Spain

The Summer of Dead Toys – Antonio Hill

Title – The Summer of Dead Toys

Author – Antonio Hill (translated Laura McGloughlin)

Published – 2012

Genre – Crime fiction

I heard quite a lot about this book when it was first published last year and had been watching out for a copy in my local bookshops. When I saw that this had been by read Mrs P of Mrs Peabody Investigates and mentioned my lack of a copy she very kindly sent me hers :-).

The story is a police procedural set in a very hot Barcelona. Inspector Hector Salgado is the main character and, like DI Damen Brook in The Unquiet Grave, Salgado is returning to work following a suspension – in his case for beating up a suspect in a human trafficking case. Instead of being assigned a case on his return he is asked to “unofficially” investigate the death of a young man who has fallen from a window in his home on the night of San Juan.

The “investigation” involves three wealthy families and there are many layers of intrigue and deceit that Salgado must unravel to try to achieve a resolution for the boy’s mother. As the investigation takes ever more serious turns it becomes more official and delves into the past both for the families involved and Salgado’s own boss.

There are multiple other threads too – the case involving the suspect that Salgado attacked has repercussions, Salgado has his own personal issues with his family, and his new young partner has some developments of her own to deal with. This highlights one of the strengths of Hill’s writing and that is the characterisation – all the characters, from the main protagonists through to the most minor appearances, were all well-defined and believable, and Salgado himself is a sympathetic and engaging lead.

For me the book missed a trick in not making more of Barcelona as the setting. I have only visited once, very briefly, but other than the names of streets the author didn’t really bring the city to life for me. Personally I find one of the joys of reading fiction set overseas is the chance to get a glimpse of other places and cultures, but this didn’t quite deliver.  I also thought (and I will say this quietly) that in some places the language felt a bit stilted and reminded me that it was a translation.

The book finishes on a real cliffhanger – so I will have to hope that I manage to find The Good Suicides in a bookshop…

You can see another review of this book at Crime Scraps Review.

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A Death in Valencia – Jason Webster

Title – A Death in Valencia

Author – Jason Webster

Published – 7 June 2012

Genre – Crime fiction

When I won my copy of Or the Bull Kills You earlier in the year I was lucky enough to also receive a sneaky copy of this second title in the Max Cámara series.

Set something over a year after Or the Bull Kills You, Chief Inspector Max Cámara is called to a packed beach where there is a stand-off between the Guardia Civil and the Policias Nacionales – neither wanting to make the first move and take responsibility for a body floating at the shoreline.  Cámara seizes control, and takes responsibility, only to find that the body is the subject of his current investigation – the disappearance of a well-respected paella chef.

As with his previous novel, Webster provides the reader with background on some of the atmosphere, local traditions and colour of Valencia – both the good and the bad. As well as finding out more about paella, and the colourful fishing quarter where the ill-fated chef lived and worked, we also find out more about the corruption amongst the local politicians. Add to this a missing abortionist and the visit of the Pope – Webster again tackling moral issues, challenging the reader and his detective.

The story is well-plotted, and as events unfold we see more of Cámara’s character. He’s still smoking dope and drinking, but there’s less detail here than in the earlier book – enough if you didn’t read the first one, not too much if you did. His personal life isn’t any more organised – in fact he has the rug pulled from under his feet! The relationships between Cámara and some of his colleagues are also explored in a bit more depth.

Needless to say Cámara gets himself into a few scrapes during the story and there’s an exciting climax as all the threads come together. Perhaps, as before, the contrast between the slower-paced early part of the book and the climax is a bit too marked for me, but that’s just a personal quibble.

All-in-all this is another thoroughly enjoyable read – and a little bit of Spanish sunshine for our English summer.

You can see another review over at Gav Reads.

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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