DEATH ON A GALICIAN SHORE - Domingo Villar
The discovery of the crime in any crime fiction, regardless of the culture it is based in, obviously becomes the major focus of a police procedural styled book. Increasingly this is balanced by the life, personality and colleagues of the central investigator. How those major elements blend together is becoming one of the strongest indicators of the cultural background of the story for this reader. Whilst there are some aspects that are universal, there are also aspects that really draw on local flavour. The food, the climate, the weather, the place, and how the characters interact with their environment, and most importantly the attitude of the people around the investigation, as well as some aspects of the characterisations.
The central investigator in DEATH ON A GALICIAN SHORE is Inspector Leo Caldas. A policeman first, he's also a man with a longing for his estranged girlfriend, close ties to his ill uncle, and a strong relationship with his ageing father. Most interestingly, through those relationships, Caldas has a way to connect with the past. He's also a boss with a tricky underling to manage. Estevez is, to put it mildly, a bit of a loose-cannon. A man lacking sensitivity. Somehow the taciturn, and very sensitive Caldas, and the firebrand Estevez manage to work together, although the sense of exasperation and confusion in both men is always present.
Presented as a classic who and why-dunnit, the story is set in a beautiful part of the coast, in a small village in which relationships and loyalties go back many years, and there are secrets in a lot of dark places. It might seem from this description that DEATH ON A GALICIAN SHORE is a pretty sombre book, and whilst there are parts of the book that are darker and restrained, there are also lovely touches of humour and humanity. There's a longing in Caldas that's not sad, it's hopeful, there's joy in the way that his father approaches the illness of his brother, and the relationship between father and son is very well portrayed.
Perhaps it's also partially the setting, but there's something of the good old-fashioned police procedural about the way that this book proceeds. Caldas and Estevez walk the lane-ways and streets of the small towns, they poke around the fishing boats, stand in the sand, eat in the cafes, talk to people and notice the inconsistencies. There's no high tech cleverness or forensics and not a single solitary torch in sight. What there is, however, is a nicely twisty and plausible plot, peopled by some excellent characters that I'd be happy to spend a lot more time with in the future.
One misty autumn dawn in a quiet fishing port in northwest Spain, the body of a sailor washes up in the harbour.
Detective Inspector Leo Caldas is called in from police headquarters in the nearby city of Vigo to sign off on what appears to be a suicide. But details soon come to light that turn this routine matter into a complex murder investigation.
Finding out the truth is not easy when the villagers are so suspicious of outsiders and sparing with their words. As Caldas delves into the maritime life of the village, he uncovers a disturbing decade-old case of a shipwreck, a ship's captain lost at sea and a mysterious disappearance.