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Román Setton (Buenos Aires)

Vicente Rossi's Casos policiales, the English Model and the Search for the Authentic National Tradition: Persecution of the Jews and Defense of the Ruling Elite

Vicente Rossi is a familiar name to the Hispanic literature scholars, despite the fact that there are almost no reviews about his literary works, and nobody has studied his detective stories. Although Borges noticed long time ago the injustice of literary history regarding this writer, and he foretold Rossi's glory, Borges's prognosis remains still denied by the silence that surrounds this author. A detailed examination of Casos policiales, the only compilation of his detective stories, is therefore still an outstanding debt. In this essay I examine this compilation, one of the most important books in the early history of the detective story genre in Argentina, and I try to demonstrate that the book can be seen as a turning point in the history of detective story in Argentina.


Vicente Rossi is a familiar name to Hispanic literature scholars, despite the fact that there are almost no studies about his literary works, and nobody has studied his detective stories. His name is associated today less with crime fiction than with the early investigations about River Plate Spanish, the history of tango, and the history of theatre in Argentina; he is also remembered as the author of Cosas de negros. Borges noticed long time ago the injustice of literary history regarding this writer, whom he characterized as a "matrero criollo-genovés de vocación charrúa" (2: 68), and he foretold Rossi's glory: "ahora inaudito y solitario Vicente Rossi va a ser descubierto algún día, con desprestigio de nosotros sus contemporáneos y escandalizada comprobación de nuestra ceguera" (1: 373). Despite the relatively recent new edition of Cosas de negros (2001), Borges's prognosis remains still denied by the silence that surrounds this author.

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In a two-page article, "Dos ignorados precursores de la narrativa policial rioplatense," Soler Cañas (under the pseudonym of Miguel Ferrán)1 listed in 1956 all of Rossi's detective stories, but he examined none of them.2 Some forty years later, one of Rossi's detective stories – "Los vestigios de un crimen" – was included for the first time in a compilation of Argentine detective literature, Cuentos policiales argentinos (1997), prepared by Jorge Lafforgue. Since then, no paper has been devoted to his detective narrative; only the usual indications of his name among the pioneers of this literary genre in Spanish can be found, though he wrote at least ten detective stories3 and he is, together with Félix Alberto de Zabalía, one of the most prolific authors in the genre until the 1930s. A detailed examination of the Casos policiales, the only compilation of his detective stories, is therefore still an outstanding debt.

The case of Vincent Rossi is quite interesting, if it is seen under the light of the earlier tradition and the subsequent evolution of the Argentine detective literature as a genre, for his narrative may well be considered the inflection point between crime fiction until 1910 and the next generation of detective literature. On the one hand, his stories are exemplary of the end of the first period of Argentine detective literature. The pseudonym he used to sign his stories (William Wilson), published in the journal La Vida Moderna and then partially compiled under the title Casos policiales, unequivocally refers to the figure of Edgar A. Poe. Rossi published his detective stories in this journal between October 24, 1907 and March 16, 1910. Only five of these tales were included in the book Casos policiales, and although the cover says it is the "1a serie" of stories, and as "el lector debe saber,"4 "amenaza con otros sucesivos,"5 there was no subsequent book. In the foreword to the book, the author attacks the "vulgares" compilations of detective stories, whose actions take place in Paris or London, and that abounds in "májicos recursos, situaciones horripilantes y triunfos sobrenaturales" (I). In contrast to those books, "en que han dejenerado lastimosamente el arte de Pöe y las agradables distracciones de Conan Doyle" (I), Casos policiales tries to follow the English tradition of detective stories, which the author exalts as the original and authentic one.

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Rossi formulates as an antithesis the difference between these two traditions, the whodunit detective story – in which the mystery and the enigma are the main features – and the adventure mystery novel (heir in some way of the Gothic novel and the French tradition of roman policier), and gives some reasons – regarding landscape and cultural differences – to reject the adventure mystery novel as a model for Argentine detective literature. In contrast to Europe, we lack in the Río de La Plata6 – Rossi says – the usual scenarios for these tales of pseudo-investigations:

