Javier Cercas ‘Outlaws’


–Tell me when you met Zarco.
—At the beginning of the summer of 1978. It was a strange time. Or that’s how I remember it. Franco had died three years earlier, IMG_1254but the country was still governed by Franco’s laws and still smelled exactly the same as it did under Franco: like shit. I was sixteen years old back then, and so was Zarco. We lived very near each other, and very far away from each other.


The opening quote from this book read for Spanish lit month illustrates the setting for the initial events in Javier Cercas’s Outlaws, with the ending of Franco’s regime the social problems did not go away but were slowly allowed to come to the surface and amongst them the beginnings of juvenile delinquency.

The story is about the relationship between three people, Zarco a young gang leader at the beginning of the story and Tere a girl in the gang both coming from the shanty towns on the outskirts of Gerona and the sixteen year old “Gafitas” from a middle class suburb. Many years later Cañas the lawyer who  recounts this his first meeting with Sarko and Tere:


–What’s up, Gafitas?, asked Zarco, taking my place at the controls of the machine. He looked me in my bespectacled eyes with his very blue ones, spoke with a husky voice, had a centre parting in his hair and wore a tight denim jacket over a tight beige T-shirt. He repeated, defiantly, What’s up? I was scared. Holding up my hands I said: I just finished. I turned to leave, but at that moment Tere stepped in my way and my face was a handspan from hers. My first impression was surprise; my second, of being completely dazzled. Like Zarco, Tere was very thin, dark, not very tall, with that springy outdoors air quinquis used to have back then….Going already?, she asked, smiling with her full, strawberry-red lips. I couldn’t answer because Zarco grabbed my arm and forced me to turn back around. You stay right there, Gafitas, he ordered, and started playing pinball on the Rocky Balboa machine.


The Outlaws is a series of interviews between the writer, Cañas who had been known as Gafitas in his gang days, the police detective from the events in the 70’s and who arrested Sarko following a tip off at a bank robbery, and who crucially let “Gafitas” get away and then the prison director from Gerona. How was “Gafitas” allowed to escape? Why did Tere not turn up for the robbery? These questions remain open throughout the story. Sarko as a first Of his kind Is romanticised by the media and then left to rot in Spanish jails:


–For Sarko everything went very fast in fact my impression is that when I knew him in the late 70s Sarko was a sort of precursor and when I saw him again in the late 90s he was almost an anachronism if not a posthumous persona
From precursor to anachronism in just 20 years?
That’s right, when I knew him he was a forerunner in a way of the masses of juvenile delinquents who filled the jails the newspapers radio television and cinema screens in the 80’s I’d say he not only announce the phenomenon he played the part better than anybody.


This book throughout these interviews, a process used to blur the lines between fiction and reality, seems at times to ramble on without clear aims as Cercas slowly and indirectly shapes for us, through the three narrators and the writer, a full view of his main character Cañas and Cercas’s writer tells us something about the story writing and his subject:


–The idea at first (was) to write a book about Sarko to denounce all the lies that have been told about him and tell the truth or a portion of the truth. But a person doesn’t write the books he wants to write but those he can or those he finds, the book I’ve found both is and isn’t that one


First Published in Spanish as “Las leyes de la frontera” in 2012 by Literatura Mondadori.
Translated into English by Anne McLean as “Outlaws” and published by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2014

Lorenzo Silva ‘Une Femme Suspendue’


-I’ll give you a good tip, Rubén. It was the girl friend that did it, in a rush of anger, and your job is to piece imagetogether a coherent explanation.***


At the end of the nineties, Lorenzo Silva penned this, the first in an award winning series of crime books, seven to date, featuring Sergeant Bevilacqua and his assistant Chamorro of the ‘Guardia Civil’. This story, ‘The Hanging Woman’ read in French, takes place in the holiday resorts of Majorca, A young and rich Austrian woman is found hung from the ceiling of a holiday villa with two bullet holes in her head, and the murder weapon is found nearby with the villas occupant, her vanished girl friend’s prints on the handle. The investigation seems cut and dry as the initial quote tells us. This book was read for Spanish lit month 2016.

I’ve said all I’ll say about the intrigue, the interest for me was in the two ‘Guardia Civil’ characters, Silva caught what I would imagine to be a military police atmosphere, Bevilacqua and Chamorro operating in a background of rules and obedience, the following exchange between the two Guardia Civil officers illustrates this:


-You should know that as long as you’re with me, if anyone criticises what you are doing or how you do it will be as if they are spitting in my face. And I can assure you that when someone spits in my face I’m pitiless….
-Understood sergeant! I’ll not mention it again.


As they went undercover Silva had me laughing at times such as when these two uniformed police officers were required to spend time on a nudist beach, and he describes their discomfort with the idea, which they hide by military abruptness:


-Once on the beach I indicated to my subordinate. Over there and let’s try not to draw attention to ourselves
My assistant seemed confused
-Come on, Chamorro! I haven’t brought a camera.
But this didn’t seem to be the problem
-listen, I said trying to make things more acceptable, me too I’m feeling the same embarrassment as you. I wasn’t brought up by the clergy, but my mother didn’t walk around the house naked either. Let’s just carry on as if there wasn’t a problem and think no more of it.


This was not a must read crime book but it’s dry humour made me smile, one of this series is available in English, ‘The Faint-Hearted Bolshevik’.

First Published in Spanish as “El Lejano Paìs de los Estanques” by Destino in 1998
Translated into French by Dominique Lepreux as ‘Une Femme Suspendue’ and published by Lattès in 2000
*** My translation

Arturo Perez-Reverte ‘le Tango de la Vieille Garde’

As of today I am a grand father!
After ‘Queen of the South’amongst other books translated from Spanish into English and French, since turned into a television series, read easily ten years back, his latest book translated into French but not yet into English ‘Le Tango de la Vieille Garde‘ which can be thought of a little like the song ‘Every time We say goodbye, you know I cry a little‘ is a film waiting to happen.

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The story set in three distinct periods, the late twenties, the late thirties and the early sixties follows Max and Inzunza two characters from different worlds, her rich, with no worries for tomorrow and he poor surviving by scams.
In the late twenties they meet on a transatlantic liner from Spain to Argentina, She with her wealthy composer husband working on a Tango (a simple bet with Ravel to better his Bolero) and he as the House dancer, suave and debonair, surviving by ripping off rich women. He takes them through the back streets of Buenos Aires to the birth place of the true Tango and lives a passion with Inzunza before disappearing with her valuable pearl necklace.
We meet them again in the late thirties in Nice between the Spanish civil war and WW2, he by now an accomplished cat burglar and she estranged from her husband, they once again are passionate lovers before events force a second separation.
The third confrontation is in their twilight years where Max who has come through difficult times meets once again Inzunza with her son (A chess champion challenging the Russian world champion) and at the bequest of Inzunza becomes embroiled in a dangerous case of burglary.
Throughout we are aware of their unrequited love, (if only life could let them be together).
As always these stories are intertwined. This is once again a compelling story, worthy of an English translation, I’d pay to watch the film.

Le Tango de la Vieille Garde: First published in Spain in 2012
Translated into French by François Maspero, published by Seuil in 2013

Victor del Árbol ‘ A Million Drops’

Here is a major Spanish suspense story writer with his second book to be translated into English (May 2015), which I read in advance in French as ‘Toutes les Vagues de l’Océan’. A journey through time and place (Europe from the 1930’s to present day) and a darker journey through a families awful secrets. This exceptional historic panorama is painted (unusually for me) from a Spanish perspective. image Read on