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

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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 ‘Tears in Rain’


–I have seen things you people wouldn’t believe, attack ships on fire off the of the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser gate.IMG_1253
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.


In Blade Runner, genetic engineering had lead to the “manufacture” of Replicants.  Replicants were essentially slaves who were not allowed to come to Earth, to assuage human fears that they could develop their own emotional reactions love, hate fear, anger envy, they were built with a fail safe device, a 4 year life span. The film deals with the crisis around the Nexus 6 model of Replicant where for the first time an element of memory was given to the Replicants. The films penultimate scene ends with the last escaped Replicant, Batty, dying and pronouncing the words shown in the opening quote from which Rosa Montero extracts the title of her book.

Rosa Montero’s sequel sets out to investigate  some of the ideas introduced but not developed in the film such as :
What is the importance of memory? And if memory can be created, what will this lead to?
If Replicants were allowed on earth what would be their status and how would they live together with humans?
The story is old from a Replicant point of view and was read for
Spanish lit month.

The central intrigue of the book is introduced but not yet analysed in the first chapter as the Main protagonist of the book, a private detective and a rep, Bruna Huskey opens her door to her neighbour, Cata Caïn who almost immediately attacks and tries to kill Bruna who then successfully stops her and calms her down, then follows this dialogue:


–Why did you do this to me? asked Bruna.
—Why did you do this to me? babbled the android. There was a deluded and feverish look in her catlike eyes.
—What have you taken? You’re high.
—You people drugged me; you’ve poisoned me, moaned the woman, and she started to cry with profound despair.
—We people? Who are we?
—You… technohumans… reps. You kidnapped me; you infected me; you implanted your filthy things to turn me into one of you. Why have you done this to me? What had I ever done to you?…
—What’s behind all this idiocy? Are you mad, or just pretending to be? You’re a replicant, too. Look in the mirror. Check out your eyes. You’re a technohuman like me. And you’ve just tried to strangle me.


An interesting premise in this book, and at the heart of the intrigue is that if Reps can be given memories then somebody must be writing them and that if a rep is not feeling good (after all he knows he has a very short life span), then there must be a market for memories, Bruna had herself:


–gone into the night searching for the impossible and on more than one occasion as dawn was breaking she’d been tempted to inhale a shot of memory, a fake fix of artificial life, she hadn’t done it and she was glad that was the case


Rosa Montero brings home to the reader, the complexity of thought of the Reps, genetically engineered humans, and the sadness surrounding their short lifespans and their painful deaths. The Reps are themselves to all intents and purposes the next wave of immigration and despite the fact that they are equal in law they are discriminated against. And classically here good and bad cannot be distinguished purely by race or species grounds alone.

Bruna Huskey is a complex hero with many flaws, she drinks as much as Harrison Fords character in the film, and finally there is of course a reason for her inner doubts and questions. I had great fun with this book, if you liked Blade runner here is a nuanced sequel chasing down a different angle, a well thought out intrigue and an interesting story.

First Published in Spanish as “Lágrimas en la lluvia” in 2012 by Booket.
Translated into English by Lilit Žekulin Thwaites as “Tears in Rain” and published by AmazonCrossing in 2012

José Carlos Somoza ‘Zigzag’


–The first human being from the past we have ever seen. There calm, on the screen. A real woman who really lived two thousand years ago. IMG_1252Where was she going, to market?What was she carrying in her bag? Had she seen Jesus preach?..Then something happened that took Elisa’s breath away. After a new cut the outline appeared in profile the head raised as if she was looking at the camera as if she had seen them all…Her eyes were missing as well as a large part of her face and even like that she seemed to be walking as if she could see perfectly.***


OncJosé Carlos Somoza brings to the reader a fiction based on science, and an esoteric thriller rolled into one. I enjoyed the story with some reticence addressed at the end of this post. The story concerns a group of scientists who are eventually brought together on an isolated tropical island to work for a nebulous private group, the Eagle Group, with the scientists and the this group having conflicting targets. The science, based on string theory was introduced at a level that I could follow and that intrigued me, the extrapolation of this theory to the project Zigzag, being able to unfurl a string to see events in the past was captivating.

The question asked by the conflict is if you could see some events in the past, what would you look for? The scientists grouped together are not just physicists but include palaeontologists and historians and in particular historians of christianism. The Eagle Group of course have more military and security type aims, going back to recent times and spying on someone who would not suspect if for instance, but before they can obtain the “tool” there are questions about its safety, an effect labelled “Impact”, the people seeing back in time are left profoundly effected and the scientists are to be the Guinée pigs, and both the scientists and Eagle group have reason to keep the work secret:


–For example if we should see Jesus Christ, Mohammed or Buddha…just see them and know with certitude that it is them… without talking about discovering aspects of the lives of these religious founders that differ from that which the churches of these religions have made millions of people believe for centuries, including some of us, that is motive enough for keeping project Zigzag secret.***


Things go profoundly wrong and the scientists create their own Frankenstein’s monster and one by one over a ten year period meet horrific and unexplainable deaths.

Somoza handles the story in majority in two time periods, 2005 when the book was written and in the near future, 2015. There is a slow ramp up of anxiety and horror as the story progresses and the conclusion is well handled.

The idea behind this story is interesting and this story could be adapted to screen.

