Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. I try hard to include in this feature all sorts of crime fiction, just to make it as representative of the genre as possible. All the better if that encourages you to try something that maybe you haven’t tried before. That’s all very well, but sometimes I choose a novel just because, well, I like it and I want to. And it’s my blog, so there! That’s the case with Teresa Solana’s A Not So Perfect Crime, which I’ve been wanting to include in this feature for quite some time. Hopefully by the time you finish this spotlight you’ll see why (if you haven’t read it already).
The real action in A Not So Perfect Crime begins when Barcelona twin brothers Eduard and Josep “Pep” (who goes by the name Borja) Martínez get a call from Lluís Font, Member of the Parliament of Catalonia. Font has a delicate matter he needs resolved, and the Martínez brothers have a sort of consultancy that specialises in just such delicate matters. When Font visits the consultancy, he explains his predicament. He is concerned that his wife Lídia may be having an affair with painter Pau Ferrer, a possibility that won’t sit well with the Conservative Catholic party he represents. He wants the brothers to investigate and find out whether his wife is being unfaithful, but he doesn’t want any publicity about it at all. Promising the utmost discretion, Eduard and Borja agree. A week of following Lídia Font doesn’t reveal anything, though, and the brothers are beginning to think that maybe there is no affair. Then one evening they get a possible lead. But before they get a chance to follow it up, they find out that Lídia Font has been poisoned.
It’s not long before the police settle on Lluís Font as the most likely suspect, especially when his suspicions about his wife come to light. They don’t have definite evidence, and Font is a powerful person they’re not willing to upset. Still, Font asks the Martínez brothers to continue their private investigation and clear his name if they can. The brothers haven’t had any experience in murder investigations before but Font pays well and besides, they’ve already made a start on the case. So mostly because of Borja, the brothers agree to look into the matter. What they find is that Lídia Font had made her share of enemies. She had a way of finding out people’s secrets and using them to get what she wanted. And even when she wasn’t threatening blackmail, she certainly used her wealth and power to get her way.
Little by little, the Martínez brothers learn that almost no-one in the case is being completely honest, including their client. In the end, though, even though they’re not experienced, they find ways to peel back the layers of cover-up and pretense and discover who really killed Lídia Font and why.
The solution to the mystery isn’t obvious although it certainly makes sense when we find out the truth. And the way the Martínez brothers go about solving the mystery is believable, particularly considering their inexperience. It’s obvious that they don’t have a lot of connections most people think of when they think of private investigators but they do use the connections they have.
One of the elements woven through this story is its portrayal of Barcelona’s rich and powerful. As the story moves on we see the cream of Barcelona society exposed for all its pretenses, machinations and backbiting. Here, for instance, is a description of a lunch that Lídia Font has with a friend:
“..when lunching with a lady friend, women from a certain social class first go shopping in order to appear in the restaurant laden with bags and, so much the better if they’re the exclusive designer variety. It’s a matter of quality rather than quantity. This way I’ve learned that a single Loewe or Vuitton bag beats any number from Bulevard Rosa or the Corte Inglés, that Armani and Chanel level peg, and that Zara is a no-no. That is Borja’s Bags’ Law. And it’s not the only unwritten code that reigns in particular zones of Barcelona’s upper reaches.”
Borja in particular is well-acquainted with these pretenses, and he uses that to advantage. The consultancy, for instance, has fake inner office doors and a non-existent secretary (the brothers leave a nail varnish bottle and magazine on the secretary’s desk to give the illusion that they have an assistant).
That pretense and use of illusion to “make a statement” is part of what makes this novel really humourous. We see beneath the illusions and the lengths to which people will go to impress others is funny. There’s also other humour in the novel. For instance, Font asks the brothers to temporarily – er – store the painting that’s made him so upset so he won’t appear to have a motive. Despite its coming very close to tampering with evidence, they agree and end up storing it at Eduard’s home. In its place they put a painting that neither Eduard nor his wife Montse has ever liked – a painting Montse’s mother did (That’s an interesting story in itself). Here’s what happens when the brothers try to sneak the painting into Font’s office:
“We heard a loud crash, the floor shook beneath us and we were plunged into darkness. We also heard a woman shout, right next to us…..The bathroom in the flat above had collapsed while that woman was having a shower and the fuses (or whatever) had blown.”
The woman taking a shower turns out to be Lídia’s sister, and she’s keeping a secret of her own, namely that she’s got – er – company up in that flat. It’s a very funny scene, especially when neighbours call the police and they start to ask questions.
The Martínez brothers make appealing sleuths. Eduard Martínez is a cautious but not fearful former banker who couldn’t be more unlike his adventurous twin. Eduard is happily married and the proud father of three children. Borja has a long-term lover with a husband of her own, and gets involved with another woman in the course of this novel. Eduard is a disillusioned leftist; Borja leans to the right politically. Eduard dresses neatly and well, but certainly not in upmarket clothes. Borja on the other hand wears only upmarket clothes, gets his hair done at a fine salon, and so on. Borja doesn’t even use his own name Josep; he prefers the grander-sounding name of Borja Masdéu-Canals Sáez de Astorga. As different as they are, though, Eduard and Borja complement each other and although they bicker and even argue, they do have a strong bond and each has a unique appeal.
There’s also a very strong sense of place in this novel. Barcelona is a lovely city. Trust me. Solana places the reader there in many ways. One is in the description of places:
“It all began one morning early in December when we were breakfasting on coffee and croissants at in the San Marcos café in the High Street in Sarrià.”
But more than that, Solana integrates the unique Catalan language and culture that characterises Barcelona. We get an authentic look at its lifestyle, politics, and customs.
An interesting mystery with two very appealing sleuths, A Not So Perfect Crime is also a wickedly funny look at Barcelona’s upper crust (in my opinion anyway, so feel free to disagree with me if you do). It takes place in a unique setting and gives the reader a look at a fascinating culture. But what’s your view? Have you read A Not So Perfect Crime? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday 23 April/Tuesday 24 April – The Shape of Water – Andrea Camilleri
Monday 30 April/Tuesday 1 May – The Eagle Catcher – Margaret Coel
Monday 7 May/Tuesday 8 May – Night Passage – Robert B. Parker