As this book opens we meet Leo Caldas, a Police Inspector in the Spanish town of Vigo, as he is participating in the weekly radio broadcast Patrol on the Air, during which people can ring in with questions or complaints for the police to investigate. Caldas is a grudging participant in the PR exercise and entertains himself by keeping a running tally of how many enquiries he will need to follow up on and how many he can hand over to the City police. When he’s finished the show he barely has time to sit in his office chair before he and his subordinate, Rafael Estévez, are rushing to attend a luxury apartment building where a man has been killed. The man, local jazz musician Luis Reigosa, has been tied to his bed and suffered horrific burn-like injuries to his stomach and groin but forensic specialists need time to identify the exact cause of death, which doesn’t give Caldas and Estévez many leads with which to begin their investigation.
Several elements of this excellent novel compete for status as the standout feature but in the end they all come together to form the perfect novel. Perhaps the thing I loved most were the characters who are richly drawn and highly believable. Although this is the first novel in which he appears Caldas is a fully formed man whose past we see in glimpses as the current narrative unfolds. His personal life is complicated by an uneasy relationship with his father and a split from the woman in his life due to their differences over the idea of having children. His working life is also complicated, mainly by having to deal with the consequences of Rafael Estévez’ aggression which is generated when he encounters the difficulties of his new home. Poor Estévez is not a native of Galica (the region of northern Spain in which Vigo is situated) and he has struggled to adjust to his new environment. He finds the unpredictable weather and steep streets equally frustrating but worst of all
To Rafael Estévez’ stern Aragonese mind, things were this way or that, got done or didn’t, so it was only with considerable effort that he managed to decipher the ambiguous expressions of his new fellow citizens.
This issue generates much of the warm humour of the book, though I felt a little guilty for laughing at Estévez as I too have a tendency towards literalness and find ambiguity annoying to deal with.
If the local tourist bureau in Galicia hasn’t paid Villar something for his work then they should because my overwhelming desire upon finishing the book was to investigate how much it would cost me to fly there and stay a while. The environment is described beautifully and the relaxed pace of life depicted appeals to me greatly. Even a serious police investigation must stop for deliciously described meals and the occasional paddle in the ocean and I couldn’t help but wish that all of life was prioritised in this way. Of course Caldas manages to have a fascinating conversation about philosophy with other patrons during one memorable lunch and this ends up leading him to an important discovery in his investigation which proves there’s nothing wrong with this way of working at all.
I was undoubtedly pre-disposed to liking this book because of its length. At 167 pages it is tiny in comparison to many of the lengthy tomes published these days but is an absolutely captivating read without any of the dead weight of its competitors. It’s fast, witty, oozing a sense of its location, has terrifically memorable characters and a taut, compelling plot. It is also beautifully readable in its second language, a testament no doubt to the skill of translator Martin Schifino, who has managed to capture the poetic essence of the Spanish very well. This is a true gem of a novel that would be enjoyed by all readers, crime fans or otherwise.
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My rating 5/5
Translator Martin Schifino
Publisher Arcadia books/Euro Crime [this translation 2009, original edition 2006]
Length 167 pages
Book Series The first in a series to feature Leo Caldas
Source I bought it