Es que no tenemos ambiente que nos haga aceptar para entre-casa, milagros de intuición, ni asombrosas coincidencias, ni el engaño del disfraz, ni ventriloquía de oportunidad … nos falta la materia prima con que se elabora el relato de pseudoinvestigaciones hasta el máximo de lo inverosímil. No tenemos castillos prehistóricos, ni siquiera modernos, que cual fabulosas cajas de satánica relojería, son depositarios de los más grandes arcanos de escotillón, en la mampostería, en los herrajes, en los tapices y en la leyenda. Tampoco tenemos callejones de profesionales de la delincuencia, impunemente instalados y patentados en tugurios tenebrosos; ni tenemos palacios misteriosos… En fin no contamos con el decorado y la tramoya que exije el cuento preconcebido de criminales-frégolis y polizontes injenuos. (Casos policiales II–III)

In this passage, it is possible to perceive that Wilson tries to follow Poe's and Doyle's footsteps, but in combination with a realistic model of narration. He wants his tales, situated in Montevideo and Buenos Aires, to accomplish the task of being more than "contados solamente," he wants them to be accepted by the reader not only "para pasar el rato" (I), because they try to "simular realidades" and therefore he resigns himself to "la pobreza de movimiento escénico y la ausencia de episodios estupendos, que dan atracción y amenidad á la lectura de esta especie que hoy se edita profusa y sin escrúpulos" (IV). Consistent with this poetic principle, Rossi's style is sparing, limpid and enjoyable.

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Since there is probably only one existent exemplar of Casos policiales (in the Argentine National Library) – and no one has written (in detail) about the book –, it is perhaps useful to notice that this compilation of stories includes the following tales: "La pesquisa del níquel", "Los vestijios de un crimen", "Un robo en complicidad con la ley", "El asesinato de Greifen" and "El asesinato del Sr. Gartland". All the stories have slight changes compared with the versions published in La Vida Moderna. The detective and journalist William Wilson, who is also the narrator and author – in the sense that the book is signed under this name –, is clearly identified with the chronicler of La Vida Moderna, and he even presents himself as this chronicler. In three of the five stories he collaborates with a police officer, Máximo, who gets a promotion because of Wilson's help to resolve his first case, "La pesquisa del niquel". In general, Wilson's stories tend to offer a sympathetic view of the criminal. In some of them, the perpetrator strangely becomes the victim. Sometimes, he goes further and ends up blaming the victims for their misfortunes.

Therefore, this collection of stories leaves the reader with an ambiguous impression: it seems that certain crimes – committed in "complicity with the law" and also with the narrator's law – were justified, as if criminals were righteous and avenging heroes or, in the worst case, crafty, street-smart men taking advantage of unworthy men and law defects. With the exception of "El asesinato de Greifen", these stories avoid punishment of criminals by legal system. This aspect of the tales could be seen as a severe criticism of criminal codes and as part of a project to achieve fairer and righter laws (like in Eduardo L. Holmberg's and Raúl Waleis's detective novels), or as a form of compassion, like in Chesterton's detective stories or Rodolfo Walsh's stories about Comisario Laurenzi. But an anti-Semitic and xenophobic aftertaste remains in the reader after closing the volume. In "Un robo en complicidad con la ley", "El asesinato de Greifen" and "El asesinato del Sr. Gartland", the victims of mysterious crimes are Jews or usurers, or Jews and usurers.

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"Un robo en complicidad con la ley" and "El asesinato de Greifen" have a very similar plot and also a very similar way to represent some of the key motives of the tales. In the first, Miguel Zeboya y Zuñaterría simulates he has been robbed and sells the presumptive stolen items to different Jews. Then he pretends to have casually found these items in the buyer´s stores, and he recovers them with the help of the police. So he scams the buyers that – in his opinion – have paid a price inconsistent with the value of the objects that were part of the alleged stolen loot. After discovering what really happened – i.e. it is a scam of a well-to-do-boy with double-barrelled surname –, both the police and detective Wilson decide not to give legal continuity to police investigations. Miguelito's allegation helps to understand the justice model presented in Wilson's stories:

Quiero que ustedes me interpreten y me juzguen como hombres, antes que como autoridad. Las calaveradas inevitables en mi medio social… los compromisos inflexibles del exhibicionismo aquí, allá ó dónde se haga temporada… mi enfermedad… ¡qué sé yo! me habían colocado en esas situaciones que se suelen solucionar con una bala. Sin valor para tanto, busqué otros medios más sensatos, pero me fallaron… El señor Wilson lo ha dicho… y así fué, como él lo ha dicho. ¿He robado? Creo que sí y creo que nó. Los recursos fueron arrancados del gremio de judíos prestamistas… ellos quisieron robarme sin que nadie los molestara; troqué los papeles, y ¿yo soy el ladrón? Ni es lójico, ni es justo. No hay ningún perjudicado. No hay más delito que el del usurero que creyó satisfacer su repugnante avaricia comprando objetos robados… ¿Qué se ha robado? ¿cuánto? ¿cómo? ¿quién? En apuros morales se vería el juez que se abocara [a] esta causa. (Un robo 104–05)

