Lunar psycho

Costa Rica spatters back on to the literary scene with the groundbreaking true crime novel Cadence of the Moon


Cadence of the Moon
By Óscar Núñez Olivas
2007, Aflame Books
273 pages

Reviewed by Eugene Carey

WHAT CAN a serial killer tell us about Central America? Or, more to the point, what can investigations by the police and press into the region’s first recorded case of a serial killer tell us?

Óscar Núñez Olivas’s Cadence of the Moon provides some startling answers, providing as it does inights both into how Costa Rica – where the killer struck in the 1980s – was ill-equipped institutionally and socially to deal with a crime more commonly found in the developed world; and how probes by both police and journalists were compromised by politics and money.

Cadence of the Moon is also the first work of Costa Rican fiction translated into English for many years – possibly a generation – and its publication by Aflame Books gives credibility to the view that this small country’s writers are beginning to reassert themselves in a highly competitive Spanish-language market (see Óscar Núñez Olivas’s article on Costa Rican writing).

One thing is for sure, however: the killer’s first victim – to steal an old adage – was the truth, as the police struggled to piece together a pattern and withheld crucial clues and insights from the press, and as journalists oppressed by the financial imperatives of their publisher were steered away from reporting the whole story. In this respect, Cadence of the Moon can also tell us much about how newspaper journalism is practised in general, and in Central America in particular.


Cadence of the Moon tells the story of a series of murders committed with dreadful sadism by a psychopathic killer in Costa Rica at a turbulent moment in Central America’s recent history. The police and press compete to uncover the facts, leading to a passionate encounter between a detective and an astonishing female reporter.

This is a groundbreaking work of fiction that explores the dilemmas faced by both policemen and journalists at a key moment in Central America’s turbulent history and Núñez Olivas examines the many divergences between reporters and detectives on the same trail of a killer.

Himself a veteran journalist currently serving with the news agency Agence France Presse in San José, Núñez Olivas examines the dilemmas faced by journalists driven by a professional ethic yet living by the rules of the real world.

The original Spanish title, En clave de luna, was a masterpiece of accessibility revealing with its fluid, concise style this writer’s true journalistic vocation. Núñez Olivas has that rare gift of the storyteller – an aptitude for compelling narration combined with a dexterity that allows him to address the issues that real people have to face in their daily lives.

This gift is captured seamlessly in the English version, Cadence of the Moon, which has been translated with great skill by Joanna Griffin.

Born in 1955, Núñez Olivas’s first two novels were El teatro circular (1996), which won the Editorial Universitaria Centroamericana’s best Latin American novel prize and Costa Rica’s National Novel Prize, and Los Gallos de San Esteban (2000).

Eugene Carey is a freelance writer