In Valencia, Spain it is the beginning of the Spring Fiesta and Chief Inspector Max Cámara is unhappy. At the last minute he has been forced to stand in for his boss as the honorary master of ceremonies for the day’s bullfight. Cámara despises bullfighting. But he performs the duty with competence if not enjoyment and is relaxing in a nearby bar afterwards when word reaches him that Jorge Blanco, the matador who had so masterfully beaten the bull in the day’s fight, has been found dead. In charge of the investigation Cámara struggles with his own personal demons, office and city politics and a plethora of potential suspects in his quest to solve the case.
Blanco was famous and much-loved, almost single-handedly responsible for reviving the city’s interest in bullfighting. Is that why he was killed? There are local elections due in which one party has made the banning of bullfighting its top priority which could have prompted someone to want Blanco out of the way. But the fighter’s personal life is also ripe ground for suspects as there are rumours about his sexuality which seem at odds with his engagement to a much-loved entertainer.
Surprisingly, to me, the thing I enjoyed most about this book was its richly depicted setting which included more information about bullfighting than I could ever have anticipated being intrigued by. Which is why it is sometimes good to read things you think you might not like. Webster, who is not a native Spaniard but has lived there for twenty years and has published several highly acclaimed travel books about the country, really does bring the city alive for the reader with quite lyrical descriptions of the city, the festival, the food and the bullfighting. Early on Cámara meets a female journalist who is so much an acknowledged expert about the sport that she was the only reporter who had ever interviewed Jorge Blanco. She and Cámara debate the merits, or lack thereof, of the sport and she fills him in on any history and symbolism that might be relevant to his investigation and it is these exchanges that allow readers to absorb information about a subject most of them probably know little about. I really liked the way this was done, especially they way it enabled Webster to present both sides of the debate without being judgemental.
The rest of the book was not quite as successful for me. I was not as taken by the character of Max Cámara as other reviewers seem to have been which of course is a highly personal thing. Perhaps I have had my fill of alcoholic detectives who argue with their superiors and are, in the end, fairly self-absorbed (in this instance Cámara’s inner life revolves around his worries over his fertility which I literally could not have cared less about). Ultimately I didn’t find him quite engaging enough to care that much whether he survived the ever-looming threat of dismissal but I can’t say he was a badly drawn character, merely one that did not appeal very much to me. I found the female characters who included Blanco’s fiancée Carmen, the journalist and Cámara’s girlfriend a little flat and forgettable though I can’t really put my finger on a reason for this.
As a mystery the novel mostly worked although the ending was a bit too contrived for my liking but that is a fairly common experience for me. I think writing believable but engaging endings must be very very hard. However the investigation itself was suspenseful and kept me guessing in just the right way.
OR THE BULL KILLS YOU provided a real sense of being transported to the streets of Valencia, something I suspect was the result of the mixture of Webster’s writing and an excellent narration of the audio book by Mark Meadows whose Spanish pronunciation sounded wonderful in my ears. I think most people would like the book and some will love it, perhaps especially those who have not read quite as much crime fiction as I seem to have done (the people who all recommended it to me are occasional readers of the genre rather than die hard fans).
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My rating 3/5
Narrator Mark Meadows
Publisher AudioGo 
Length 11 hours 34 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #1 in a new series?
Source I bought it
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