Asking to be judged by the authority not "as authority" but "as men," Miguelito seems not to include the Jews in this category, because the only way to understand, in this context, the syntagma "No hay ningún perjudicado" is to deny the harmed Jews the status of human beings, i.e. of being "someone." Under these circumstances, both the police and the journalist-detective Wilson decide not to proceed with the legal process, and the narrator concludes that, in his view, justice was done (Un robo 105). This extremely striking conception of justice is linked to the belief that there are some criminals that the law does not condemn. It is a conception less about crimes than about criminals, individuals that – in Wilson's opinion – systematically hurt mankind by their criminal actions not covered by the criminal codes.

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In fact, in "El asesinato de Greifen", the Jewish moneylender is not a victim of scam but of murder, and the narrator's justification of this murder reveals a clear anti-Semitism and a concealed – but not that much – incitation to murder Jewish moneylenders.

Greifen… era uno de esos misteriosos opulentos, sin hogar y sin amigos, que entregados á su incomprensible ascetismo, se inyectan hasta el más completo envenenamiento la creencia de que no son mortales… Era uno de tantos avaros; tenebrosos alquimistas que convierten las lágrimas ajenas en oro propio.
Éste crimen pertenecía a la especie de los que quedan impunes, por torpe que sea el asesino.
Caso vulgar; hoy es aquí, mañana en Londres ó en Viena… Como los eclipses, se suceden con cierto sabor a Calendario; y muy contadas veces se han podido encontrar los móviles o dar con el criminal.
Existe pues una ley fatal en la especie humana, que ordena las ejecuciones de esos enigmáticos seres disgregantes. (El asesinato 109–10)

"El asesinato de Greifen" presents the investigation of a murder: a German Jew, Greifen, who has been killed by a Polish-German, Undraj Bidoa in complicity with Augusto Dinglaof, also Polish-German. In the case of Undraj, the motivation of the murder is explained with an old story about a family grievance from the times when both lived in Poland. Greifen "wrapped" ["envolvió"] Undraj's family, "wealthy and honorable" ["pudiente y honrada"], in "justice depredations" ["depredaciones de justicia"], and he "usurped all their properties, dividing them with his piracy companions" ["usurpó todos los bienes dividiéndolos con sus compinches de piratería"] (El asesinato 163). After uselessly asking Greifen for financial aid to buy medicines for his moribund mother, Dinglaof (who is Greifen's unrecognized son) ends up giving Undraj the address of his father, so that he can carry out his vendetta. Despite Dinglaof's warning last letter, Greifen – "rabiosamente obstinado, con la negra obstinación del judío" (164) – does not help his son and is killed.

The contrast between the description of the crime victim and the description of the crime accomplice anticipates the justifications of Jews denunciation in Hitler's Germany. Augusto (!) Dinglaof is the Polish-German that delivers the German Jew to the murderer: Dinglaof […] soltero; sin fortuna y con mucha voluntad de trabajo. Acompañaba a su madre enferma y pobre […] Educado; correcto en sus procederes y sin vicios conocidos (160).

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If the reader could still have any doubt, Undraj explains that the murder of Greifen was "un bien a la humanidad" (160) and corresponded to God's justice (165). It is exactly the way in which a scapegoat is discursively constructed – according to René Girard's conception.7

Unlike the other stories, the plot of "El asesinato del Sr. Gartland" corresponds with a real murder that was committed in Argentina by the time the tale was published. In connection with this fact, it is presented by the author as an "empirical investigation" ["pesquisa empírica"] that had been charged to the writer-detective by the director of La Vida Moderna, "Dr. A. Giménez Pastor" (Casos policiales 179). The plot is constructed on police reports that appeared in three newspapers and the tale is subtitled as "Described in an anonymous text by 'The murderer'" ["Descrito en un anónimo por 'El asesino'"]. The purpose of the narrator-investigator was, as he himself informs, to make an inquiry "in mind" ["in mente"] (Casos policiales: 183). However, he was determined to give up this project because of the diversity of newspapers versions about the event, until, as he says, he received a letter describing the crime signed by "The murderer." The detective then resolves to make this letter the object of his investigation.

