Spanish Crime Fiction – an introduction
For the last few years English language crime fiction has been dominated almost entirely by the “noir” Scandinavian version, from Henning Mankels’ Wallander and Stieg Larrson’s Dragon Tattoo series to the latest “craze” , Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole. Whilst I enjoy some of the cleverly plotted stories there is also element of dreariness, and dare I say dullness, that gets under the skin if you read too many. Lets just say there is very little fun and and lot of angst. Enough to make one depressed at times.
UK crime fiction is more varied – perhaps because of its long history, the fact there are so many more writers (and potential readers) and, lets be honest, more material. After all, the UK has a population of 60 million versus 26 million for all of Scandinavia, of which Sweden alone has almost 10 million. The variety of UK crime fiction is staggering in fact from Agatha Christie, who remains the best selling crime fiction author ever – over 2 billion books, P D James, Ian Rankin and Peter James to the more sensationalist Martine Cole and Lynda La Plante.
So where does this leave Spanish crime fiction? After all, Spain with its rich culture and history and varied locations, e.g. urban Madrid, Seville or Barcelona or rural Andalucia or Galicia, provides a rich source of material for the creation of interesting scenarios and characters. Well Spanish crime fiction fits into two main categories, books by Spaniards and books by foreigners using Spain as their setting – mainly for the reasons stated in my previous sentence.
This post is not intended to discuss the relative merits of both these “strands” of Spanish crime fiction – I do not have the experience or knowledge to do that, what I can say is that both strands contain some great books and characters which I feel have been overshadowed by Spain’s northern cousins but which are beginning to become better known and recognised outside of the hispanic and hispanophile world. The most recent example being Sky Atlantic’s commissioning of a series of 2 of Robert Wilsons Javier Falcon novels based in Seville.
Spanish authors of crime fiction set in Spain include Manuel Vazquez Montalban, famous for his Barcelona based novels featuring Pepe Carvalho and more recent arrivals include Domingo Villar (Water Blue Eyes and Death on a Galician Shore), Teresa Solana (Shortcut to Paradise and A Not So Perfect Crime) Arturo Perez Reverte (The Seville Communion and The Queen of the South) and Carlos Ruiz Zafon touches on the genre with his Shadow in the Wind series, which includes Angel’s Game and Prisoner of Heaven – though these are more surrealistic mysteries than true crime fiction. A new arrival is Antonio Hill with his best selling Summer of the Dead Toys.
However, it is English language authors, such as Robert Wilson (Javier Falcon series set in Seville); Quintin Jardine (Primervera Blackstone series set on the Costa Brava); Jason Webster (Max Camara series set in Valencia); P J Brooke (Granada based Max Romero series) and Rebecca Pawal with her Carlos Tejada series, that have made more of an impact on the Spanish crime fiction scene. There are also a number of English authors of thriller and mystery novels set in Spain such as Charles Cumming (The Spanish Game); C J Sansom (Winter in Madrid); Ben Macintyre (Operation Mincemeat) and even Graham Greene (The Confidential Agent).
Listen to Jason Webster, Toni Hill and others discuss Montalban’s Pepe Carvalho and Spanish crime fiction in general on BBC Radio 4′s Foreign Bodies, An Investigation into European Detectives on 31 October 2012
And now we have a new English language author who is, we believe, going to make a huge impression on the Spanish crime fiction genre – Mark Oldfield, whose novel The Sentinel is a stunning debut and the first in a trilogy based around forensic scientist Ana Maria Galindez. To quote our crime fiction reviewer (Books4Spain has no vested interest in the Sentinel or any relationship with its author other than that of a normal bookseller):
“There is the real quality and intelligence of the writing, but above all, for me, reading “The Sentinel” gave me the same kind of satisfaction as when I first read that famous Swedish novel (Dragon Tattoo). Historical, political and social issues are explored through the vehicle of an engaging and thrilling story. I fully believe that it deserves the same kind of success as Larsson’s bestseller! “The Sentinel” can bring a story set in Spain to a truly international audience!”
We will leave you to decide if Spanish crime fiction can hold its own against its better known European cousins but here we provide a small selection of Spanish crime fiction books available from Books4Spain which we believe merit your attention. See our full selection of over 65 crime fiction novels set in Spain.
The Sentinel by Mark Oldfield
Madrid 2010: Tangled bones of fifteen bodies are found in a disused mine. For Ana María Galindez a forensic investigator with the Guardia Civil, it will be her first encounter with the work of Comandante Guzmán. But not her last. Guzmán was the head of the notorious Brigada Especial, Franco’s secret police and the fear behind the dictator’s power. So why, like his victims, did Guzmán vanish from history amid the winter blizzards of 1953? To find out, Ana María will have to risk her life. She’ll discover, as Guzmán did, that you can’t escape the past.
Death on a Galician Shore by Domingo Villar
A cleverly plotted and chilling story of murder, violence, blackmail and revenge set on the beautiful, rugged coast of Galicia in northwest Spain. Death on a Galician Shore has enthralled readers across Europe.
