Reig, Rafael - 'Blood on the Saddle' (translated by Paul Hammond)
BLOOD ON THE SADDLE, shortlisted for the Spanish Booker Prize equivalent, is the first of Rafael Reig's work to be translated into English. The cover and the format of this stylish paperback make it stand out even before you get to the inside.
Paunchy, bald, middle-aged Private Investigator Carlos Clot, of Clot and Dickens, introduces the reader to a new Spain, more specifically Madrid. Oil has run out and everyone travels by bicycle and after the Communists took power, the US invaded and formed the US-Iberian Federation with the official language of Anglo. There are underground suburbs and genetic modification for those who break the rules. Hanging over them all is the deadly spectre of Man Chopeitia, a person never even seen and who runs Chopeita Genomics from a pyramid, the tallest and most heavily guarded building in the Northern Hemisphere.
Clot is hired for three cases; to find a missing daughter presumed drug addict, to prove an infidelity case and lastly to locate the missing female star of the western novel 'Blood on the Saddle' the work in progress of popular author Phil Sparks, whose main series character is Spunk McCain. It seems that she rode out to the horizon as she was wont to do every evening but then failed to return. Sparks cannot finish his novel until she reappears and his is desperate to be taken as a serious writer by the geeperiod critics.
It soon turns out that all three cases have links to Man Chopeita and the resolution provides Clot with an ethical dilemma and a rescue from an unexpected source.
BLOOD ON THE SADDLE is unusual, inventive, humorous and eminently readable with a hero you can feel sorry for. Clot is a traditional gumshoe with a bottle of whiskey in his filing cabinet under 'I' for indispensable and whose best friend is a policeman who whistles complete Schubert concertos whilst on patrol. His partner, Dickens has an artificial anthill in his office and sends memos to the staff i.e. Clot and their secretary on sartorial elegance - with no obvious impact on Clot. Though these three cases are resolved satisfactorily there's plenty of scope for another Clot novel, but as far as I can discover this hasn't been written yet. Thanks are owed to Serpent's Tail and the excellent translation by Paul Hammond for making this gem available in English.
Karen Meek, England