a quiet meditation on the nature of exile, and is by turns railing and extremely violent; a shrill, unloving portrait of a city and culture in terminal decline.

Fernando falls in love with Alexis, a young hitman who murders people in cold blood. Fernando is ghoulishly fascinated by his lover's behaviour. "I see his green eyes watching the punk. Cloudy green. Intoxicated by the uniqueness of the instant. Blam!" If we are all stars, he tells Alexis, "at the rate you're going, you're going to wipe out the heavens".

Fernando looks cynically around him as MedellIn disintegrates. He looks at the twinkling lights of houses in the slums and imagines himself as "their echo among the shadows". Even grotesque personal tragedy is underscored by Fernando's bilious outbursts on religion, social breakdown and corrupt Colombian governance. It is clear that the writer defiantly refuses to see himself akin to "the living dead" who surround him. His desperation makes this a coruscating read.