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"Secretario" / Catherynne M. Valente

from Weird Tales #356 / Summer 2010
Reviewed by: Daniel R. Robichaud

With its first line, Catherynne M. Valente's contribution to Weird Tales' summer 2010 issue strips the noir genre down to its essentials:

"In the City, there are three kinds of people: the dead, the devils, and the detectives."

From here, "Secretario" fashions an unusual, dark story about the missing Mala Orrin, the City's lone female detective. The tale is related through two narrators — extracts from the detective's journal and a monologue delivered by her male secretary (who coins the story's title as the masculine noun for his occupation). Though only five pages long, the story presents multiple corpses, a couple of devils, clues aplenty as to the detective's fate, and an abundance of delicious mystery.

Valente's prose is as carefully crafted as ever. The piece deftly transitions between its narrators, using the different voices to craft both a doomed love affair as well as an odd mentor-student relationship. The result is immersive and engaging — one part epistolary and one part confession make for an intoxicating attention grabber.

 "Secretario" has quite a bit going on under the hood. It turns gender roles on their heads. It is fascinated with archetypes, and its narrators are not shy about identifying or drawing classical references around them.

In this grim City, the dead are always women, the devils are always men, and only the detectives can swing to either sex. Such reductions raise questions about the detective's secretary: Is he a knight in training or a monster?

"Secretario" keeps most of its answers close to its chest, avoiding an exposition-heavy whodunit ending by fashioning a mood drenched piece from a noir fiction template. Down these rainy, mean streets walks a darkly fantastic vision, sometimes beautiful and sometimes chilling and recommended reading for dark fiction addicts.

Purchase Weird Tales #356 featuring Catherynne M. Valente’s “Secretario”.

Posted on Monday, March 21, 2011 at 11:50AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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