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.
Juan José Millás parodies the detective form to explore the relations between appearance and reality. And Eugenio Fuentes’ Depths 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.
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.