Juana Salabert ‘The Golden Rule’


—The infamous Golden Rule inserted by force in our largely unimplemented constitutions, IMG_1267with which the Troika and their obedient local vizirs probably wipe their noses every day..***


Juana Salabert’s police mystery, read for Spanish lit month, is an angry story set in Madrid in 2012 at the height of the public indignation surrounding the arrogant treatment of the southern European countries during the debt crisis, with austerity imposed through external pressure on these countries and the entailing social misery, and is one of the meanings of the title as illustrated in the opening quote.
Inspector Allarde is inspecting the second “Cash for Gold” killing, jewelers that in these depressed times are making money from buying gold and family jewels have been targeted by a killer who signs his crimes with a clear message:


—To the loan shark. To the thief of carats and of lives. Vengeance is acted and will be again.***


A third killing takes place which at first seems to be one of the series but Allarde is not sure. This is a story of cupidity, greed and blackmail and as always the question is just how low will people stoop for money and how much is enough, leading to another possible meaning for the title:


—The only Golden Rule that works for money, for truly huge sums, for a fortune accumulated and overflowing and which is fructifying far from its owners eyes, is that it never seems enough.***


Salabert’s Madrid is a desperate and hurting place lived in by people just getting by and is an ideal background for a book about greed. I did at times think that the subject and the hero were the people of Madrid and not the detectives in the story, but only for fleeting moments, as the story itself is well constructed. This may well be the Author’s intent.

First Published in Spanish as “La Regla del oro” in 2015 by Alianza.
Translated into French by Myriam Chirousse as “La règle de l’or” and published by Métailié in 2017
*** My translation

Pablo Casacuberto ‘Scipion’


—That’s all I needed! I’d already been frozen out of my father’s Will, seen a gangster hijack my inheritance and demand that, in lieu of a ransom, IMG_1266I write the Eclogue of a rapist.***


In this book read for Spanish lit month, Pablo Casacuberto slowly introduces us into the tortured world of Anibal Brener, son of a recently deceased but famous historian, the professor Brener, as the story begins Anibal is visiting his dead father’s house, his own childhood home, with an estate agent and we are slowly lead to understand the incongruity of the situation, it has taken two years for Anibal to obtain permission from his own sister living in Brussels to gain access for a one hour visit to the empty home. We learn that Anibal’s sister has inherited everything, including the house and that Anibal’s visit is to pick up what little has been left him:


—In the closet of the adjoining room, the library, I leave three boxes containing certain objects that I consider useful for Anibal’s development.


Anibal is forty years old!
Which is the important ingredient in studies and transmission of history? This is the central point of the difficult relationship between Anibal and his father, Anibal’s historical studies and in a way his life can not get beyond the overwhelming importance of detail whereas his father’s work has been dedicated to ensuring that through a certain amount of romanticising people are drawn to and are interested in history.
The best example of this is the title of a proposed historical study by Anibal:


—Design and distribution of services in the public baths according to social strata in classical Rome***


An idea on which his erstwhile fiancé worked before handing to the Proffesor Brener:


—A closed envelope..containing, as the final blow, the nineteen pages of “Gone with the Water” which he referred to, after having read the text, as “an interesting version of an idea my son ruined by submerging it with boring details and useless information


As early in the book we learn that the proffesor had written a secret will for Anibal, We follow him, firstly in a quest for his inheritance, illustrated by the opening quote and especially in a search for himself.
Why did Casacuberto entitle his book Scipion? Because it was Scipion that defeated Hannibal in 202BC and that after a climax in the book Anibal is literally submerged as the Scipion within him emerges and leads him on a course to confront the true hidden traumatic events of his life.

First Published in Spanish as “Escipion” in 2000 by Inter zona.
Translated into French by Francois Gaudry as “Scipion” and published by Métailié in 2015
*** My translation

Rosa Montero ‘The heart of the Tartar’


–Urbano layed her on the ground, ripped her clothes off, tugged off his own clothes, parted her thighs and then with his powerful hands parted her humid IMG_1251and throbbing canal as Moses parted the Red Sea. In a word it was a prodigious act.***


Rosa Montero’s 2001 novel read here for Spanish lit month 2017 tells the story of Zarza, a low profile editor and proofreader, 35 years old, she specialised in medieval history and then one day she is woken by a phone call and the words

–I’ve found you***

from this point on her life begins to disintegrate around her. The story of  Zarza’s life and how she has got to where she is is illustrated in a series of meetings and encounters through one night and told in a semi-magical way interwoven with the story of “Le Chevalier à la Rose” (Der Rosenkavelier) from Chretien de Troy which mirrors, but not  completely, her own story, betrayal, darkness, a quest and forgiveness.

