(26. - 1131.) The Silence of the White City by Eva Garcia Sáenz and translated by Nick Caistor - What an opening!
Inspector Unai López de Ayala advises the reader that he is the final victim of the serial killer he has been pursuing. He has been shot in the head.
The story then begins with Unai being urgently called by Estíbaliz “Estí” Ruiz de Gauna, his “colleague and fellow inspector”, to come to the Old Cathedral in Vitoria, Spain where archaeologists have:
“.... found two naked corpses. A boy and a girl, with their hands resting on each other’s cheek.”
She tells him it is exactly the same as twenty years earlier.
Twenty years and four months earlier a serial killer had engaged in “macabre staging” of murders at archaeological sites that terrified the residents of Vitorio and gained worldwide notoriety
The first victims had been a pair of newborns, then a boy and girl each 5, then a boy and girl aged 10 and then a boy and girl of 15. The 20 year old residents of the city “stayed at home all the time”.
All the victims had double-barrelled names and were from the Álava region, part of the Basque area of Spain.
The killer, Tasio, who was a charismatic archaeologist was arrested by Ignacio, his identical twin. Tasio has spent 20 years in prison and is due to be released.
How can the murders be starting again?
Unai, a profiler, and Estí, a specialist in victimolgy, have been assigned to the case.
Unai, who had been obsessed with the earlier murders as a young man of 20, whispers to the corpses:
This is where your hunt ends and mine begins.
A chill went through me when Estí estimated the boy and girl to be about 20 years of age.
The murders were diabolical using bees.
Poisons killed the earlier group of 8 victims.
History is ever present in the Basque region of Spain. Thousands of years are reflected in the monuments and buildings.
Tasio, who has maintained his innocence, reaches out to Unai wanting to help solve the murders for what life could he have upon release if the killer is not found.
Unai’s supervisors are wary of him establishing a relationship with Tasio.
Even though he is in prison Tasio sends out Twitter messages to Kraken, Unai’s nickname, with directions on how to investigate.
Sáenz is so clever. Having a convicted killer sending Twitter messages to Kraken, whose identity is initially known only by Unai’s friends, also means the world can read the messages. And then she uses messages as the headings to many chapters. Between fear and fascination the residents of Vitorio obsess over the tweets. They are riveting.
Who can get so close to victims when paranoia has swept the city?
The plot, while concentrated on the present, moves back to events 50 years earlier. While complicated the storylines weave together.
Unai has endured a great personal tragedy that drives him as an investigator.
The break in the case comes from a 900 year old chapel. Unai gradually gains understanding of the symbolic murders.
Still the investigators must evaluate information carefully on whether it implicates the killer or was planted to create implication against the innocent. The killer is brilliant at deception. And the tweets keep coming.
The current murders occur in early August the time of las Fiestas de la Virgen Blanca, the most important celebrations of the year in Vitoria, when thousands and thousands throng the streets.
Most of the time I am more interested in the why of crime fiction but in The Silence of the White City I wanted to know the who and the how as much as the why. Who could be so cruel? How could the victims be taken and moved without detection?
The tension within the city rises daily. The intensity affects every resident and is also building for the reader, knowing Unai will be shot.
The last time I was caught up in a comparable trilogy was The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson. As with that great series I was caught off-guard by The Silence of the White City. I found it by chance in a Saskatchewan bookstore. I had never heard of the book. Finding it was serendipity.
I was reminded of the twins in Identical by Scott Turow. In Identical, as here, one of the twins has been convicted of murder and is about to be released over two decades later.
The translation does not always flow smoothly but The Silence of the White City is compelling fiction. The characters, setting and plot are perfectly connected to Vitorio. I want to visit the city, especially during a festival. The spirit of the people is striking. I am going to move swiftly on to the further two books in the trilogy.