Sometimes it's good to bet. Tattoo, the novel that made Pepe Carvalho the great Barcelona detective, arose from a bet. Something similar happened with Khaltar Yeruldelgger, a conventional detective in a scenario as unconventional as Mongolia. Patrick Manoukian, a former travel journalist, a successful businessman, he had been writing for years without ending anything. One of his daughters challenged him: would he be able to write four books in two years, each one of a different genre, each signed with a different pseudonym? Manoukian did it. The fourth book was a policeman called Dead in the steppe. Manoukian signed him as Ian Manook. Now, the Mongolian detective already stars in a trilogy of great international success.
Manoukian / Manook spends a few days in Buenos Aires, where his daughter lives, the one who launched the bet. He admits that he was never fond of the crime novel and that the creation of his character was a complicated process. He started from an archetypal detective: a big man, hard and fragile at the same time, battered by life. I had it already described in an old unfinished text. He was a Brooklyn cop. The stroke of genius was to place him as head of the Ulan Bator Criminal Brigade, in Mongolia. That transformed the character and gave the story a depth that the author, when he started typing, did not even imagine: "Yeruldelgger only makes sense in Mongolia."
"I wanted a mineral scenario for a mineral character like Yeruldelgger and I considered several options, including Patagonia"
Manook worked in the office of his company, surrounded by noise and movement. He ignored the rules of the genre and decided to start with an image that had been hanging around his head for some time: an infant object half-buried in an arid land. The object turned out to be a tricycle. "I counted that in the first chapter and I blocked myself," he explains. I did not know how to continue. As he had another image, that of some Chinese quartered in an urban setting, he wrote that scene. "From that moment on, the work consisted in relating the tricycle to the Chinese." In this way, he ended up achieving a complex and fascinating story.
"The election of Mongolia was casual, I wanted a mineral scenario for a mineral character like Yeruldelgger and I considered several options, including Patagonia," he says. Once the choice was made, the background emerged. On the one hand, an exotic landscape and culture, which Manook had known as a traveler. On the other, the tragedy of a small country of 3.5 million inhabitants sandwiched between two giants like China and Russia, poor, windswept and punished by extreme temperatures.
"It is a miracle that Mongolia subsists. It has no story other than that of Gengis Khan and their descendants, barely a century in which the Mongols killed 40 million people (10% of the world's population), swept China and reached the gates of Europe; then, without having built anything, they returned to insignificance. " Mongolia, lost in the Central Asian steppe, was the second country, after Russia, to integrate into the Soviet Union. When it collapsed, Mongolia was inscribed in Chinese capitalism, "the most destructive that exists, for people and for the environment." Corruption is imaginable: "eight of the ten greatest fortunes in the country have been made in politics," says the writer.
When the USSR collapsed, Mongolia inscribed in Chinese capitalism, "the most destructive that exists"
Mongolia was a perfect setting for a crime novel. But something did not fit: the police Yeruldelgger had to proceed, in that case, a Stalinist education. And no, it could not be. The head of the Criminal Brigade was not that kind of person. Manook solved the problem by making the policeman a former student-monk in one of the few monasteries that the communists had not destroyed. That gave the character a vaguely shamanic dimension, ideal to round out its appeal and its not always logical operation.
The Mongols are people from the steppe. "Each tradition has its meaning and it can be said that social norms, no more than half a hundred, are established through traditions. For example, "explains Manook," when a traveler says goodbye to a yurt, someone goes out with him and accompanies him for a while with a bowl of milk. It is not simple hospitality, the question is that a storm can break out in a few minutes and it is convenient to know exactly in which direction the traveler has left in case it is necessary to come to help him ".
The steppe is increasingly inhospitable. The climate becomes even more extreme. And the wool that grows on the neck of local goats produces the best cashmere in the world, so the nomads buy more and more goats and settle in the suburbs of Ulan Bator. "The government gives them plots for a very simple reason: Ulan Bator lives on international subsidies and the amount of subsidies depends on the number of inhabitants. The more, the more money. That money, of course, is left by a few. " A city without infrastructure, with an atrocious cold or an unbearable heat, with a growing population, uprooted and poor, far from everything except the local mafias, the corrupt police and the arbitrariness of power: only a guy like Yeruldelgger can survive that .