By Alfredo Garcia-Roza
Alone in the Crowd,a police procedural, is the seventh book in a series featuring Chief Espinosa. Since I’ve not read any of the previous books I’m not privy to the relationship between Espinosa and Irene, his girlfriend, save for what is in the book. Their relationship affords complete freedom to both of them—no ties, no promises. Irene flits in and out of various chapters. Two of the policemen in his district are loosely described. I felt that these characters are rather two-dimensional.
In this story a present death—accidental or purposeful —is tied to a death that happened thirty years before. The suspect, an unassuming solitary bank clerk who handles the distribution of pensions has a childhood connection to the chief. His character is flushed out a bit more. As the story progresses the reader discovers that the chief and the suspect, Hugo, grew up in the same neighborhood. Hugo, a year younger, had been obsessed when he was a child with wanting to be in the same circle of friends. Actually he wanted to be Espinosa’s best friend.
The introduction of fractured memory and guilt propel the story forward. Hugo, in an unofficial meeting with Espinosa —with no one else present, no microphones, no taping— presents his memory of the two deaths. Because he never knew if he was responsible for the first death, a young girl who fell down a flight if steps and hit her head, his whole life was altered. He’s never sure if he was the one who bumped into her. When he tells his mother, an unpleasant neurotic character, she torments him regarding his guilt.
The story has a number of psychological twists and turns. I wish more time was spent unearthing the fragile layers of Hugo’s life. Ultimately untimely accidents or murders happen to all the people who had been privy to the story he told his mother and she shared with several confidants.