Sunday, June 29, 2008
A new (original) Petra Delicado
Alicia Gimenez-Bartlett's first Petra Delicado crime novel, Death Rites, has just been released in English (after the second and third books in the series). The annoyance of having access to the books out of order is balanced in this case by the pleasure of discovering some of the details of the life of the Barcelona inspector and her sergeant-partner, Fermín Garzón, that were a bit confusing in the novels published so far. It's a cliche that partners in cop books (and movies and TV shows) hate one another at first, but Gimenez-Bartlett's take on this chestnut is interesting because the characters are interesting. We find out more about Petra's two marriages and Fermín's one, along with the early stages of the relationship of the two cops and the sergeant's living arrangements (which will be further developed in Dog Days). As the two learn to work together, they pursue a serial rapist who marks his victims with a circle of wounds, but their investigation is frustrating and they're one step ahead of the press and the police hierarchy, who would be happy to see a woman detective fail (and be sent back to her posting thus far in the Barcelona police, the documentation office). The rapist is pursued in true police-procedural fashion (rather than puzzle-mystery fashion), but when the plot shifts to murder, readers may realize who the killer is before the cops do--but the puzzle is less the point even in the murder plot than the procedural and the personalaties of the pair of police investigators. Plot not being so much the point of these novels, I'm less motivated to reread the next two books in the series than I have been with some crime novels published in translation out of order. But I'm happy to have this first installment both for the pleasure of clarifying who Petra and Fermín are and how their relationship developed, and for this further evidence of the skill of the author. Like Gimenez-Bartlett's other novels, Death Rites is frequently funny but investigates dark corners of social and interpersonal life in post-Franco Barcelona, giving glimpses of that fascinating city. Her main characters are vivid and eccentric, and Petra's voice (as the first-person narrator) is a fascinating blend of a 40-ish European woman's feminist, intellectual, insecure, determined, and even sentimental traits. Petra, her macho-but-open-minded, near-to-retirement partner, and the quirkiness of the plots make these books (as with a number of others published by Europa editions) some of the most interesting and enjoyable examples of recent European crime fiction. Gimenez-Bartlett's books are quite different (and in interesting ways) from those of the other and more famous practitioner of Barcelona crime, Manuel Vazquez Montalban, whose early novel Tattoo will be coming out soon from Serpents Tail.