Friday, May 07, 2010

More sketches of Spain: P.J. Brooke on Spanish crime fiction, Part II


P.J. Brooke is the husband-and-wife team of Philip J. O’Brien and Jane Brooke. A Darker Night, their second novel featuring Sub-Inspector Max Romero, is due from Soho/Constable this summer. Part II of their survey of Spanish crime fiction for Detectives Beyond Borders takes in well-known names, prize winners, regional writers and foreign authors who set their work in Spain. (Read Part I here.)
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Problems of identity play an important role. The fiercely independent regions of Catalunya, the Basque country and Galicia have produced crime novels first written in local languages: Itxaro Borda’s in the Basque language and Carlos G. Reigosa’s in Galician. Women novelists have, for the first time, also come to the fore. Borda’s investigator is (good heavens) lesbian.

Since the 1990s, Arturo Pérez-Reverte has dominated the Spanish mystery scene. The Dumas Club is a Gothic tale about rare books that strays into Dan Brown territory but does it far better. It was filmed by Roman Polanski as The Ninth Gate with Johnny Depp. The Flanders Panel, The Fencing Master, The Seville Communion and The Queen of the South are all strong, meticulously researched, historically based tales, a little ornate at times, but never boring.

Liberty vs. social responsibility
Lorenzo Silva, one of Spain’s most successful crime writers, has produced two very modern Guardia Civil officers in the Basque Ruben Bevilacqua and his assistant, the Mallorcan Virginia Chamorra, both of whom grapple with conflicts between individual liberty and social responsibility in a democratic Spain and reflect changing perceptions of cops. Unfortunately his novels are not translated into English.

Juan José Millás parodies the detective form to explore the relations between appearance and reality. And Eugenio FuentesDepths of the Forest, Blood of the Angels and At Close Quarters revert to the more traditional psychological investigation.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s novels deserve special mention. The Shadow of the Wind, set in Barcelona in 1945, explores the psychological pressures of fascism. and censorship. A thriller, the book isn’t perfect, but in translation, extremely popular.

At the more literary end of the scale, José Carlos Somoza won the 2002 Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger for The Athenian Murders, a re-creation of a deeply strange but utterly believable ancient Athens. Javier Marías won the Dublin IMPAC award for A Heart so White. It’s a thriller, but slow and subtle, unravelling how a young translator is drawn into a mystery in his own family.

Foreign crime writers in Spain
After years of foreign tourists, Spain is now coming into its own for foreign crime writers. American Rebecca Pawel’s series is set immediately after the Civil War. Her Lieutenant Carlos Alonzo y León comes from one of the families that did well out of the war. Robert Wilson ’s Inspector Falcón explores modern Seville, while our own Inspector Max Romero uncovers both the beauty and the dark side of a cosmopolitan Granada. Others are sure to follow.

Spanish crime novelists grapple mostly with Spain as it is, its problems of social mobility, migration and dislocation, endemic corruption at local, regional and national levels, the economic boom and now the bust, new immigrants crossing the narrow straits that separate Spain from Africa and flying in from Latin America, the drugs and people-trafficking. Spain inclines more to the American hard-boiled social criticism tradition than to the English whodunit and is the better for that.
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2 Comments:

Blogger Jose Ignacio Escribano said...

Peter here you have the link to Eugenio Fuentes in wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenio_Fuentes
Interesting article with a nice reference to foreign crime writers.

May 08, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks again for the compliment, and thanks for the link. I have added it to the article.

May 08, 2010  

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