Sun 15 Sep 2013
by Marcia Muller
ERIC AMBLER – Doctor Frigo. Atheneum, hardcover, 1974. Bantam, paperback, 1976.First published in the UK by Weidenfeld & & Nicolson, hardcover, 1974.
As the narrator of this novel, Ernesto Castillo, tells us, “In supermarket French the word frigo is used to mean not only refrigerator of freezer, but also, a shade contemptuously, frozen meat.” And “Dr. Frigo” is the nickname by which Castillo is called at the hospital where he works on the small island of St. Paufles-Alizes, in the French Antilles.
Castillo, son of the assassinated dictator of a Central American republic, keeps to himself, close to no one but gallery owner Elizabeth Martens. Even in his relationship with Elizabeth, there is a sense of distance; she is an eccentric, a distant relation of the Austrian Hapsburgs, and tends to intellectualize current happenings in terms of the Thirty Years War.
When Castillo is called to the prefecture one morning, he is puzzled; and he is further surprised to fmd that Commissaire Gillon wishes to talk about Manuel Villegas, nominal head of the exiled Democratic Socialist party of Castillo’s homeland, now residing on the island for reasons of health.
Villegas has dismissed his doctor and wishes Castillo, whom he knew as a boy, to attend him. Gillon strongly advises the doctor to do so — and to report what he learns about a possible coup being planned for the Central American republic.
Castillo complies reluctantly; he wants nothing to do with the politics of his native country — or, as some people, including his own mother, have suggested, with a plan to avenge his father’s murder. And as he is drawn deeper into a web of intrigue, Castillo must come to terms with both the events of the distant past and his immediate present.
Although a bit on the talky side, this is a powerful novel showing a man who is torn between his heritage and the new life he has built for himself, between his basic humanitarian instincts and his desire to preserve his protective facade.
Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007. Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.