The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez review – a history of conspiracy

The acclaimed Colombian novelist investigates two defining political murders in Bogotá’s past, in a multilayered critique of conspiracy aesthetics

In October 1914, in Bogotá, two disaffected carpenters hacked to death General Rafael Uribe Uribe, “undisputable leader of the Liberal party, senator of the Republic of Colombia and veteran of four civil wars”. Years later, on 9 April 1948, Liberal firebrand and presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was shot and killed by Juan Roa Sierra; the assassin was beaten to death by a mob before his motives could be made plain or his associates – if any – discovered. This clever, labyrinthine, thoroughly enjoyable historical novel by the Colombian author of The Informers and The Sound of Things Falling entangles the two deaths and investigates the internecine politics that lay behind them.

“I accepted very early,” the narrator tells us of the Gaitán killing, “as we’ve all come to accept over ...