This is the third in the series of the Max Camara books, which sees him on indefinite leave from the force and returning to his home town of Albacete to deal with his rambunctious anarchist uncle who is recovering from a stroke. Of course this isn’t a crime novel about a nephew tenderly nursing his uncle, Max arrives home only to walk into a rape and murder from the present and a very personal rape and murder from the past as well as the exhumation of a family member from one of Franco’s mass graves; imagine that happening on a weekend visit to your parents. Luckily Max is a policeman so he is more adept than most to deal with it.
A slick, honed writing style, a likable detective and his crazy uncle, mixed together with murder and saffron are a brilliant recipe for an entertaining crime novel. There are some fascinating details about Franco’s regime weaved seamlessly through the story, through a convenient but believable plot device, and being new to the tumultuous Spanish history, it was quite shocking and very engaging. With a simple narrative, that didn’t try too hard to be something it wasn’t, a compelling story and an expertly rendered world it kept me guessing throughout; I love the idea of there being a saffron smuggling gang, it seems so absurd but so true (saffron is very expensive). The three different stories, as well as Max still being haunted by his previous case, fitted together nicely; everything here seems to be at a consistent and polished level, it was a pleasure to read.
It won’t change the world and there wasn’t much psychological study on the characters, not that it needed it, and the killer had minimal impact on the story until the end – they seemed to come out of nowhere. I haven’t read any of the other books in the series so maybe this would have helped fill in some gaps. The detective was likeable but not massively interesting, he doesn’t have any juicy character flaws – for the most part he plays second fiddle to his more charismatic uncle, with that being said at least he has the potential to develop in further books. I did have a quibble with the fact that a recent stroke victim did seem to be very talkative, often relaying important plot details, not sure how accurate this would be.
A simple idea executed well, entertaining and both historically and culturally interesting. The precise and detailed research was weaved in perfectly conjuring a Surprising read that subtly draws you in and takes you away.
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