Jason Webster, A Death in Valencia (London: Chatto and Windus, 2012). The second in the Max Cámara series provides some much needed summer warmth and a genuine insight into modern-day Spain 4 stars
Opening line: The green-and-white Guardia Civil patrol boat looked out of place so close to the shoreline.
Fed up of our seemingly never-ending British winter, I found myself reaching for Jason Webster’s A Death in Valencia, set during a sweltering summer in Spain’s third largest city (and home to one of its most famous traditional dishes, paella). Being transported to the land of sun, sea and sangria proved to be an excellent move.
A Death in Valencia opens with the body of Pep Roures, a well-known paella chef, being recovered by Chief Inspector Max Cámara from the sea. The subsequent murder investigation is set against the background of a number of challenging events: the town hall’s commercially-motivated demolition of El Cabanyal, an old fishing quarter by the sea; the sudden collapse of an apartment block; the kidnapping of the director of an abortion clinic, and the visit of the Pope. Cámara, too, is going through a tough time, with the emotional fallout from Or the Bull Kills You (the first in the series) leading him to act rather unwisely on occasion, in spite of his grandfather Hilario’s sound counsel.
While the plot takes a little time to ignite, the novel builds to a satisfying conclusion, not least due to its rich depictions of Valencia and contemporary Spanish society. Readers learn about regional details such as the all-important rating system for paella, as well as larger issues, such as the fundamentally divided nature of Spanish society: conservatives with ‘traditional’ values rooted in the church on the one hand, and those who celebrate regional diversity and change on the other. The Valencian setting is also vividly evoked, especially the old El Cabanyal quarter (which really is under threat – see www.cabanyal.com).
If you’re a Max Cámara fan, or are interested in this series, you might like to read Mrs. Peabody’s interview with Jason Webster, recorded at the 2012 Harrogate Crime Writing Festival and available here. Areas explored include the legacy of the Spanish Civil War, the role of Spanish proverbs, and the influence of the author Vázquez Montalbán.
Mrs. Peabody awards A Death in Valencia a highly enjoyable 4 stars and looks forward to meeting Max Cámara again soon.