Category Archives: Books about Spain

Book review: Granada, A Pomegranate in the Hand of God

Granada, a pomegranate in the hand of god by steven nightingaleAnyone who really wants to understand the magic of Granada should read this book. It combines the history of a city, of al-Andalus, its art, music, philosophy and poetry with the story of an American family moving into a house in the city’s Albayzín.

The author’s description of the delighted reaction of his new neighbours to his small daughter, and their welcoming generosity, mirrors exactly our experiences as newcomers in rural Andalucía. There is a charm about the people here, an old-fashioned courtesy and fascination with strangers, which the author also describes in Granada.

At times I wished for a little more about modern-day Granada and less of the history [this has the feel of an academic book] but it is written with an easy poetic style and is a broad introduction to Moorish Spain. It is a rich and complicated story which, when known, aids understanding of today’s Andalucía.

Click here for more about Steven Nightingale’s books.
‘Granada, A Pomegranate in the Hand of God’ by Steven Nightingale [UK: Counterpoint]

Book review: Midnight in Europe

midnight in europe by alan furst 24-8-141938. Spain at war, Europe on the brink of war. This is the first World War Two novel I have read about the overlap of the two wars, the impact of one on the other, and the approaching shadow of fascism. Nothing happens in isolation. The Spanish Civil War is notoriously difficult to understand: so many factions, changing names etc. Sensibly, Alan Furst concentrates on one aspect: the supply of weapons to the Republicans fighting the fascist army of Franco.

A secret Spanish agency in Paris sources arms and ammunition for the Republicans. Cristián Ferrar, a Spanish lawyer living in Paris and working for a French law firm, is asked to help. Unsure what he is getting into, but resigned to help his mother country, he is soon looking over his shoulder to see if he is being followed – he doesn’t know who by, it could be the Spanish fascists, the Gestapo, the Russians. Inter-cut with Ferrar’s story are excerpts from the front line in Spain where preparations are being made to fight the Battle of the Ebro. The need for the weapons is desperate, as bullets are counted out for each soldier.

Working with an odd mixture of diplomats, gangsters and generally shady characters, Ferrar first travels to Berlin where there is a glimpse of the pre-war country which with hindsight gives us a chill. The Gestapo follows them at every step. Then there is a nail-biting train journey to Gdansk, as an arms shipment goes missing. The climax is a thrilling boat journey from Odessa to Valencia. Ferrar, is a lawyer not a spy, he is simply an ordinary man doing what he can to help. An ordinary man who is, meanwhile, having a sprinkling of love affairs which may or may not be authentic.

If you have been put off before at reading novels about the Spanish Civil War because the politics is confusing, you will enjoy this novel. The shadow of war in Europe is cast over every page, the sense of approaching doom however does not seem to affect the nightclubs of Paris, or the shops of New York where the cheerful atmosphere seems unreal. Ferrar faces moving his family from Louveciennes on the outskirts of Paris, the picturesque country west of the capital which was painted by the Impressionists, to the safety of New York.

This is the first novel by Alan Furst I have read, picked up at random in an airport bookshop. I will read many more.

Click here for Alan Furst’s website.
To read an extract from the book, click here.
Watch this You Tube interview with Alan Furst, speaking about Midnight in Europe.

‘Midnight in Europe’ by Alan Furst [Weidenfeld & Nicolson]

Book review: A Death in Valencia

a death in valencia by jason webster 16-7-14This is a book about more than a singular death, it is an exploration of the nature of death and what constitutes murder. Max Cámara, the Valencia detective introduced in Or the Bull Kills You, cannot sleep: his street is being dug up as the new Metro line is being built, the summer heat pulsates, and Valencia is crazy as it prepares for the arrival of the Pope.

The city buzzes with pro- and anti-Catholic emotions, with pro-life and pro-choice campaigners lining up their arguments for the Pope. Meanwhile the police force prepares security for the visit, as a developer is ripping up the old fisherman’s quarter El Cabanyal [below] to build new apartment blocks. On the first page, a dead body is washed up on the shore. A well-known paella chef.

