Or The Bull Kills You – Jason Webster

Title – Or The Bull Kills You

Author – Jason Webster

Published – 2011

Genre – Crime fiction

I was lucky to win a copy of this book over at the It’s a Crime! blog, which was particularly lucky as I’m not sure I would have bought a book that centres around bullfighting. This is the author’s first crime fiction book, and I think it’s an excellent start.

When Chief Inspector Max Cámara reluctantly replaces his boss as the president of the corrida he is drawn into the investigation of a star matador’s death. The investigation gets off to a slow start – the mutilated body provides very little evidence and there seems to be a limited cast of suspects, but then another body is found, murdered in a similar manner.

All of the action takes place against the backdrop of the annual Fallas – a noisy and wild 5-day festival which takes over the city of Valencia, also coinciding with the election of the Mayor. Lightening the mood a little are the efforts of Cámara and his colleagues to settle into the new Jefatura building (police headquarters), originally designed as a new art museum the architecture doesn’t exactly lend itself to a more mundane purpose.

I think Cámara makes a great central character, and we get some insights to his personal life – there are problems with his long-time girlfriend and we’re also introduced to his unconventional grandfather. In fact all the characters seem well written and credible.

Pretty much all I know about Spain comes from a weekend in Barcelona, so some of the longer explanations and background were necessary.  Webster brought the city to life and I’m tempted to say that Valencia may have to go on my list of places to visit, although probably not during Fallas.

If I have a complaint about the book it’s around the action at the climax of the story and the final unravelling of who did what to whom – I couldn’t really keep up & felt I needed some post-its to try to keep track!

I know that many people have found the more graphic scenes of bullfighting unpleasant and unnecessary, but I thought that Webster found the right balance to illustrate the sport without dwelling too much on what is inevitably disturbing for a lot of people. In the course of the story Cámara himself goes from hating the “sport” to developing a greater understanding of the traditions and culture surrounding bullfighting, giving him a greater appreciation of it. I’m not sure I went on quite the same journey, but I certainly understood more that I did at the outset.

I enjoyed Webster’s style of writing and I’m looking forward to reading Cámara’s next outing in “A Death in Valencia”.

You can see a different view of this title over at Reactions to Reading.

Score – 4/5

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4 comments

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful review. I have to admit, the story interests me, but the whole bullfighting theme puts me off. I haven’t read this yet and I’m very glad that you enjoyed it, but I may wait. I’ll have to decide if I can get past my feelings about bullfighting…

    1. It’s a tricky subject and difficult for those of us from outside Spain to understand. I have read plenty of books that have had some very unpleasant and graphic scenes in them featuring both people and animals which the reader comes across without any warning, at least with this you have an idea of what to expect.

  2. Thanks for the shout out. I did enjoy the setting of this book – even the bullfighting which I don’t agree with but I think it was interesting to see it depicted authentically and as you say understanding things is important – “we” collectively seem so willing to make snap judgements about what is and isn’t right about other cultures without taking into account all the nuances of the historical reasons for things.

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