The Summer of Dead Toys – a review
A new crime fiction author; a new detective series in the making. There are so many excellent crime fiction novels available, including an increasing list of such books set in Spain (for examples see our introduction to Spanish Crime Fiction). How does a new author in the crime fiction genre break through to have their work recognised? Antonio Hill’s “The Summer of Dead Toys” was certainly a hit when it was released in Spain last year as “El Verano de Los Juguetes Muertos”. I do hope that this English translation follows suit and becomes a success. It is a most accomplished debut Spanish crime fiction novel.
With the book’s story taking place in Barcelona, the stifling heat, the fiesta nights, and the city’s barrios and bares provide a real sense of “place”, just as in other crime fiction set in Spain. Although, perhaps because of the cosmopolitan nature of the city of Barcelona, “The Summer of Dead Toys” is much less dependent on “place” than some other crime fiction. Certainly I found it to be a less “Spanish” story than, say, those of Jason Webster or Domingo Villar. However, Hill has definitely captured a sense of the Spanish “character”. It comes across most clearly when considering the values and lifestyles of two wealthy families featured in “The Summer of Dead Toys“.
A family living in one of the upmarket areas of Barcelona is trying to come to terms with the death of a son. He fell from a window; a “simple” case of suicide? Inspector Hector Salgado is asked by his superior officer to look into the case. Something to keep him occupied, and out of trouble, whilst a “more interesting” case is investigated by a fellow police officer. Salgado has to be kept away from this one – involving the trafficking of young African women. He had severely beaten up a suspect. Will charges be brought against Salgado? Just how guilty was the suspect? Until this is settled, Salgado’s Superintendent wants him busy elsewhere.
However, what appears to be suicide turns out to be a much less “simple” case (especially when it leads to a second apparent suicide); and what appears the “more interesting” investigation becomes threatening to Salgado in a very personal way. Antonio Hill proves himself adept at building plot, keeping the story lines of both cases moving along. And just what did those “dead dolls” in the foreword have to do with either case? For those of you who like the “whodunit” aspects of crime fiction, there are “clues” revealed along the way – although I must admit that I missed them on first reading. What I was picking up on instead was the excellent characterisation.
At the beginning of the story, it takes some effort to keep track of the people being introduced, but as the plots develop, everything falls into place. For example, you learn just what might have led an experienced police officer like Salgado to beat up a suspect. And then, by the last page, you are so hooked into the characters that, with the bombshell dropped there, you are left eagerly awaiting the next in the Salgado series! Along the way, I particularly liked the fact that young people appeared so prominently in the story (something not very common in crime fiction?) and that internet technology played a part. Truly a story of the 21st century!
Antonio Hill is a psychology graduate, born in Barcelona, who has worked as a very successful translator of books into Spanish. All these aspects of his career have been used to great effect in “The Summer of Dead Toys”, enabling him to produce a novel far above the norm for a “debut”. The psychology is evident in his characterisation, and he must have learned a lot about the building of plot from authors he has translated in the past. Here the translator has in turn been translated too! Laura McGoughlin has a great future ahead of her, based on the quality of her work in translating this book into English.
I understand that the next of the Salgado books has already been written, and so I urge you to buy “The Summer of Dead Toys”. You are sure to find it absorbing; a “page turner” but in a subtle way; not a thriller, but a story that quietly draws you in. Most important, you will reach that final page, and then want to read on into the next in the series!
The Summer of Dead Toys is also available as an eBook
Review by Malcolm Cliff. Malcolm Cliff was a lecturer at the University of Huddersfield but he took early retirement in 2011 after a long career in academia. Retirement has enabled him to further his interest in reading crime fiction, and when the books are set in his favourite country – Spain – the enjoyment is doubled!
© Books4Spain Ltd 2012 This review may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of Books4Spain or Malcolm Cliff.
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