Prize-winning Colombian novelist Evelio Rosero has written a dark comedy in Good Offices. From the perspective of the hunchback Tancredo, a night of changes unfolds in a Catholic church in Bogota, Colombia. Tancredo has just finished his exhausting duties serving almost 100 unruly elderly and cleaning up when he is summoned to Father Almida’s office and learns of a crisis. Almida and the old sacristan Machedo have to be absent from the evening mass in order to persuade their sponsor to continue his bounty. Their last-minute replacement, Father Matamoros, enlivens the mass and congregation with his beautiful voice. Secrets come out, and not just the passion between Tancredo and the sacristan’s goddaughter, Sabrina. The real revelations are the corruption and abuses of Father Almida and the sacristan. The loving spirit of Father Matamoros seems an apt replacement; except, he too has his faults, noticeably alcoholism.
Father Matamoros is the catalyst for unleashing the parishioners’ pent-up fury and passion. Tancredo is able to confess his fear of “being an animal,” but the real surprise occurs when the three Lilias, devout ladies who are always in black, take revenge and control. These old women, “their arms open, their black shawls like wings,” are transformed:
For a fleeting moment, the Lilias’ faces looked demented, unfamiliar. One of them was drooling: the drool dampened her neck, smearing it white, like the froth that spews from the mouths of rabid dogs. The other had popping eyes, and the third displayed a peculiar twisted smile of unhinged happiness on her wide-open mouth, as if about to burst into silent laughter.
The nighttime is magical in this short, satirical page-turner. Tancredo doesn’t see clearly in the dark of the church or outside in the garden, so that actions and people emerge as from a fog. The humor and potential catastrophes escalate with Matamoros’ drinking problems and the efforts to hide them. The release of humans from their tiring bondage is balanced precariously with the priest’s own deteriorating health in a well-controlled, fast-paced unfolding of events. This quick read, at times quite lyrical, is worth enjoying.