fri 24/06/2022

Jason Webster: Fatal Sunset review - more flavoursome crime in Valencia | reviews, news & interviews

Jason Webster: Fatal Sunset review - more flavoursome crime in Valencia

Jason Webster: Fatal Sunset review - more flavoursome crime in Valencia

The sixth in the Max Cámara detective series is a rich mix

Anglo-American adoptive Spaniard Jason Webster© Mark Pringle

The sixth in a series of crime novels that began in 2011 with Or the Bull Kills You and which introduced readers to Chief Inspector Max Cámara, Fatal Sunset opens with our anarchistic hero summoned to see Rita Hernández, newly installed Commissioner of Valencia’s Policia Nacional.

Officious, devoutly Catholic and eager to make her mark, clearing up the financial and administrative mess bequeathed to her by her (male) predecessor, Hernández is determined to fix the “insolent” Cámara and his sidekick Torres once and for all, to belittle him sufficiently that he leaves the Jefatura. Sacking him is impossible, so demotion is the best she can do, despatching him swiftly back to Homicidios and closing down the Special Crimes Unit which she sees as a waste of resources. Spain has been through a financial crisis: there is no money to waste. Hernández, her beady eyes on the prize of self-advancement, is concerned only about keeping the accountants in Madrid happy and the Valencianos seemingly safe. Cámara’s complex investigations have brought not a single arrest: he must be time-wasting. He needs to be brought down a peg or two.

His new boss, CI Laura Martín, assigns him to investigate the sudden death of nightclub owner José Louis Mendoza Uribe. He has been found the previous day by his partner, breathing his last, in the hills above the city. Guardia Civil territory – but he’d actually died in a city hospital. The circumstances are unclear and there will be an autopsy. The investigation is one for the police, though the Commissioner seems sceptical at the idea foul play: she sees only “a routine check”, which the newly demoted Cámara might as well take on. Hopefully, it will be the last she will see of him.

Disheartened but ever the professional, he sets to work, roaring off in to the hills on his motorbike. Alicia, his out-of-work journalist girlfriend – with whom a morning tumble had made him late for the Commissioner – meanwhile receives a summons to meet an old friend who encountered some strange goings-on in a nature reserve in the Balearics where, as a marine biologist, he’d been doing some research. He’s anxious, very anxious, and soon Alicia is dusting off old contacts and heading to Madrid for an undercover encounter. The dangers are soon apparent, as she is chased across the city.

Fatal Sunset Cámara, meanwhile, is checking out the Sunset nightclub, interviewing all those who knew Jose Louis and, on the run first from some aggressive bees and then from two gunmen, he finds refuge with a couple who are living a very alternative lifestyle. Fed and watered, and given the sort of spliff of which is grandfather would approve, he is once more ready for the fray.

And suddenly everything is much more complicated than Commissioner Hernández had assumed. A seemingly sleepy village in the mountains harbours violent men and dark secrets, and a lucrative drugs trade. Livelihoods will be jeopardised if Sunset, a notorious gay hangout, does not reopen. Never mind the bees – Cámara has poked at a hornet’s nest and it appears that the creatures are in some way linked to those Alicia has disturbed in Madrid.

Webster, an Anglo-American writer who made his debut with Duende, a book about flamenco and his struggle to master flamenco guitar, and who has written books about Spanish history and culture, writes well about his adopted homeland. His wife is a dancer, and he is steeped in Valencian life and lore. Reading Fatal Sunset, you can feel the heat, visualise the parched hinterland, the village doors shuttered against the afternoon sun. The aromas of traditional cooking percolate through the prose along with the occasional waft of marijuana.

He’s good, too, on the age-old rivalry between the Policia Nacional and the Guardia Civil, a much more professional force than they were in Franco’s day, and about the accommodations older Spaniards have made with the new Spain, tolerant of gay rights and alternative lifestyles. And in the background the war on terror, problems with immigration, high-level corruption and the after-effects of the financial crash.

A rich mix, and one as satisfying as a grand paella Valenciana.

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