The very title of the story is striking, because we find there that Gartland, the empirical and non-Jewish victim, is called Mr. ["Sr."], a title denied to Greifen, the fictive and Jewish victim, in a syntagma that is much the same, but with this little but very significant difference: "El asesinato de Greifen" / "El asesinato del Sr. Gartland". Also the analysis of the murderer's letter reveals in a too obvious way Wilson's (and Rossi's) prejudices. The murderer tells how a woman allowed him to enter Gartland's house: the detective concludes without any other element or reason that this woman is a foreigner, and so is the murderer (Casos policiales 186). The story is by far the worst of the book, and it does not offer much more than these "deductions" with no base or importance. Probably the most interesting point to the public at that time was that the tale gave a literary form to a famous crime and that the investigation was carried out without attending to the crime scene and only based on textual sources, in a way that evokes the crime resolution in "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt", by Edgar Allan Poe.

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"La pesquisa del níquel" is the tale that opens the book and it is very likely the most achieved and rounded story of the volume. It presents the mystery of the falsification of 20-cent coins. The detective's curiosity is roused by the constant appearance of 20-cent pieces of nickel recently forged. These coins contrast strikingly with those of other denominations, because these latter exhibit the wear caused by continuous use.

The enigma resides in the fact that the foundry of nickel coins of 20 cents would not be a profitable business, because of the cost of the material. To unravel the mystery, Wilson publishes an advertisement in different newspapers requesting an engraver of medals. This is answered by an Italian worker, who gives "music lessons, for mandolin" ["lecciones de música, de mandolino"] (Casos policiales 17). Wilson asks this worker to perform medals of the same size and very similar to the 20-cent coins for an alleged promotion of cigarettes and gives the worker, to use as model, a 20-cent coin in which he has removed a lock of hair from the coined figure.

–No hemos podido conseguir que nos sirvieran los grabadores más conocidos, por estar cargados de trabajo y ser urgente el nuestro, así que celebramos su oferta.
Mientras yo decía esto, mi amigo sacó de un bolsillo una moneda grande, de plomo, que presentaba de un lado el busto de la Libertad, idéntico al de las monedas de níquel, y del otro, la leyenda Cigarrillos Cacique – Vale por 20 atados.
–Se trata –indicó mi amigo– de hacer un troquel para acuñar monedas de este tipo, con la diferencia de que en vez de Cigarrillos Cacique dirá Cigarrillos London, y deben tener el aspecto y tamaño exacto de las monedas de níquel de veinte. (18)

When the engraver brings the sample, the figure has the lock, because it was coined with the model that the Italian worker normally uses for his forgeries. Based on this fact and also on the worker's disturbance when he is interrogated by the police, Wilson concludes that this is the man he has been looking for. The worker refuses to confess, but Wilson manages eventually to solve the mystery: two 5-cent coins of nickel weigh the same as one 20-cent coin: the engraver was melting those and with the metal obtained he was coining new 20-cent pieces. As in most of Rossi's detective stories, law does not punish the guilty man. In this case, the reason is that Wilson did not find enough evidence to prove his theory.

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The affinities with the tales of Poe and Doyle are quite evident: the half artistic nature of the criminal; the forgery conceived as a planned work of intelligence to mislead the law; the misleading newspaper advertisement that attracts the lawbreaker (the same strategy that Dupin uses in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" to attract the sailor); even the fact that there is no retributive justice, since the criminal receives no punish (as in "The Purloined Letter", "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", "The Man with the Twisted Lip", "A Scandal in Bohemia", "The Adventure of the Yellow Face", etc.). In this story, and perhaps only in this story, Wilson follows the poetic principle preached in the book foreword: he avoids the melodramatic elements and constructs a closed and rounded plot of a whodunit detective story.