I’d like to treat the question of sexism within this book, brought up on forums by a number of readers, through my understanding of Somoza’s treatment of the main female character , Elisa Robledo. For me there are two separate reasons for unease due to the treatment of the female characters in the book, one arguably legitimate as Elisa over the ten years of the book develops from the exceptional student physicist and young adult not caring about herself:


–Her mother wouldn’t let up about the never ending mess in her room. She arrived at the bus station as the coach started up…she was wearing a t shirt with greying shoulder straps and her torn jeans were frayed at the edges. What’s more her hair was clearly dirty …in the last few months she had been under huge pressure.***


Then she develops into the Physics lecturer and caricature of a woman pandering to men’s lust:


–With her magnificent profile shaped by her cardigan and trousers, she could have passed for a student, maybe even for the hostess of an important ceremony….a porn star holding her first Oscar, or as Rafa whispered to his friends on campus: “a mixture of Einstein and Marilyn Monroe”
But anyone paying attention would have noticed that something wasn’t right: Elisa’s face at the beginning, as the lights came on, was different.***


The change in Elisa as we learn is due to her being influenced and controlled by an immature and flawed outside force and her representation as a mutation towards being an object of sexual desire within this framework seems to me legitimate. Although the reference to a porn star by a person from outside of the main story line here is gratuitous and unnecessary.

The treatment of the scientists on the tropical island, sleeping in non air conditioned rooms so that they, in particular the women,  are naked or next to naked with spy holes in the doors where anyone on the island can see them, is not necessary for the story and panders to a sexism with which I, as a reader, was uncomfortable.
To conclude on this subject there is I believe a thin line to tread  between what is necessary for the development of the storyline (an immature and male manipulator) and cheap sensationalism which the author does not always manage to follow.

First Published in Spanish as “Zigzag” in 2006 by Random House Mondadori.
Translated into French by Marianne Millon as “La Théorie des Cordes” and published by Actes Sud in 2007
Translated into English by Lisa Dillman as “Zigzag” and published by Rayo in 2007
*** 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

Luis Sepúlveda ‘The Shadow of What We Were’


–There in the middle of the assembly, Coco Aravena felt euphoric. The commission for agitation and propaganda of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Revolutionary Party, Mao Tse-Tung Thought, Enver Hoxha Tendency, IMG_1249which was very different from the liquidationist clique that called itself the Marxist-Leninist Communist Revolutionary Party, Mao Tse-Tung Thought, Red Flag Tendency, had commissioned him to read a resolution from the central committee, a resolution destined to change history.


Three acquaintances forced to go underground after Augusto Pinochet’ coup in Chile in 1973, meet up more than thirty years later at the behest of “The Shadow” to carry out one more job. Cacho Salinas who had just come back from exile in Paris, Lucho Arancibia who had stayed in Chile only to lose his family and to have been tortured himself until his head was no longer “right”, Lolo Garmendia who had been sent in exile to Ceaucescu’s Romania only to find somewhere worst than Chile. The three of them had known each other all those years before in the splintered microcosm of Chile’s revolutionary left, illustrated by the opening quote and parodied by Monty Python and had each separately known and learnt to trust ” The Shadow”

From their discussions with each other, whilst waiting in Arancibia’s garage for the man that had reunited them, a picture of Chile, and the complications and absurdity of life and of their exiles and that of the thousands of other “Young Communists” is slowly distilled to the reader. They are so altered by their experiences that without ever having met before, they are able to recognise other Chileans who have been through similar experiences as epitomised by the following conversation between Salinas and the man selling him roast chickens, the story of why Salinas hated chickens is in itself an anthology of the absurdity of the revolutionary thought of the seventies pushed to the limits:


–Are the chickens fresh? Are they tasty? That’s what I want to know.
The vendor closed his newspaper, glanced out at the street and then up at the ceiling of the shop. “Look friend, I don’t know where these chickens come from and I don’t care, they’re all the same, exactly the same weight, they come frozen, hard as rocks and glassy-eyed. I defrost them, stick skewers up their asses and out through the back of their necks, smear them with a sauce that comes in a plastic bag and after forty minutes on the spit they turn into something edible. Happy now? Don’t make things any more complicated than they are.”


This book was read as part of Spanish lit month 2017

in parallel within the book a second story concerning another returning emigre, who had not been taken seriously by anyone during those revolutionary years, Coco Aravena is wound into the first story line as a dispute between Coco and his wife, as she throws books and his phonograph out of the window, leads to a highly improbable coincidence as his phonograph falls on “The shadow” and kills him, but even this is surpassed by the absurdity of real life as not knowing what to do, they go down to street level to examine the body:


–The rain was still falling, and the body was still on the sidewalk. His black clothes shone wetly, but there wasn’t the slightest sign of either the lethal phonograph or the books.
“Fucking people,” Coco Aravena muttered.
“What do you mean?” the woman said. I don’t understand what you are talking about.”
“Look Concha,” Coco replied, pointing to the dead man’s bare marble-like feet. “They stole his shoes.”


This is a book based on “The Last of the Summer Wine”type caring humour.

First Published in Spanish as “La Sombra de lo que fuimos” in 2009 by Espasa Calpe .
Translated into English by Howard Curtis as “The shadow of What We Were” and published by Europa Editions in 2010

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