Much of the her own story is told or discovered by Zarza, of her strange family and of her twin brother seen through the distant haze of their heroine addiction, The White Lady, and of their descent into madness and depravity to fuel their need as illustrated in the following quote:


–It’s really easy. We just walk into the bank at the street corner, we pull out our guns, me I’ll cover the guard, you point your gun at the cashier, grab the money and then we’re off.
—But you can’t get in with metal objects! They have double doors and detectors.
—No they don’t, they don’t expect anything in that bank, they let anybody in, even if the alarm goes off, well you know….
—But they know us!
—Exactly. All the better. That way they’ll open up for us.
It was the local bank, and it was only the havoc wrought by the White Lady that could explain their outlandish idea to attack their neighbours, their close acquaintances who sooner or later would get their hands on them, but the White Lady has this power: she wipes out her subjects ability to think.***


One night at the worst of her addiction she meets Urbano, a quiet cabinet maker who looks after her and tries to help her to quit her habit. She doesn’t make it, steels from him and leaves. What happened to her for her to exist without living? It finally takes this night for her to relive her past, to meet Urbano and to forgive herself, see the opening quote.

This is an accomplished psychological thriller by one of Spain’s best known contemporary authors, more to come from her this month!

First Published in Spanish as “El corazón del Tartáro” in 2001 by Espasa.
Translated into French by André Gabastou as “Le Territoire des Barbares” and published by Métailie in 2002
*** My translation

Alicia Plante ‘The Murky Waters of the Tigre’


–Garcia Mejuto, he said, the anguish hidden by the sweets he rolled between his teeth and the handkerchief covering the mouthpiece. IMG_1248Note down the spot where you’ll leave the money, thirty thousand pesos. And don’t try to be clever***


Alicia  Plante’s book has two settings, one in Tigre, on the Tigre delta, a town 30 kilometres north of Bueno Aires Where a labyrinth of canals twist and turn between the islands and where the wooden houses built on stilts and much appreciated by the city dwellers, the second setting is in Buenos Aires itself.

This book was read as part of Spanish lit month 2017

There are two stories that will meet up later in the development, an initial story having its roots in the dictatorship, Raúl lived with his mother in Buenos Aires and remembered one day, when he was young, having seen his neighbour the Gallego , who had been a supporter of Franco coming home with a young baby, this was Uruguay in the mid seventies and Raúl’s mother was sure it was a stolen baby:


–She had heard things about this, friends from the parish knew women who had grouped together to look for their missing children, young women, mostly students or workers who weren’t in agreement with the military takeover….And she had also heard that when the young women were pregnant, their new burns were taken away from them and the military kept them for themselves.***


The second story was of a couple who had committed suicide in their wooden house in Tigre. Julia who also owned a house nearby was talking with Cadenas, the local handy man, who doesn’t believe the official version of the man shooting himself and also the blond he was found with:


–A bloke who every chance he gets comes to sleep in his run down house “to make the best of it”, he said, and who turns up one morning on the water bus with his clothes, his wellington boots some books and a type writer…Did you know he was a writer? Anyway what I wanted to say, Julia, was I don’t swallow that story, this bloke who was happy, all of a sudden he shoots himself…and whilst he was about it he bumps of the blond in the high heels***


As these two stories wind towards each other, we learn that there is only one story and it doesn’t reinforce our faith in human nature. Alicia Plante puts together some very good descriptions of people as crimes from the murky past come to the surface and those involved will use their old methods to keep them hidden.

First Published in Spanish as “Una Mancha Más” in 2011 by Adriana Hidalgo S.A.
Translated into French by François Gaudry as “Les Eaux Troubles du Tigre” and published by éditions Métailié in 2016
*** My translation

Antonio Sarabia ‘The Woman of Your Dreams’


–It is said that justice is blind, Hilario Godínez, and it’s for that reason that it is represented blindfolded but, in your country, IMG_1247justice consists first and foremost of avoiding the blindfold and keeping your eyes wide open in order to spot the exact moment when it is best to look away.***


The Mexican author Antonio Sarabia died last month, and this story, The Woman of Your Dreams, is my first encounter with his work.

This book was read as part of Spanish lit month 2017

This story is narrated by an all knowing third person who addresses the main protagonist, Hilario Godínez, throughout the book as illustrated in the opening quote. The story is set in Mexico where the violence of the drug lords is part of everyday life and where no one ventures onto the streets after dark, giving rise to the name of ghost towns, corrected by Godínez through the voice of the narrator:


–Even if you, Hilario Godínez, for whom semantic precision has become a vice, you believe as it happens that “ghost town” wasn’t the appropriate literary form. It would be more accurate to speak of the town as a “random cemetery”, since either way the next day, on open your newspapers, breakfast includes its daily helping of severed heads and dismembered bodies.***


The book relates two parallel stories, firstly there is room for hope and room for love when, as suggested by the title, Hilario has been receiving anonymous letters from a secret admirer, signed the Woman of Your Dreams, over a fifteen year period, letters which he reads with interest and even waits for eagerly, not being able to work out who she could be. She describes herself as invisible:


–She began by continuing the story of her life at university. In contrast to Descartes, she thought but she wasn’t. And she began her professional life still in this sort of non-existence….she remained invisible to all the people that really counted for her.***


In contrast to this storyline Sarabia presents the desperate and hopeless side of Mexico. Hilario, a sports journalist at the local newspaper investigates the disappearance and violent deaths for no known reason, and without ransom demands of a rich kid and then a famous footballer, with any investigation in Mexico possibly concerning drug lords being next to impossible, but as a respected football journalist he was tolerated. He discovers a drug lord that bribes players to lose matches because he has discovered the difference in market value of a first and second division team and he wants to buy the club cheaply.

