This post is the third in a series analyzing 2666 from a writer’s perspective. Check out the first post for a more general introduction to the novel.
While the first three books of 2666 have orbited around the evil in Santa Teresa like a dying satellite, the fourth book, The Part About the Crimes, exposes it in grotesque detail. While many reviewers have focused on the author’s clinical, monotonous prose as he describes hundreds of murders in Santa Teresa, it is Bolaño’s masterful introduction and handling of Klaus Haas–a character who truly embodies the novel’s bizarre ambiguity and quiet malevolence–that makes The Part About the Crimes such an innovative addition to Postmodern literature.
Bolaño introduces Haas with a red herring in the previous book. As a reader, when we meet an impossibly tall German in Santa Teresa, we immediately remember Archimboldi, the reclusive writer that the professors tried to track down in Santa Teresa in The Part About the Critics (and eventually the novel’s most central character of all). Bolaño then frustrates our appetite by ignoring Haas for the next one hundred pages, until he pops up suddenly in a police investigation.
With Haas, Bolaño is extraordinarily careful to avoid common tropes and cliches from the police procedurals and murder mysteries he’s channeling. Haas is not an archetypal villain, complete with a particularly idiosyncratic but definable personality, a comprehensible motivation and a dark past. He has none of these things. He is slippery and unknowable, just like Santa Teresa itself.
He seems alternately capable and incapable of the mass murders, thanks to Bolaño’s subtle manipulations, as he blurs the line between madness and genius. At times, Haas displays a keen intellect and an honest disposition. And then a few pages later, he brutally sodomizes a man with an improvised blade. Still, we are given no indications that Haas enjoys this violence, or that it stems from any definable psychosis or neurosis.
Bolaño never directly reveals whether Haas is even involved in the Santa Teresa murders at all. He is not a “villain” any more than the murders of Santa Teresa are a “mystery”: that is, in the traditional novelistic sense. Here as in earlier books, Bolaño continues to defy the assumptive relationship between author and reader. He presents us with a character and a series of events without supplying their motivations or meanings, making 2666 a truly Postmodern murder mystery.