Blood Wedding by P J Brooke

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Blood Wedding by P J Brooke

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Murder mystery in Andalucia. Is this the work of Moslem / ETA terrorists, or is it linked to the tragedies of the Civil War and the betrayal of poet Frederico García Lorca? Or is it much more mundane than that: a young Moslem girl dallying where she shouldn't and stirring up love-rival jealousies? Sub Inspector Max Romero finds the trail leads a bit too close to home, in the first of a prospective Spanish detective series. Solid plot, well back-grounded. Lose the pretensions to enjoy at its best.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: November 2008
Publisher: Constable
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1845297411

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It was Thursday, market Day in Diva. It was the feast of San Juan de Dios in 1947 when the guerrilla leader El Gato was shot and fell among the flowers.

Another Thursday, another market day in Diva and Leila, a student from Edinburgh with a half-Spanish, half-Muslim heritage, meets up with Hassan to take a walk in the hills. Hassan is involved with a European-funded Training Centre for Muslim Entrepreneurs in the hills above the town. Leila is researching the local history of Diva around the time of the civil war, particularly its links with El Gato and the poet Lorca.

They're not lovers exactly, so their falling out after Friday prayers is not just a lovers' tiff. Or perhaps not even a lovers' tiff. Any other week, it would have been quickly forgotten. This week it becomes important…when Leila's body is found, at the bottom of a ravine.

Enter: Sub Inspector Max Romero. Max knows Leila, maybe even harboured aspirations in her direction, but probably would never have followed through on them, because he is also a friend of her father's.

He is attached to the Policia Nacionale in Granada, but as he happens to have a cottage on the outskirts of Diva, he's the ideal candidate to operate as Moslem community liaison. Besides, he actually likes the people and has a certain sympathy with them.

His being asked to help with the Leila incident (the local Guardia Civile are keen to dismiss it as an accident) does not go down well in the local station.

As if that wasn't enough, he also has to deal with a high-profile visit from the central hierarchy who, with an upcoming national election to worry about, need to focus on the war on terror as coloured by the particularities of Spain's home-grown factions.

The scene is set.

Blood Wedding is named after the English translation of one of Lorca's most famous plays (Bodas de Sangres), which revolves around themes of frustrated love and lingering feuds. These are the themes which also lurk behind the Brookes' murder mystery.

Leila's investigations had brought her into close contact with Romero's family: his grandmother was one of her prime interview candidates and was supplying details which could be historically significant in finally determining precisely who ultimately betrayed Lorca to his death. Family connections of the Romero's appear to have been involved, just as they now appear to be closely involved with the most recent death of the student herself.

Meanwhile, what of the Moslems up on the hillside. Of course there must be a terrorist connection (this is post 9/11 and attitudes are simplistic in the extreme) and if there are terrorists then of course there must be an ETA connection (this is Spain, and, in some quarters, attitudes appear equally unenlightened: perhaps deliberately, politically so?).

Our hero (Romero) must by definition show greater insight. He does so, and in doing so, endears himself to the reader in the true role of the serial detective the authors are setting him up to be (á la Morse, Maigret, et al). The police insider operating as far outside as he thinks he can get away with.

In that vein, the Brookes pitch it perfectly. There is easily a series here. Romero's milieu gives scope for future endeavours: the perfect mix of Granada city life and the hinterland of the hills and villages of the Alpujarras and the Sierra Madre. Connections are established with Madrid and with the local Guardia. His family background, central to this story is clearly delineated: he's single, has a brother in an unstable marriage, divorced parents, a devoted grandmother. The Latin/Scots mix of his heritage probably gives him lien on every personality characteristic of any interest. He's a womaniser (in his dreams!), but enough of a gent to fail gracefully.

This opening story is well-paced, with enough suspects to fill the pages, and turns and twists to make them all possible and none of them probable. Clues are scattered liberally: some genuine, others being the Spanish equivalent of red herrings.

It intrigues on every level. I can't help wondering if being only vaguely familiar with Spanish history and literature was a help on a hindrance. Certainly, I was intrigued by the (presumably extrapolated) mystery of Lorca's demise as I was by who murdered Leila and why. Equally, the workings of the Spanish police and justice system provided other avenues for pondering.

Having spent some time in the Alpujarras and longing to go back to Granada, I was captivated by the obvious realism of place.

For all the Lorca connections and historical detail, however, Blood Wedding should not be approached as anything other than a 'police procedural'. That's the best way to enjoy it. Then everything else is just a bonus. But what a bonus!

Approached on that level, I loved it. I worry slightly that if you read too much into the Lorca connection and get carried away with literary pretensions you might be disappointed, which would be a shame, for it would be to judge the book by the wrong lights. There is a lot of history here, and more than a few political comments about the world we now have to contend with, but they are things to think about afterwards. Enjoy the story first. You can ponder the precepts later.

For those wondering about my use of the Brookes in the plural: P. J. Brooke is the nom de plume of husband & wife writing team Philip O'Brien and Jane Brooke.

He has a background which covers spells in the Foreign Office, teaching Latin American studies at Glasgow University, an active member of the Scottish Green Party and a member of the Scottish Constitutional Convention which led to the formation of the Scottish Parliament.

She is a historian and social scientist whose work includes urban planning and policy advice.

They have a home in Granada.

One assumes therefore they know whereof they speak.

In which context I was worried by one of the authorial notes that are appended to the book. Our fictional police hear bear very little resemblance to the real forces, which would never have employed Max Romero in the first place. Why does this worry me? Because it implies that they would have employed Teniente González and the special interrogator Navarro. Read the book and you'll see what that might mean.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals to you then we think that you might also enjoy This Night's Foul Work by Fred Vargas.

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