[photo: masialavanda.com]

[photo: masialavanda.com]

Max has eaten the chef’s paella but is taken off the case to help hunt for a kidnapped woman, a gynaecologist who performs abortions. The eve of the Pope’s visit is the worst possible time for this to happen. As always seems to happen in crime novels, two seemingly separate incidents are linked. The link, in this case, is carefully plotted so I didn’t spot it until the end. For me, this is a deeper more intelligent novel than the first in the Max Cámara series [there are now four], perhaps because the author is settling into the genre and the character.

I must add that Valencia simply rocks in this book, it comes alive off the page, the heat, the tension, the grief. I can smell the summer dust.

To read my review of Jason Webster’s first book about Max Cámara, click here.

[photo: dailymail.co.uk]

[photo: dailymail.co.uk]

To watch a video where Jason Webster [above] explains how he wrote A Death in Valencia and how real life influenced the plot, click here.
To watch a film about El Cabanyal, and the threat it still faces from developers, click here. The film is directed by Tristan Martin and narrated by Nigel Planer.
Click here for Jason Webster’s website for more about Max Cámara, Webster’s travel writing about Spain and a new history book, The Spy with 29 Names.

‘A Death in Valencia’ by Jason Webster [Vintage]

Book review: The Ignorance of Blood

the ignorance of blood by robert wilson 7-7-14 (2)A car accident. Millions of euros. A Russian gangster drinking champagne in the middle of nowhere. The opening scene of this, the fourth in the quartet of books featuring Seville detective Javier Falcón, does not disappoint. Robert Wilson’s intricate plotting is spot-on. I read this book voraciously as Falcón struggles to get to the whole truth, admiring the way the author weaves together the story strands from the preceding three books so that at the end you understand though you did not guess.

I did not get the ending right, I expected something different. There are moments when you wonder if Javier can continue, will he step over to the dark side, will his emotional strength desert him? This is the most international of the four books, with Javier travelling to London and Morocco but Seville retains its hot sultry presence. I can smell the dusty heat of the evening where the detectives seem to exist on coffee and cruelty lays just out of sight.

I’m sorry this is a short review, I can’t write more without giving away the plot. There were moments when I wanted to shout ‘don’t do it’ and others when I thought with sad acceptance ‘yes, that’s the only thing you can do’. At the end, I wanted to start reading the series all over again. Well done Robert Wilson [below]. robert wilson - photo robert-wilson.eu 7-7-14 (2)To read my reviews of the preceding three Javier Falcón books, click here.
The Blind Man of Seville
The Silent and the Damned
The Hidden Assassins
To hear Robert Wilson talk about The Ignorance of Blood, click here.

‘The Ignorance of Blood’ by Robert Wilson

Book review: Blood Med

blood med by jason webster 14-5-14Page one, Spain waits, the king lies dying. There is the feeling of a nation on the edge. In Valencia, there are homeless on the street, immigrants are being harassed, the police department faces cutbacks despite rumblings of public unrest, and there are not enough drugs for the sick.

Blood Med is the fourth in the Cámara Valencia-based detective series by Jason Webster [below]. There are two deaths and Cámara and his colleague Torres are given one case each, the hidden agenda is that one of the two men must be made redundant. One death is suspected suicide, the other a brutal murder. In the way of crime fiction, you know there will be a connection but that connection is of course invisible at the beginning.

[photo: jasonwebster.net]

[photo: jasonwebster.net]

The detective, orphaned young and raised by his grandfather, now lives in Valencia with elderly Hilario plus Max’s girlfriend, journalist Alicia. Both Hilario and Alicia have key roles in this story. Hilario is a huge influence on Max’s approach to life, and he often recalls his grandfather’s fondness for proverbs when he finds himself in a sticky situation. Visteme despacio que tengo prisa he tells himself when he feels the investigation is being rushed. It translates as ‘Dress me slowly, I’m in a rush’. He feels the investigation has tunnel vision; that it is being rushed and would benefit from a step back. “If he could have his way he would send everyone home for the rest of the day to switch off. Go to the beach, go wherever. And have sex – with someone else if possible. If not, whatever. If helped clear the mind.”

