Literature Filter #233, vol. 16: Fiction Detective / Detective Fiction
August 3, 2016 6:40 AM   Subscribe

Can you identify this (possibly Borges) short story? Years ago I read a story that I'd like to read again, if only I could find it. It went something like this: A detective is pursuing a murderer . . .

. . . a man who killed maybe his wife, maybe his wife and children. For some reason, the detective does not know exactly what the murderer looks like. Perhaps the story takes place before photography was common.

It seems like the story takes place in South America, though the murder took place in Europe.

The detective is in a tavern, and strikes up a conversation with another man. They exchange pleasantries and basic personal information -- home town, wife and kids, line of work, etc. While they pass the time of day, they witness somebody out in the street being cruel to an animal -- whipping a horse or beating a dog. The stranger reacts violently to this scene.

Given: the nature of the crime; the mundane information gleaned in conversation; and the perceived overreaction of the stranger to witnessing this act of cruelty, the detective determines that the stranger is his man, the murderer he is pursuing.

The murderer somehow gave himself away because while he lacked empathy for humans, he had exaggerated empathy for animals.

I thought that I recalled the author being Borges, but so far that hasn't helped me identify the story, so I wouldn't get too hung up on that score. Either I'm not remembering the author correctly, or I am not looking in the right collections.

Borges or no, does this story sound familiar to you?
posted by Herodios to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
it does sound familiar to me, but i have no idea where i read it. fwiw, if it is borges, then i think i've only read el aleph, ficciones and the first volume of his collected works.
posted by andrewcooke at 7:44 AM on August 3, 2016

Is it That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana?
posted by culfinglin at 10:37 AM on August 3, 2016

Response by poster: Intriguing, but not a short story.

The story in question is quite quite short. It is literally just the one 'scene' (in the tavern -- or coffeehouse maybe?).
posted by Herodios at 10:41 AM on August 3, 2016

Borges also wrote detective fiction with Adolfo Bioy-Casares, under the pen names Honorio Bustos Domecq and B. Suártez. If I recall correctly, the stories were more detective-noir parodies (with lots of references to the mingled Argentinian political and literary scenes of the '40s), but maybe it's one of those stories that you're remembering.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:36 AM on August 3, 2016

it wasn't something by alejandro dolina, was it? he's no borges, but i could see how it would merge in the memory. i was just looking through my bookshelves and came across a couple of his books, which reminded me of this question. (also, you don't say if you read it in english or spanish - not sure dolina has been translated). apologies if this suggestion is more based on me only having read a handful of authors from bbaa than anything else...
posted by andrewcooke at 1:02 PM on August 4, 2016

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