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by John Baker
Flambard, April 2009
244 pages
8.99 GBP
ISBN: 190660102X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The tango is a dance of intrigue and passion. It is more than putting together a series of steps; it is a manifestation of life, full of longing and lust and even cruelty. Reading WINGED WITH DEATH is like dancing a long and intricate version of the tango - it moves forward and back, provides hope of love even while lingering in the grief of parting.

In 1972, eighteen-year-old Frederick Boyle is working on a ship that is traveling to Montevideo, Uruguay. Once he disembarks, he finds a world that is alive and swirling with intrigue, and he never returns to the ship. Renamed "Ramon Bolio" by a man who later turns out to be one of his best friends, Ramon builds a life in this place that is undergoing revolution, with murder and torture a common occurrence. By accident, he finds himself at a place where the tango is being danced by some of the greatest artists of the form. From then on, he is consumed by the mysteries of the dance and it becomes the center of his universe. As time goes on, he is recognized as a master of the dance. He teaches others and finds himself involved in many romantic liaisons. However, only one woman takes real possession of his heart and is his perfect partner in the dance.

WINGED WITH DEATH is the story of Ramon's life, told from his point of view. The book moves back and forth from the past to the present in York. Forced to flee the country, the influences of his Uruguayan experience still pervade Ramon's world. Even as he ages, the tango continues to dominate his life. In the present day, his family is grieving the disappearance of his niece, Hannah. She goes missing one day while going on a short trip to the store. Although the family holds on to hopes of her returning for a very long time, it appears that Hannah will never come home. Once again, Ramon serves as the master of the dance, guiding his family to deal with their sorrow and helping them move on.

Truthfully, the crime aspect of the book is not really a large part of the narrative. Instead, the focus is on Ramon's life in Uruguay and the troubled state of that country, and how that led him to his present-day life. The book is beautifully written, almost like a long poem with elegant paeans to the tango. Baker masterfully connects the dance and all of its nuances to the rhythms of the narrative. It is only at the conclusion of the book that the rhythm falters. Overall, I found WINGED WITH DEATH to be thought-provoking, with the metaphors between the tango and life adding a rich overlay to the story.

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, May 2009

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