13 05 2011

In this other book set in modern Seville (see my recent review of Semana Santa) there is no one character I find it easy to identify with, so I enjoyed it less than Semana Santa, where I identified completely with María Gutierrez. For no other reason, though. It is, of its kind, perfect: well crafted and extremely well written, as you might expect of the author of A Small Death in Lisbon. The suspense builds and builds.

But, as I say, I didn’t feel particularly involved. In fact, the character nearest to my heart was Consuelo Jiménez, wife of the murdered man, Raúl Jiménez. She is much younger than him, has a lover, and naturally she is a suspect: as the Inspector Jefe points out to her, in cases of murder victims and perpetrators are usually close to each other, in most cases intimate.

‘Then you have an exception [she tells him], because I did not kill my husband.

‘Denial is a very powerful human condition,’ [he replies].

‘I wouldn’t know, I’ve never denied anything.’

‘Because there are no doubts … ever.’

‘I’m either a liar or completely deluded,’ she said. ‘I can’t win. But at least I always tell myself the truth.’

‘But do you tell it to me, Doña Consuelo?’ he said.

‘So far … but perhaps I’m changing my mind.’

‘I don’t know how you persuaded your husband’s old flames that you were a silly tart.’

‘I dressed like one,’ she said, tinkling her fingernails. ‘I can talk like one, too.’

‘You’re an accomplished actress.’

‘Everything counts against me.’

Their eyes connected. His soft brown, tobacco. Hers frozen aquamarine. He smiled. He couldn’t help liking her. That strength. The inexorable mouth. He wondered what it would taste like and shot the thought straight out of his head.

His immediate subordinate, Inspector Ramírez, wants to bring her in, grill her, charge her, but the Inspector Jefe will not let him. Why not? they both wonder.

While we’re on the subject, I notice that the police ranks are quite different in this book from those in Semana Santa. Here we have an Inspector Jefe (Chief) and an Inspector, whereas in Semana Santa we have a Captain and a Lieutenant. Comments?

This Inspector Jefe, Javier Falcón, is a very complex character. A graduate in English from the University of Madrid (what is he doing taking English lessons at the British Institute in Seville when he is qualified to teach there?) and the son of a world-famous artist, he is very different from his stereotypically macho and uncultivated subordinates. They even refer to him behind his back as a mariquita (a sissy, a pansy, according to MBG, and he should know). The sight of the dead man, which is particularly horrifying, precipitates some kind of psychological crisis in him (despite twenty years of investigating murders and although it has no such effect on the others) a depression that worsens as the story goes on. It is in fact the key to all that is most disturbing and memorable in this book. We see not only a darker side of Falcón’s nature but also of Seville, a city “mad with Mariolatry” yet seething with prostitutes, and, according to his doctor, not less stressful because it is supposed to be such a happy place: on the contrary –

‘Maybe more so in Sevilla la maravilla. It’s quite a pressure to be happy all the time because … it’s expected of you. We’re not immune to the pressures of modern life just because we live in the most beautiful city in Spain …

The most beautiful, but also the most passionate, the most chaotic, the maddest and most out of control, especially during Holy Week, Semana Santa (though this, too, is made more explicit perhaps in the other novel, Semana Santa).

Read both. Then go and visit Seville during Holy Week, see for yourself. As I said at the end of the other review, I have and shall – but not in Holy Week. I’ve had enough of being almost crushed to death in processions during totally chaotic religious festivals in India!




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