It is somewhat fitting to be sitting in a Spanish restaurant to review a book set in Valencia, Spain. Max Cámara is a 42 year old Chief Inspector, single and feeling his age. Max and his girlfriend, Almudena, have been unsuccessfully trying to have a child.
While many families would be proud to have a Chief Inspector in Homicide as a member of the family Max’s grandfather, Hilario (his only living direct family), can barely accept his grandson is a member of the police. Hilario, 82 years young, is a lifelong anarchist trade unionist who views the police as repressors. Max’s great-grandfather was also an anarchist who was killed during the Spanish Civil War. Only because Max defies the law by regularly smoking marijuana does Hilario grudgingly accept Max as a police officer.
Max is ill-fitted to police bureaucracy. He is independent in thought and action with rough edges. He is under investigation because a suspect, later convicted, suffered a broken jaw while being questioned by Max.
When Commissioner Pardo asks Max to replace him as the afternoon’s president of the corrida (bull fights) Max is in no position to refuse though he dislikes bullfighting. Max performs his duties awarding four ears, probably excessively generous, to Jorge Blanco from the two bulls Blanco fought and killed that afternoon.
Max consents to hand out an award to Blanco after the corrida for a local bullfighting appreciation society. While he is waiting at the Bar Los Toros a group of anti-taurinos loudly enter the bar protesting the continuation of bullfighting. Max convinces them to leave.
Shortly after a municipal policeman bursts in advising Blanco has been murdered. His body has been found in the chapel at the bullring.
Blanco has been strangled and then mutilated. Webster sets out that
“….. a pair of bright yellow and red Banderilla darts hung from the centre of his back, their sharp fish-hook points ripping at his flesh as they flopped to the ground, Higher up, towards his shoulders, a red-handled matador’s sword had been thrust into his ribcage – still swaying as the upper half of the blade caught glimmers of the street lights outside.”
There is a deep cut in his genital area.
The case is an immediate media sensation The 34 year old Blanco had been credited with reviving bullfighting in Spain. Considered the top toreador of his generation, maybe even the best ever, Blanco fought in the traditional style with great grace and passion.
Adding to the intrigue are questions about Blanco’s sexual orientation. That his girlfriend, Carmen Luna, a national celebrity most famous for being famous, while still beautiful, is over 50 does little to quell the rumours.
Carmen does give a brilliant retort to Max’s pro forma statement that he is sorry for her loss:
If there were no murders, Chief Inspector, you’d be out of a job. So unless you’re looking to be unemployed, I fail to understand how you can be sorry for what has happened. This is, after all, what you do.
Max is left speechless.
Complicating the investigation is the annual spring fiesta of Valencia, Fallas. For five days there are fireworks constantly exploding, temporary statutes being created and celebration all day and all night. A bit of a curmudgeon, Max also dislikes Fallas.
Municipal politicians press for resolution of the murder and his superiors equally demand an arrest.
The investigation takes Max deep into the world of bullfighting, an area of Spanish life of which he has little knowledge. It is a topic about which I learned a great deal from reading the book. My next post will focus on how the book deals with bullfighting.
Or the Bull Kills You is an interesting exploration of Max’s character and life in contemporary Valencia. It is not a skilled police procedural. There are some clumsy elements to the plot and the manner of solving the crimes was not convincing. At the same time I really enjoyed the book. Max is a very interesting character and the crime is firmly set in Spain. I look forward to reading the second in the series. I expect the plotting will be better with the next book.
Well, two hours have gone by as this review has meandered along. The sangria is gone and while a third order is tempting I think it is time for a walk on the beach. It is 30C above (when I left Saskatchewan a week ago the wind chill took the temperature below -30C), the sun is shining and a sea breeze is whisking across the laptop’s screen. I will work on my mistakes tonight. There are more than usual to correct.