Review: Death on a Galician Shore by Domingo Villar

In the Spanish village of Panxón locals think that fisherman Juan Castelo must have committed suicide by throwing himself overboard from his boat one stormy Sunday morning. But the pathologist convinces Inspector Leo Caldas of the Vigo police that, due to the way the man’s hands were tied, it must have been murder. And so Leo begins a slow and methodical round of interviews of the taciturn locals, becoming frustrated by their unwillingness to tell him anything which advances his investigation. The one glimmer of resolution that he spots early on is that Castelo was one of three men to have survived a tragedy some years before. Some believe that the man who did not survive that tragedy might have returned from the dead to exact his revenge.

As with the first book in this series that is fast becoming a favourite of mine two elements really stand out as memorable. The first of these is the characters who are subtly drawn but entirely engaging. Leo is a very self-contained person, spending much of his time alone though it’s not always clear if this is a deliberate choice. His relationship with his father is a complex and uneasy one though the genuine love between the two is evident even if they often show it by getting cross with each other’s foibles. There is humour too though such as when Leo’s father is visiting his sick brother in hospital and is reminded of his Book of Idiots that has fallen into disuse. After adding the name of his brother’s doctor the Book and its new entries becomes a running joke between the men and it provided a lot of warmth to the story (not to mention an inspiration for me to start my own book as it sounded like a satisfying and healthy way to deal with the idiots one encounters in life). The other key relationship Leo has in this book is with his assistant Rafael (Rafa) Estévez who has calmed down a little since the events depicted in the first book though he is still perplexed by the Galician weather and frustrated by the locals’ inability to answer a question directly. There is some friction between the pair and you never get the sense they will be firm friends but stranger things have happened and I am anxious to see what progress is made in future books (hoping of course that there are more to come).

The setting is the other element of the novel that I simply cannot forget. I love the way Villar paints a picture of this part of Spain, incorporating descriptions of both landscape and people in such a vibrant way that I fell like I have strolled along the shore, watched the fishermen bringing in their early morning hauls, wandered over to the market and, inevitably, found a café at which to eat fresh seafood and sip a glass of wine. In addition to making me wistful for a holiday this is a big part of what makes the book so credible. The lives and environment of the key players are depicted in such a way that their murderous ways seem perfectly believable, even sensible in the circumstances.

I did think this book a bit slower than its predecessor (it’s quite a bit longer) and especially in the first half a little repetitive in the way that Leo and Rafa kept re-interviewing the same people for not much gain. But this did help to generate a sense of the frustration that Leo was experiencing (and police must often experience in real life) and I was more than happy to relax a little and soak up the ambience. The pace and complexity of the investigation kicks up a notch in the second half and I enjoyed the neat but still surprising way the resolution fell into place. Without any of the violence or junk-science common to so many procedurals and brimming with warm characters and an inviting atmosphere this book has a great story and, if only fleetingly, makes you feel like you’ve had a holiday in Spain. Delicious reading.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Death on a Galician Shore has been reviewed at Crime ScrapsEuro Crime (By Maxine) and The Game’s Afoot

I reviewed Water Blue-Eyes, the first book in this series, last month.

This is one of seven books nominated for this year’s International Dagger award for translated crime fiction which will be announced this Friday (22 July). I managed to read 6 of the 7 which are Anders Roslund & Borge Hellstrom’s Three Seconds, Ernesto Mallo’s Needle in a Haystack, Fred Vargas’ An Uncertain Place, River of Shadows by Valerio Varesi and Andrea Camilleri’s Wings of the Sphinx. I’m afraid time (and a slight lack of inclination) has prevented my from reading Jean-Francois Parot’s The Saint-Florentin Murders. 

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 4.5/5
Translator Sonia Soto
Publisher Hachette Digital [2011]
ISBN 9780748120055
Length 346 pages
Format eBook (ePub)
Book Series #2 in the Leo Caldas series
Source I bought it

12 thoughts on “Review: Death on a Galician Shore by Domingo Villar

  1. Bernadette – Thanks for this excellent review. I’m so glad you like this series as much as you do. You’re so right, too, about the way that Villar conveys the setting. I’m also glad you mentioned the subtlety with which the characters (and the humour) are woven into the story. Sometimes it’s nice not to be bashed over the head…

  2. I am jealous at how Bernadette writes her reviews….enjoyed reading your review and I know I can’t wait to read it myself. One thing I don’t like is repetitive and boring interrogations *sigh* Does anyone know how many books are planned in the series?

  3. Well, the review convinced me to get a copy of this book and read it right away. The library does not have Villar’s two in this series, at least not in English. I’ll order it. Sounds like an excellent book, and with good characters and plot and not much violence on the page — and the plus that it’s a virtual vacation to Spain, I’m in. Thanks for the as-always excellent review.

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