I first came across Jason Webster on a soggy autumn day in Wigtown. He was cooking paella on the beach, that had been specially imported to the town’s centre for the Wigtown Book Festival. And a mighty fine paella it was too.
This seems to have set a precedent because it now seems that I cannot read his crime novels without resorting to Spanish food and drink. The first novel, Or the Bull Kills You,washed down (and colour-coordinated) perfectly with a lovely glass of Sangria. This was a coincidental discovery. I was in Tenerife. Rule Number 1 : When in Spain, drink Spanish ….. Rule Number 2: Read books set in Spain.
When I came home to a very wet UK – this summer has been even wetter than last autumn – I needed to extend the feeling of being abroad. I discovered Tesco’s Finest Valencia Orange and Passionfruit Tarts and that Webster had just published the 2nd in the series: A Death in Valencia. Great timing and another perfect match!
(Perhaps the third novel could feature gazpacho? Just to complete the 3-course dinner menu …. )
Webster’s crime novels are set in Valencia, the 3rd biggest city in Spain, a port with a constant flux of people coming in and out. Lots of crime, particularly the drug-related variety. The politicians are – and I’m quoting Webster from my notes here – very corrupt. The undercurrents from Spain’s violent political past can still be felt. It is possible to recognise political affiliations from the way people dress. Spain remains deeply divided, he said.
Webster is well-qualified to comment. He has lived for several years in Valencia and written some well-regarded Spanish histories. He said he didn’t give it much thought when turning to crime novels. Had he realised what a crowded field it is, he might not have done so. That would have been a loss.
The best crime novels document contemporary society. Webster’s vivid depiction of the divisive and explosive issues occupying Spain today (bullfighting, abortion, urban redevelopment) and almost even-handed depiction of both sides of the arguments guarantee engaging and informative reads. His characters, even the criminals, are 3-D flesh and blood. If there’s any partiality shown, it’s because his detective is often affected on a deeply personal level. And I’ve taken to Chief Inspector Max Cámara in the same way as I took to Dibdin’s Zen. Not that Cámara – whose name means observer – is as detached and cynical as Zen; well, not yet. He’s young, there’s time for him to develop – one way or the other. Not sure if Webster, was hinting at anything here, but when discussing bullfighting, he likened bullfighters to mythological monster-slayers. The bulls, he said, are stubborn. They keep going, despite all the suffering, until they die. Like humans. Like Max? I do hope not, although que será será. Hopefully not before I’ve enjoyed at least another half-dozen outings with him.