July 11, 2016

The Private Parts of a Private Eye

On Iván Babiano’s La Serpiente Arco Iris (“The Rainbow Serpent”)

Felisa Karr, the private detective that author Iván Babiano introduced to the readers in this 2007 novel, has a different story. Quite a girly beauty, no particular tough appearance, pretty meticulous in respect of her wardrobe, having a soft spot for the color white (a feature that makes her the most dazzling, glamorous PI in Madrid)—Felisa’s female perceptive touch makes her unbeatable in her job.

A series of helpers support Miss Karr in her investigations. Among them, an old bookstore owner, aged Hindu Yhajaira, stands out in this adventure as the cultivated interpreter of the ‘rainbow serpent’ symbol. Felisa also enjoys the assistance of the usual detective’s secretary—a kind of gossipy in this case.

So. . .What makes Felisa’s story so exceptional? Let me tell you her biggest secret. Please lend your ear—: Felisa is actually a transgender detective.

In La Serpiente Arco Iris, the author focuses on the investigation revolving around the murder of Leandro, Lean, the partner of Felisa’s Irish client, Robert Mitch (a nod to the male lead in Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past, and Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter?).[1] Mr. Mitch found Lean’s body home. The corpse signs suggested that the poor fellow had been brutally attacked and raped by several men. Karr finds suspicious the presence of several tattoos throughout Lean’s skin representing a rainbow snake eating itself, a clue about something that even her client himself is hiding. . .Later Felisa will find out that Lean and Robert had an open relationship, and the two of them were regular patrons in La Serpiente Arco Iris.

La Serpiente Arco Iris is a night club chain spread all around the world, with a clear target audience: committed gay men. Committed to—what, you ask? Committed to the society’s own rules. In fact, this is the cover for a cult consisting of a close circle of homosexuals that have bareback sex among their members only in order to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases. They found out that Lean had broken the rule the moment he fell in love with someone unconnected with the society, so they decided to eliminate him.[2]

During her inquiries, Felisa will unfortunately need the help of the police. I say unfortunately, as she should meet again some former colleagues from her not so distant young years as a policeman, from inveterate homophobe, unpleasant sexist Lt. Ramón Díaz, to a more delightful reunion: Ángel (the name fits like a glove), an attractive workmate who was always nice to her.

Given that passing herself off as a man is the only means to enter the society and solve the mystery, Felisa will get her long blonde hair cut, and hide her oversized breast. This way, our classy heroine will have to face her old times’ hardest facet: the memory of Felipe Carrillo—her previous self before she decided to look like a woman on the outside.

At the end of the book, Felisa Karr not only seems to have overcome her unhappiest, most traumatic episodes after making peace with her past, but you can also have the feeling that she has made the ultimate resolution on sex reassignment surgery.

The most interesting aspect in Babiano’s book may be the portrait of the sleuth rather than the plot, extremely typical and weak in terms of suspense. A key point in this kind of literary genre is the surprising final twist; here, the villain’s identity is obvious from their very first appearance. Anyway, it is nice to walk hand in hand throughout the narration with Miss Felisa Karr, probably the sweetest, most charming private investigator in Spanish fiction. Anyone would be pleased to be a friend of hers—or take a spicier step forward!

[1] This is not the only cinematographic reference in the book: when Felisa ran into her transgender prostitute friend, its depiction is quite similar to the moment when Manuela (Cecilia Roth) met La Agrado (Antonia San Juan) again after many years in Pedro Almodóvar’s All About My Mother (original title: Todo sobre mi madre). Also the atmosphere in the night club reminds of the mysterious private party that Dr. William Harford (Tom Cruise) attended in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.
[2] Regarding the fact that we are dealing with an organization aimed to protect their members from sexual diseases, it is hard to understand why they condomlessly rape the individual who has had sex with someone outside the society. . .