Hill, Antonio - 'The Summer of Dead Toys' (translated by Laura McGoughlin)
"Children are clever. They have nightmares and fear them. But as they grow up they are taught that they should not be scared. Did you have nightmares, Inspector? I can already see that you did."
Inspector Hector Salgado is back in Barcelona, returning from an enforced month-long "holiday" in his native Argentina, and exhausted by the long flight from Buenos Aires. He is in disgrace after disrupting a major case for the Barcelona police; the trafficking of young African women. The death of the little fifteen-year-old had shaken him and he had lost control, badly beating that voodoo quack Dr Omar, the last suspect in the case. This morning Hector has a meeting with his boss, Superintendent Savall, and Omar's lawyer - to find out if Omar is going to press charges over the beating. He calls his ex-wife to let her know he has returned and, after a coffee with his landlady, arrives at police headquarters. But the news isn't good. The lawyer reports Dr Omar missing. He had arrived at Omar's office to find the door open, blood everywhere and on the desk - a pig's head. No sign of Omar himself. It looks like another investigation for the Barcelona police but one which Salgado must stay away from at all costs. He must remain "on leave". But Savall asks Hector to do him a favour. A nineteen-year-old boy fell to his death from his bedroom window whilst partying with a couple of friends. The boy's mother won't let it go as an accident, even though she hasn't been part of the boy's life since he was a baby. The father is a wealthy and influential businessman. Nevertheless Savall can't spare any of his police team to look into it officially. Can Hector check out the boy's death? Maybe with the new girl, Leire Castro? Hector must remember that this is strictly unofficial - but at least Savall can tell the mother that the boy's death is being looked into.
This is Antonio Hill's debut novel. It proved a hit on publication in his native Spain with rights sold in eleven countries. Antonio Hill is a Barcelona born psychology graduate who has worked as a translator. He has himself translated the work of David Sedaris, Jonathan Safran Froer and A L Kennedy amongst others into Spanish. In fact he credits such work as a major learning experience, fuelling his own start in writing. In what feels like a tongue-twister, this English edition has in turn been translated - by Laura McGoughlin, a young Catalan graduate of East Anglia University who already has some well received translations to her credit.
THE SUMMER OF DEAD TOYS is an impressive first. A "Mediterranean Noir", it introduces us to Inspector Hector Salgado, his police colleagues, his landlady Carmen, and to his ex-wife Ruth with whom he has a young son but who now lives in a new home with a new partner. Above all the book introduces us to Barcelona, its barrios, people, beaches, and the humid heat of its summer. We also get a glimpse of prejudice against Latin Americans; the distrust of Salgado precisely because he is an Argentinian, let alone his complicated past and hot temper. The plot gives us two distinct investigations. One centres on the privileged lives of the wealthy old guard of Barcelona society and the other skirts the edges of the dark world of people trafficking - young African women for the sex trade. The story also takes us back into one particular character's childhood and memories of a young girl found dead in a swimming pool, surrounded by "drowned" dolls.
THE SUMMER OF DEAD TOYS is not a white-knuckle read, it has a slower more thoughtful pace which I found totally absorbing and still got me hooked and turning the pages. The patience and subtlety with which Hill has built up the details of his characters and locale is impressive. Although it did take me a while to sort out some of the more peripheral characters in the investigations before they became familiar to me, enough is known about the main characters and their lives to make you wonder what will happen to them after "the story" ends. And the end hits with a mystery punch so surprising that we have no option, I think, but to queue for Hill's second "Salgado" book. I really hope that this is the start of a series that will see Salgado and his Barcelona compete with Brunetti's Venice, Montalbano's Sicily and Ikmen's Istanbul. Crime in a warm climate. Travelling can't get much more thrilling than this.
Read another review of THE SUMMER OF DEAD TOYS.
Lynn Harvey, England