SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Anarchist Detective’ by Jason Webster

the-anarchist-detective

Sent on leave after his last, brutal, case, Max Cámara returns to his home town in La Mancha, famous for producing the finest saffron in the world.  

There, the past keeps pulling at him. The town is exhuming a mass grave from the Civil War, but why is his grandfather behaving so strangely? His old friend Yago is investigating a particularly nasty murder which sets off memories Max has been trying to bury for years. And then there are Yago’s whisperings about a saffron mafia…  

Max finds himself plunged into the thick of a complex and intensely personal case that will put him in severe danger and have him questioning his past – and his future in the police.

~~~

Max Cámara, the cynical, persistent, pragmatic, intelligent, likeable Spanish detective is back and better than ever. Valencia’s most dogged detective is on leave, and in self-imposed exile in Madrid, to cook, read and have sex with the lovely Alicia. But is that enough for a man like Max?

Max is pulled back to his hometown of Albacete, a place he has sought to run from his entire life. The author expertly describes the mood of this provincial Spanish area; the stark landscape that surrounds the barely-enjoyable place is evident throughout. It’s dirty, it’s stuck in the past, it’s a place where any man would want to leave his memories behind.

The character of Hilario, Max’s grandfather, once again steals the show with this witty lines, stubborn attitudes and bold behaviour. Hilario is a link to the past that Max cannot escape, and as more details of the man’s past, and the past of his relatives, come to life in Hilario’s unremarkable apartment, the reader can learn more about Max than ever before. With the last two novels, Or the Bull Kills You, and A Death in Valencia, hints of Max’s life have delighted and teased, but now so much of Max’s troubled past bursts from the page, serving to illuminate the character and make him even more complex and yet more relatable.

Pressing issues in today’s Spain dominate the storyline; when a young girl is murdered, Max finds himself on the trail of murderers and also corrupt leaders, their hands yellow with the stain of saffron smuggling. Max juggles this modern-day issue, along with ghosts of the past; the local cemetery is digging up Civil War and Franco victims, and the two events are more interlinked than Max could imagine. The conversation surrounding the idealisms of pre-war Spain are explained in such a way that those with little knowledge can easily understand, along with the fear imposed on the population in the post-war 1940’s. Sentimentality is spared as the facts are told through the eyes of a person who has had to deal with the reality of living in such times.

Webster brings the book and its themes to life through comfortable and believable relationships between the characters. Max and Hilario’s family connection is convincing and authentic, and his relationship with journalist Alicia is refreshingly realistic. Any person who has suffered a difficult childhood and wished to leave their early life behind can feel Max’s desire to run and never look back.

The whole novel, dominated by the stuffy atmosphere of Albacete, holds Max in a kind of purgatory in which he needs to escape. Is the future back in Valencia? Perhaps Madrid? Max may be able fight crime and lay ghosts to rest, but can he stop himself from sabotaging his own future?

The book reaches a satisfying and poignant end, and leaves plenty of scope for yet another Cámara installment. The scenes in the hospital can feel very close to home. Readers may never put saffron in their cooking again without thinking twice. Even Max is looking at his paella sideways…

The Anarchist Detective is the best Max Cámara yet. Webster’s talent with this character strengthens with every installment. Spain’s past and present weave together to produce an eloquent and emotional novel that can be read in a single sitting.

The Anarchist Detective – 5 stars! Superb must-read

Available in hardback and on Kindle – The Anarchist Detective by Jason Webster

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