If you read fiction translated from other languages at least in part because it allows you to virtually visit places and cultures different from your own then THE INVISIBLE GUARDIAN might be just what you’re looking for. Set in northern Spain the book is infused with local customs, culture and geography and it is easy for the reader to imagine themselves in the woods around Elizondo or any of the other exotic locations in which the novel’s action takes place. My personal transportation was ably assisted by the excellent narration of the audio book by Emma Gregory which meant I wasn’t fumbling in my woefully monolingual way with the nomenclature.
The book starts out fairly traditionally for a modern crime novel: bodies of beautiful young girls are found near Elizondo. The bodies have, of course, been tampered with in seemingly ritualistic ways and police are struggling to identify suspects. The deviation from standard fare comes when local mythology is woven into the storyline. Could the deaths be due to the activities of a basajuan (the Basque version of Big Foot)?
The detective assigned to the case is Amaia Salazar. She – and her story – are the standout elements of the novel for me. As with all good fictional detectives Amaia has some personal demons to deal with but Redondo has not chosen the well-worn path of substance abuse and a bad marriage for her leading lady. Indeed she is happily married (to an independently wealthy American artist named James) and only drinks an occasional glass of wine. But Amaia’s childhood was the stuff of nightmares and things come bubbling to the surface when she must return to Elizondo – the town of her birth – to take on this case. In parallel with the unfolding investigation Amaia’s back story and the relationships between her surviving family members are revealed compellingly.
To be honest I found the main plot a bit messy and not all of my incredulity was due to a personal disdain for intelligent adults treating tarot readings seriously. It felt at times as if some decisions for the book’s direction had been made by committee. A committee more interested in potential screen rights and the American market than in pulling together a coherent story. Amaia’s experiences at Quantico, her husband’s fascination for the bull running of Pamplona (just like Hemmingway it is rather obviously pointed out) and some other American friendliness all seemed a bit forced to me. That said, though it wasn’t terribly difficult to predict (given a couple of glaringly obvious early hints) the resolution was a fitting one and ultimately relied at least as much on old-fashioned policing as it did the impossibly speedy forensics Amaia gained access to.
Given serial killers are not really my thing I doubt I’d have read this book if it wasn’t on the shortlist for this year’s International Dagger Award but on balance I’m glad I was prompted to seek it out. The serial killer element is tempered by the inclusion of local mythology and fact that other parts of the storyline (including a sadly believable copycat crime) receive real focus. And I really did enjoy meeting Amaia Salazar and am intrigued enough to find out what happens next for her.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Emma Gregory
Translator Isabelle Kaufeler
Publisher Harper Audio [this edition 2015, original edition 2103]
Length 13 hours 11 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #1 Amaia Salazar trilogy
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