"Los vestigios de un crimen" is by far the most famous Rossi's detective tale, very probably the only one which is not entirely unknown, because it is the only tale which has been published in the last 100 years. It is also the less representative tale of his detective fiction. The central motive is not a crime, but only a mystery, product of a juvenile joke. Due to the discovery, in a construction site, of a skull and an ancient scroll (with an ambiguous and enigmatic message: "Al pié de esta pared y á un metro de profundidad he enterrado el tesoro de mi venganza. Si alguien lo encuentra dele el destino que crea más humano" [42]), the Bickles, owners of the land where the construction was going on, decide to stop the work, harming in this way the building company of the Riquenis, friends of Wilson. After a site survey, the detective concludes – based on the ink and the calligraphy of the written message, the skull and the soda bottle in which the manuscript was found – that it was just an old prank of medicine students. Then Wilson writes a letter – signing it as Dr. Ludek, alleged author of the joke –, in which he exposes his theory, presenting it not as a mere hypothesis, but as what really had occurred. With this forgery, the detective manages to convince the Bickles family to start again the construction works. Shortly after, Ludek arrives in the country, hears about the case, visits Wilson and congratulates him on the accurate deduction of the facts. While Wilson's deductions in this case are not entirely rustic, resources are less surprising or inventive than those we find, for example, in "Mi primera pesquisa", "La herida del repórter" or "La diadema de la calle Artes", Rossi's detective tales published in La vida moderna but not included in this book. If one confronts this story with the foreword to the book, it is striking the number and variety of motives and elements which come from the tradition of sensation, adventure or melodramatic novels, fiercely criticized there.

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Published under José Figueroa Alcorta's and Roque Sáenz Peña's presidencies, immediately before and after the celebrations of the Centennial of the May Revolution, Rossi's tales can be seen as the agonized cry of the República Conservadora, which had established fraud elections as a method of continuing in the power and following with a project that had begun in the 1880s.8 In accordance with Lugones's ideas in El payador (1916),9 Rossi's texts chase recent immigrants, who are characterized as criminals.10 In this sense, these stories defend "the justifiable suspicion that exists there [in Brazil] regarding certain foreigners" ["el justificable recelo que allí [Brasil] se tiene a ciertos extranjeros"] (Casos policiales 161), and reveal contemporary changes in society that would cause the downfall of the República Conservadora.

These tales present many of the elements found in the previous and contemporary detective stories, those written by Eduardo L. Holmberg, Raúl Waleis, Carlos Olivera, Carlos Monsalve, Félix Alberto de Zabalía, etc. These elements are the following: the importance of the criminal biography, the fact that the detective does not act in a purely intellectual way (i.e., he is not an armchair detective) and he does not compete against the police, but collaborates with them; the genetic inheritance is an important motive to explain the crime; the fact that chance – as in the French detective novel in the 19th century – plays a major role in the solution of the mystery, etc. (Setton 2011) But at the same time, they can be seen as the beginning of a new model of detective story in Argentina, which is in connection with the Golden Age of detective fiction. Published shortly before the beginning of the Golden Age and shortly after the appearance of Chesterton's first story on Father Brown, the Casos policiales begin rudimentary to follow the purely intellectual model of the English detective story. In that sense they are an inflection point in the history of Argentine detective story, because they are related to the previous stories and also announce the next ones, written by Víctor Guillot, Eustaquio Pellicer, Enrique Anderson Imbert, etc., stories related to a different literature and to a different country.

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Becco, Horacio J. (2004): "Bibliografía de Vicente Rossi", in: Rossi, Vicente: Cosas de negros. Buenos Aires: Taurus, 25–32.

Borges, Jorge L. (1997-2001): Textos recobrados, 3 vols.  Eds. Sara Luisa del Carril and Mercedes Rubio de Zocchi. Buenos Aires: Emecé.

Doyle, Arthur C. (2003): Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories, 2 vols. New York: Bantam.

Girard, René (1982): Le Bouc émissaire. Paris: Grasset.

Holmberg, Eduardo L. (1905): "Don José de la Pamplina", in: Caras y Caretas, April 8, n. pag. and 15 April, n. pag.

Holmberg, Eduardo L. (1906): "Más allá de la autopsia", in: Caras y Caretas, March 31, n. pag, and April 7, n. pag.

Holmberg, Eduardo L. (1957): "La bolsa de huesos", in: Cuentos fantásticos. Ed. Antonio Pagés Larraya. Buenos Aires: Hachette, 169–236.

Holmberg, Eduardo L. (1957): "Nelly", in: Cuentos fantásticos. Ed. Antonio Pagés Larraya. Buenos Aires: Hachette, 237–304.

Holmberg, Eduardo L. (1957): "La casa endiablada", in: Cuentos fantásticos. Ed. Antonio Pagés Larraya. Buenos Aires: Hachette, 305–93.

Kalifa, Dominique (1995): L'encre et le sang. Récits de crimes et société à la Belle Époque. Paris: Fayard.

