Carlos has disappeared. He got up from a restaurant table and went to the bathroom. He did not come back. That, I think, is all that you need to know about the plot. What follows is a description of the investigation. This is not a police procedural or any of the other classic crime formulae. It is an investigation into the nature of reality.
So what do we know. The setting is somewhere in South America along the valley of the river Parana. This means that the country could be Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil or Argentina. The names are no guide, because they could be either Spanish or Portuguese. We know that there is a forest, and the description is that of a rain forest, but that is not much help. That could be any of the four countries mentioned. We know that the Inspector is nearing the end of his career. This suggests that he could have been the cause of several disappearances during the military dictatorships in those countries. There is however little reference to his early career as a policeman, and no suggestion of guilt or even regret. What we have is a magic reality, and we as readers surely cannot be certain of anything.
I am not even sure what is the best way to describe what this book is about. In a detective series such as Sherlock Holmes, he always began by eliminating the impossible and concluding that whatever was left, however improbable, must be the truth or, at least, the solution to the mystery. The problem with Infinite Ground is that all the solutions are both improbable and impossible. It is not even clear that Carlos actually existed. The Inspector sent to investigate the case has to embark upon a surreal search that does not appear to have any purpose, any possibility of solving the case.
He is hindered by witnesses, Carlos’ relatives, colleagues both of Carlos and himself, all of whom seem to put barriers and difficulties in the way of his investigation. His thought processes, to me, do not seem to be logical, and they lead him into very strange places. This is a Kafka novel written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I cannot think of higher praise than that.
So, let us turn to the writing. It is beautiful. The prose lures you into the story. Each sentence is carefully written so that you do not want to stop reading. You may not have the slightest idea about what is actually happening, but that is part of the surreal nature of the book. You read on hoping for clarity, you get none, and yet you read on hoping for clarity.
Martin MacInnes is a writer of extraordinary ability. He is clearly someone to follow. Atlantic Books are to be commended for daring to publish this book, a first novel, and for taking a considerable amount of care with the production to enhance the beauty of the reading experience.
Be sure that you read this book.