Tag Archives: crime fiction

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: 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 Silent and the Damned

the silent and the damned by robert wilson 24-2-14Second in the Javier Falcón series set in Seville. Santa Clara is a wealthy neighbourhood where people stay inside their elegant air-conditioned homes and don’t mix much with their neighbours. Very un-Spanish. And then people start dying.

First, a husband and wife. Was it one murder and a suicide, or a double-murder? Falcón investigates only to find, living opposite the murdered couple, the wife of his last murder victim [in The Blind Man of Seville]. And this is how Robert Wilson neatly intertwines the back story from the first novel, bringing forward the things a new reader needs to know. Falcón has moved on since then, gone are the formal suits, now he wears a shirt and chinos and seems more relaxed, more at peace with himself. But this is a detective novel, and detectives are traditionally troubled souls so it is not long before the cracks appear.

The deaths keeping coming in the 40° heat, Falcón must deal with the impending marriage of his ex-wife plus the growing suspicion that all is not well at police headquarters. There are links to characters in the first book, dodgy characters, further crimes are hinted at. Will he be allowed to continue his investigation, or will higher powers decree his case unviable? And does Javier Falcón have the mental energy left to care?

An excellent follow-up to The Blind Man of Seville, click here for my review. I read this quicker than the first, I think because of the familiarity of the character. I understand now why the books were serialised on Sky Atlantic.

Click here to find out how this second book got its name, and why Robert Wilson originally wanted to call it The Vanished Hands.

Click here to watch Robert Wilson interviewed on The Murder Room. He talks about writing crime fiction, why people want to read about criminals, and why the crime novel he most admires is George V Higgins’s The Friends of Eddie Coyle.
‘The Silent and the Damned’ by Robert Wilson

Book review: The Blind Man of Seville

the blind man of seville by robert wilson 31-12-13aThe first time I heard of the Javier Falcón books was when the first was dramatized on TV, and unfortunately I missed it. So it was with anticipation that I turned to the first of the four books, The Blind Man of Seville. My first impression was that it was the longest detective book I’d read in a while, but the reason for this soon became apparent: the back story in Tangiers. In a note at the back of the book, Wilson directs his readers to the full-length diaries he wrote for Francisco Falcón, Javier’s late father, artist, Tangiers resident and key character in The Blind Man of Seville.

It is a complicated novel, entangling the Spanish legal system, bullfighting, the worlds of art and restaurants, Seville, Tangiers and the theme which lurks just below the surface of everyday Spain: the Spanish Civil War. There is something about the first murder which slowly tips Inspector Falcón towards mental breakdown. Like all detectives, the interest lies in his frailties, how he overcomes them and manages to do the day job, how he outwits the criminal mind.

Francisco’s diaries are fascinating; an insight into the Spanish Legion, its time in Morocco and Russia, the brutality and hardships, the sense of brotherhood. The diaries in their entirety are available to read at Robert Wilson’s website, here, but do not read them until you have finished the book. At times as Javier reads his father’s story, the story churns his guts; mine too. Anyone who has read anything about the Civil War will anticipate some of the brutality. Wilson skilfully weaves this storyline into the modern day hunt for a murderer.

This is far from a formulaic detective story. Wilson writes about heavy subjects with a confident hand, and creates atmosphere easily. “The hotel had suffered in the intervening half-century. There was a glass panel missing from one of the doors in his room. Paint peeled off the metal windows. The furniture looked as if it had taken refuge from a violent husband. But there was a perfect view of the bay of Tangier and Falcón sat on the bed and gaped at it, while thoughts of deracination spread through his mind.”

This is the first book of a quartet about Javier Falcón. The second in the series is The Silent and the Damned, to be reviewed soon.
‘The Blind Man of Seville’ by Robert Wilson