Lafforgue, Jorge (1997): Cuentos policiales argentinos. Buenos Aires/Madrid/México, Montevideo/Santiago: Alfaguara/Aguilar/Santillana/Altea/Taurus.

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Lugones, Leopoldo (1979): El payador y antología de poesía y prosa. Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho.

Monsalve, Carlos (1881): "Historia de un paraguas", in: Páginas literarias. Buenos Aires: Imprenta de Ostwald y Martínez, 92–137.

Monsalve, Carlos (1884): "Historia de un paraguas", in: Juvenilia. Buenos Aires: Imprenta de "El Diario", 160–200.

Olivera, Carlos (1887): "El hombre de la levita gris", in: En la brecha (1880–1886). Buenos Aires/Paris: F. Lajouane/Ch. Bouret, 32–41.

Olivera, Carlos (1887): "Los muertos á hora fija", in: En la brecha (1880-1886). Buenos Aires/Paris: F. Lajouane/Ch. Bouret, 141–150.

Olivera, Carlos (1887): "Fantasmas", in: En la brecha (1880–1886). Buenos Aires/Paris: F. Lajouane/ Ch. Bouret, 190–195.

Poe, Edgar A. (1952): Tales, Poems and Essays. London: Collins.

Rossi, Vicente (under the pseudonym of William Wilson) (1908): "La diadema de la calle Artes", in: La Vida Moderna, August 27: 18–19.

Rossi, Vicente (under the pseudonym of William Wilson) (1908): "Un correcto señor de luto", in: La Vida Moderna, December 30: 22.

Rossi, Vicente (under the pseudonym of William Wilson) (1909): "La herida del repórter", in: La Vida Moderna, April 28: 24–25.

Rossi, Vicente (under the pseudonym of William Wilson) (1909): "Mi primera pesquisa", in: La Vida Moderna, October 13: 14–15.

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Rossi, Vicente (under the pseudonym of William Wilson) (1912): Casos policiales. Río de La Plata (Córdoba): Beltrán y Rossi Editores.

Rossi, Vicente (under the pseudonym of William Wilson) (1912): "La pesquisa del níquel", in: Casos policiales. Río de La Plata (Córdoba): Beltrán y Rossi Editores, 1–34.

Rossi, Vicente (under the pseudonym of William Wilson) (1912): "Los vestigios de un crimen", in: Casos policiales. Río de La Plata (Córdoba): Beltrán y Rossi Editores, 32–58.

Rossi, Vicente (under the pseudonym of William Wilson) (1912): "Un robo en complicidad con la ley", in: Casos policiales. Río de La Plata (Córdoba): Beltrán y Rossi Editores, 59–105.

Rossi, Vicente (under the pseudonym of William Wilson) (1912): "El asesinato de Greifen", in: Casos policiales. Río de La Plata (Córdoba): Beltrán y Rossi Editores, 107–178.

Rossi, Vicente (under the pseudonym of William Wilson) (1912): "El asesinato del Sr. Gartland", in: Casos policiales. Río de La Plata (Córdoba): Beltrán y Rossi Editores, 181–206.

Rossi, Vicente (2001): Cosas de negros. Ed. Horacio Jorge Becco. Buenos Aires: Taurus.

Setton, Román (2011): "Die Anfänge der Detektivliteratur in Argentinien. Rezeption und Umgestaltung der deutschen, englischen und französischen Gattungsmuster", in: HeLix. Heidelberger Beiträge zur romanischen Literaturwissenschaft 4, 102–25.

Soler Caña, L. (under the pseudonym of Miguel Ferrán) (1956): "Dos ignorados precursores de la narrativa policial rioplatense", in: Histonium, 210, 57–59.

Soler Caña, L. (1959): "Orígenes de la Literatura Policial Argentina", in: Clarín, May 24, "Suplemento literario": 7.

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Waleis, Raúl (2009): La huella del crimen. Ed. Román Setton. Buenos Aires: Adriana Hidalgo, 2009.

Waleis, Raúl (2012): Clemencia. Ed. Román Setton. Buenos Aires: Adriana Hidalgo.

Zia, Lisardo (1956): Clarín, August 19, 1956, "Agenda": 2.


1 We also owe Soler Cañas the knowledge of the first version of "La pesquisa", by Paul Groussac, titled in this first version "El candado de oro", the first Argentinian detective story.