Death on a Galician Shore is a well written, well plotted, “classic” crime novel and it appears that modern Spanish crime fiction is more than capable of competing with clever, intelligent AND realistic scenarios, of which The Killing and P. D. James are prime examples. Read Books4Spain Review Buy eBook
Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill
Inspector Salgado is known for his violent moments. He has a murky emotional past and a runaway wife. So he is moved off his current case to investigate the story behind a young boy’s fall to his death from a balcony in one of Barcelona’s uptown areas. Salgado digs deeper, poking at the the seedy underbelly of Spain’s most popular city, to unearth a case of human trafficking and voodoo. But Hector’s fierce, complex personality (with his passion for cinema) and a seemingly unresolvable case are set to implode under Barcelona’s hot sun… Read our Review and/or our Interview with Toni Hill
The Blind Man of Seville by Robert Wilson
The first in Robert Wilson’s acclaimed Seville series, featuring the tortured detective Javier Falcon. The man is bound, gagged and dead in front of his television. The terrible self-inflicted wounds tell of his violent struggle to avoid some unseen horror. On the screen? In his head? What could make a man do that to himself? It’s Easter week in Seville, a time of passion and processions. But detective Javier Falcon is not celebrating. Appalled by the victim’s staring eyes he is inexorably drawn into this disturbing, mystifying case. And when the investigation into the dead man’s life sends Javier trawling though his own past and into the shocking journals of his late father, a famous artist, his unreliable memory begins to churn. Then there are more killings and Falcon finds himself pushed to the edge of a terrifying truth!
Robert Wilson almost singlehandly started modern English language Spanish crime fiction with his Javier Falcon series. BUY eBook
A Not So Perfect Crime by Teresa Solana
Another day in Barcelona, another slimy politician’s wife is suspected of infidelity. Lluis Font discovers a portrait of his wife in an exhibition that leads him to conclude he is being cuckolded by the artist. Concerned only about the potential political fallout, he hires twins Eduard and Pep, private detectives with a supposed knack for helping the wealthy with their ‘dirty laundry’. Their office is adorned with false doors leading to non-existent private rooms, a mysterious secretary who is always away and a broken laptop computer picked up on the street. The case turns ugly when Font’s wife is found poisoned by a marron glace from a box of sweets delivered anonymously. This is a deftly plotted, bitingly funny mystery novel. It is a satire of Catalan politics and a fascinating insight into the life and habits of Barcelona’s inhabitants, diurnal and nocturnal. Teresa Solana is a welcome new entrant to the Spanish crime fiction genre.
Deadly Secrets by Robert Tenison Also available as an Ebook
Javier Urquiza, a local businessman has bribed various officials at local and regional government level to ensure the reclassification of a large piece of land for a golf course and residential housing project in Los Cipreses, a picturesque coastal town in southern Spain. However, the organised crime unit of the National Police (Udyco) have enlisted the help of Mike Cameron, a long standing ex-pat with an estate agency business, to entrap Javier Urquiza. Mike Cameron dies under mysterious circumstances and Andy Montalvo, an old friend of Mike’s, arrives in Los Cipreses to investigate his death. This brings him into contact with, Cristina Ibañez, the undercover female special agent who is handling the investigation into Javier Urquiza’s activities and who had “recruited” Mike.
Between them they begin to uncover details about Mike’s murder and the property transaction which involves bribery, tax evasion and money laundering, via the use of offshore companies and bank accounts. As Andy and Cristina get closer to the truth about Mike’s death and the property transaction, there are further deaths as certain individuals attempt to deflect suspicion or double cross each other.
“Large scale planning corruption, money laundering and murder – Spanish crime fiction which is as close to fact as you can get!“ Rod Younger
“A very slick and well written novel, well researched and coherent. I was impressed.” Kitty Sewell, bestselling author of Ice Trap.
“This is an unputdownable new crime thriller which vividly captures the essence of Andalucia in these troubled times. Read this novel; you won’t be disappointed!” Irene Campbell, Delfin Books.
“I was expecting the trashy style of Costa del Crime but a quick glance through was enough to reassure me that this is a well written novel on a totally different level so I bought it. No regrets. Deadly Secrets is an entertaining, well crafted story with real life characters, a highly believable plot and interesting twists and turns.” Kerrie K (via Amazon).
Death in Valencia by Jason Webster
The electrifying second Max Camara Valencian crime novel from Jason Webster, author of Or the Bull Kills You. Max Camara is feeling low. Ominous cracks have appeared in the walls of his flat; the body of a well-known paella chef has been washed up on the beach; there are rows and threats about abortion clinics; the town hall are set on demolishing El Cabanyal, the colourful fisherman’s quarter on Valencia’s sea-front. As Camara untangles these threads, he stumbles into a web of corruption and violence, uncovering deep animosities and hidden secrets, and forcing him to question his own doubts and desires.
Both Jason Webster and his protagonist are a welcome new addition to the Spanish crime fiction genre. Read the Books4Spain Review. Buy eBook
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