[photo: es.wikipedia.org]

[photo: es.wikipedia.org]

This is the most accomplished Cámara novel so far, the setting in Valencia [above] is so strong and the political background feels very real. The corralito described [the government decree to close the banks] feels very real. There are a lot more stories to come in Max Cámara’s Valencia.

For more about Jason Webster’s novels and non-fiction books about Spain, click here.
For information about visiting Valencia, click here.
To read my review of the first of the Max Cámara books, Or the Bull Kills You, click here.
Click here to read my review of the third of the Max Cámara books, The Anarchist Detective.
‘Blood Med’ by Jason Webster [published in the UK on June 5, 2014 by Vintage]

Book review: The Hidden Assassins

The pace of this thriller does not stop. The setting: Seville, Spain. The beginning: a mutilated corpse is found on a rubbish dump. The first turning point: an explosion at a block of flats turns out to be a terrorism attack on the mosque in the basement. Or is it? Detective Javier Falcón is swept along by the media circus and political panic as fear of a widescale attack on Andalucía grips Spain.

Javier Falcón played by Marton Csokas [photo: Sky]

Javier Falcón played by Marton Csokas [photo: Sky]

This is the third of Robert Wilson’s four-book series about Falcón and the story twists and turns relentlessly. The plotting is excellent, I challenge you to work out the answers. As Javier unravels the knots you don’t know what to believe and neither does he.

I am fascinated by the insight into Falcón’s life provided by glimpses of his cooking. His housekeeper leaves his food in the fridge for him to prepare in the evening. He is something of a cook. “Encarnación had left him some fresh pork fillet. He made a salad and sliced up some potatoes and the meat. He smashed up some cloves of garlic, threw them into the frying pan with the pork fillet and chips. He dashed some cheap whisky on top and let it catch fire from the gas flame. He ate without thinking about the food and drank a glass of red rioja to loosen up his mind.” And then he goes out to work again. It is 10pm.

I will not give away the plot details, but there are sub-plots too involving characters who featured in books one and two: Javier’s ex-wife Inés and her husband the judge Esteban Calderón, his ex-girlfriend Consuelo, his sister Manuela.

As always, Seville is an additional character. Its streets, the heat, the lifestyle. It makes me want to go there now.

For my review of The Blind Man of Seville, the first of the Javier Falcón series, click here.
Click here to read my review of The Silent and the Damned, the second in the series.
To watch the trailer ‘Behind the Scenes: Made in Seville’ for the Sky Atlantic Falcón television series, click here.
For information about visiting Seville including the city, hotels, events, and the surrounding countryside, click here.

The fourth and final book in the Javier Falcón series is The Ignorance of Blood, will be reviewed here soon.

the hidden assassins by robert wilson 3-5-14

 

‘The Hidden Assassins’ by Robert Wilson [pub by Harper]

Book Review: ‘Sacred Sierra’ by Jason Webster

sacred sierra by jason webster 4-8-13Sometimes, reading Jason Webster’s story about life at his new rural mountain home near Valencia, it felt like reading our own experience getting to know our home in rural Andalucía. Reclaiming scrub land, planting trees, contending with the elements [for us that has meant -14° to +40°C], farming olives, confronting local wildlife, we have faced many of the same challenges. But we have never made our own hooch, faced a wildfire, or written stories in ink made from oak galls. Webster’s account of life on a hillside of the Castellón mountains brings Spain to life, he portrays his neighbours with fondness and respect, and through it all winds the tales of this mystical region combined with gardening advice from a 12th century moor. A unique ‘living abroad’ tale.
‘Sacred Sierra: a year on a Spanish mountain’ by Jason Webster

5 to remember
sagrado/a – sacred
a veces – sometimes
la vida
– life
rural – rural
la experiencia – experience