2 Even before the publication of Ferrán in November 1956, Lisardo Zia had already pointed (Clarín, Buenos Aires, 19 August 1956) Rossi as one of the initiators of this literary genre in Argentina: "Sus cuentos policiales le confieren un galardón de precursor: en nuestra literatura rioplatense. abrió una picada propia, como desbrozador de esos misterios policiales" ("Agenda" 2). Thinking along the same lines, Soler Cañas affirms in another article that in Rossi's detective stories we can find "una línea original y autóctona, ajena a las modalidades de un Conan Doyle o un Poe, en ese tiempo los autores de más celebridad que circulaban en el país". And he adds that "los Casos policiales, de Rossi, ignorados por completo hoy en día, constituyen una producción de características sumamente originales, incluso por el lenguaje y el estilo" ("Orígenes de la Literatura Policial Argentina" 7). Lisardo Zia is possibly a pseudonym of Lisardo Alonso, of whom we know certainly the following pseudonyms: Sylvester Strange, George Sorymser and Leo Zard. Lisardo Zia seems to be a variation of Leo Zard or vice versa.

3 In "Dos ignorados precursores de la narrativa policial rioplatense" (1956), Ferrán listed eleven detective tales that Rossi published in La Vida Moderna. I do not consider here the tale "El ladrón invisible", because it is highly possible that this story was not written by Vicente Rossi. Horacio Jorge Becco, a connoisseur of Rossi's work, does not mention it in his "Bibliografía de Vicente Rossi" (25–32). Moreover, this story, in contrast to the ten others Rossi's detective stories that appeared in La Vida Moderna, does not take place in Montevideo or Buenos Aires, but in London, neither the story is signed by the pseudonym Wilson, but "Williamson". Published in La Vida Moderna, October 13, 1909 (3–5), it appears in the same issue as "Mi primera pesquisa", a detective tale of Rossi. Despite the similarity of the signatures, it is not easy to perceive stylistic features in common between this story and the others, nor coincidences regarding the plot or the conduction of the inquiry; and the detective is not here William Wilson-as it is in all other detective stories-, but Cristóbal Race, "the motorman detective" ["el detective motorista"] (3).

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4 This is the title of the prologue of the book

5 The page is the fourth of the foreword, though erroneously numbered VI. Unfortunately there were no other successive volumes and one of the stories published in La Vida Moderna today seems to be untraceable.

6 This is the place of the publication written on the cover of the book, although the colophon indicates that the book has been published in Córdoba.

7 According to Girard's theory (1982), the scapegoat mechanism is the origin of sacrifice and also the foundation of human culture. The scapegoat mechanism refers to the function of a victimary process in which someone is transformed in a sacrificial victim to save the community. The phrase "scapegoat mechanism" was not coined by Girard himself; it had been before by Kenneth Burke in Permanence and Change (1935) and A Grammar of Motives (1940). However, Girard took this concept from Burke and developed it much more extensively as an interpretation of human culture. According to Girard, the origin of language is also related to scapegoating. After the first victim, after the murder of the first scapegoat, there were the first prohibitions and rituals, but these came into being before representation and language. If mimetic disruption comes back, our instinct will tell us to do again what the sacred has done to save us, which is to kill the scapegoat, to immolate another victim instead of the first. The Gospels ostensibly present themselves as a typical mythical account, with a victim-god lynched by a unanimous crowd. The parallel is perfect except for one detail: the truth of the innocence of the victim is proclaimed by the text. The mythical account is usually built on the lie of the guilt of the victim inasmuch as it is an account of the event seen from the viewpoint of the anonymous lynchers. This ignorance is indispensable to the efficacy of the sacrificial violence which constitutes the scapegoat mechanism.

8 Strikes and labor mobilization under President Alcorta helped to put an end to the restrictive democracy of the República Conservadora and to the approval of the Sáenz Peña Law, which established compulsory and secret vote and carried Hipólito Yrigoyen to the presidency in 1916.

9 Cf.: "La plebe ultramarina, que a semejanza de los mendigos ingratos, nos armaba escándalo en el zaguán, desató contra mí al instante sus cómplices mulatos y sus sectarios mestizos. Solemnes, tremebundos, inmunes con la representación parlamentaria, así se vinieron" (Lugones 15).

10 In L'encre et le sang. Récits de crimes et société à la Belle Époque (1995), Dominique Kalifa indicates the conjunction of immigration and city growth as an important element in the development of the collective imagination in relation to crime (especially "L'imaginaire du crime", 109–93).