Of course he is party to the resolution of the murders mystery but how will the Woman Of Your Dreams mystery end?

First Published in Spanish as “No tienes perdon de Dios” in 2017
Translated into French by René Solis as “La Femme de tes Rêves” and published by éditions Métailié in 2017
*** My translation

Hannelore Cayre ‘La Daronne’

—I was paid in cash by my employer, The Home Office, who therefore declared no taxes…..its pretty scarey when you think of it, the translators on whom National security depends, IMG_1114the very same that translate the plots hatched by islamists in their cellars and garages, should be clandestine workers with no social security and no pension. Quite frankly there are better ways to ensure incorruptibility.***

Lets get the translation in first, ‘La Daronne’ is French slang for mother, my best equivalent would be the cockney rhyming wersion ‘The finger and thumb’.

Hannelore Cayre who’s First book ‘Commis d’office‘ meaning ‘Duty Counsel’ in English was released as a film in 2009, serves us this time an excellent piece of French Noir centering around Patience Portefeux, a hard working ageing police translator/interpreter with an uncertain future ahead of her, as the initial quote tells us these translators really were paid cash in hand, and how she becomes ‘La Daronne’.

—It was the end of July, the sun was burning up the sky; The Parisians were all heading for the beaches, and I was beginning my new career, Philippe my fiancé and copwas just taking up his new position as head of the drug squad of the 2nd unit of the DPJ…
I was really happy for him, but back then I was still just a simple police Translator/Interpreter and hadn’t yet got one point two tons of hash in my cellar.***

Cayre’s inside knowledge of the judicial process in France gives us little details such as prisoners speaking with the outside world using Playstations to avoid being listened in on, or the description of the dealers with two phones, the bizzness and the halal to avoid being eavesdropped on but being unable to keep their calls segregated and being blown within hours.

I read this book in two sittings, and thoughroughly enjoyed if from start to end, I firmly recommend this book if your French is up to it, if not watch out for or plebiscite a translation.

First Published in French as “La Daronne” in 2017 by Métailié
*** My translation

Sherko Fatah ‘Un Voleur de Bagdad’

—The Versailles treaty, that shameful text, the Grand Mufti said one day to those around him, made Germany into a pariah. It’s because of that they have taken the side of the Arabs, the eternal pariahs. IMG_1077May God stop them from losing this war, because then we would lose Palestine to the Jews.***

Sherko Fatah brings us the story of Anouar, a boy from the streets of Bagdad who is swept up in the movements of his epoch, initially moving towards an involvement in an anti-Semitic movement in which he does not really believe. Fatah First paints us a story of prewar Bagdad, Of the growing tensions Anouar slowly discovers between the people and their British rulers and, through an involvement with the Black shirts, the growing hatred towards the Jews living in Bagdad:

—The Black shirts were grouped in front of the building waiting for Fadil’s orders. When I joined them I was accepted as a comrade, and was asked to carry one of the large paint containers…i thus learnt  that the operation we were about to begin was of great importance for the fatherland, that it was aimed at the internal enemy who in association with the British was about to bring down the country’s  rightful gouvernement….Fadil regrouped us around him.
—we will mark all of the shops owned by Jews. You know which ones are concerned. If you have any doubts ask me. Lets go!***

Anouar finds himself, through his links with the Black shirts, a factotum of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who is in political exile in Bagdad and is part of the team of people who accompany him to Berlin in 1941 when after a failed insurrection Bagdad is brought under control by the British:

He wanted to be an Arab partner alongside the Germans and not the lackey without hope that the French see in every Arab, nor the easily manipulated imbecile that the English took him for.***

Anouar describes their time in Berlin where their rallying to Hitler is used as propaganda, here in this second part of the story he is brought into contact with the day to day anti Semitic behaviour and expectations around him and where they spend most of their time just waiting as the war goes from euphoria to despair as illustrated  in the opening quote.

The book then moves into the third and little known phase, where towards the end of the war Anouar is enrolled into the Muslim Legion of the Waffen SS, sent to fight on the eastern front where, during the retreat without hope from the Russian army, the Legion is used for the most dangerous work in the suppression of the Warsaw uprising as the Russian Army halt their advance to allow the SS the time to finish the job.

This book throws open a new window on the events of the twentieth century, seen from an unusual perspective including the tensions in the Middle East at the time. This was a thoughtful read.

First Published in German as “Ein weisses Land” in 2011 by Luchterhand Literatur Verlag.
Translated into French by Olivier Mannoni as ‘Un Voleur de Bagdad’ and published by Métailié in 2014
*** My translation