Continuing my quest to find the literary equivalent of crema catalana ….
A Not So Perfect Crime won the 2007 Brigada 21 Prize for the best crime novel. It was recommended by Najat El-Hachmi at this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival and the picture of the Casa Batillo in Barcelona (surely the most wonderous piece of architecture ever designed) on the front cover clinched the deal. That picture is naughty because, although the action takes us on a tour of Barcelona, it skips the tourist spots and the Casa Batillo entirely. Nevertheless having recently travelled to Barcelona, I thoroughly enjoyed the virtual revisit and I was mightly pleased with how many pictures came to mind as I was taken once more to the Barri Gothic, the Eixample and other areas of the city. Barcelona has obviously stayed with me and it’s odds on that I’ll shall return. But I digress. Let’s get back to the book.
Frau Consultants Ltd has nothing to do with German ladies. The word “Frau” the result of a printing error which one partner decided was a sign not to be ignored. The company is owned by twin brothers, although they are the only two who know this. One of them has just returned to the city, after an absence of 15 years or more, replete with a new identity. Borja Masdeu-Canals Saez de Astorga’s natural habitat is with the rich and famous, thanks to his rich, not-so-famous but generous married mistress. His brother, Edward Martinez Estivill, has kept not only his name, his wife and his two children, but also his middle class origins and his honesty. This is how Edward describes their agency:
The consultancy we offer, and which our clients require, is too confidential in nature to allow for written contracts.
All terribly discrete. Not exactly hard-boiled Marlowesque. Yet the day comes when they become embroiled in a bona fide murder case involving a high-ranking politician. More words from Edward, the honest:
I must confess neither of us had the slightest idea about how to tackle the situation … In fact, all our knowledge of the criminal underworld originates exclusively – I kid you not – from reading crime fiction on childhood holidays ….
What follows is a satirical expose of Catalan high society and politics packaged as an amusing romp through the murky world of adultery, blackmail and murder. This detective duo is so mis-matched but their differences add so much sparkle to the narrative. What Borja lacks in knowledge, he gains in inventiveness and sophistry. Edward supplies the worry, the legwork and the logic. Neither are depressed. Neither are alcoholic. As such, this novel offers the perfect antidote to the dark depressive menace of Scandinavian crime fiction (which I love, but sometimes a change is as good as a rest.)
While the case leaves the real police force baffled, Borja and Edward strike lucky which, accepting their inexperience, is the only credible outcome. The final twist is as heartwarming as it is delicious …..
just like crema catalana. And like the pudding, I want seconds. Fortunately another batch is under the grill. Teresa Solana’s second novel will be published in English next February.