Tim's Reviews > A Not So Perfect Crime

A Not So Perfect Crime by Teresa Solana
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's review
Oct 03, 2010

really liked it
Read in September, 2010

This gets 4 stars for being such a pleasant surprise.

I enjoy reading mysteries from other cultures (see also Delhi Noir, review coming soon…). This one is from Barcelona (woo-hoo!), and is Teresa Solana's debut novel. It won a prize for best crime novel published in (yay!) Catalan. Catalan?! You bet.

This book is terrific for at least two reasons: first, a fresh voice and a fresh narrator. His name is Eduard, and let's just copy out the first paragraph:

My brother Borja's name isn't Borja. It's Pep (or Josep). And his surname isn't Masdéu-Canals Sáez de Astorga. We're both Martínez on our father's side and Estivill on our Mother's.

We go on to find out that they are twins. Orphaned when they were young. And now, no one knows that they are even brothers, not even Eduard's wife. Pep has managed to pass himself off as being of a higher class than the prosaic Martínez clan, and started a business being, essentially, a fixer for high-class folks. He gets our narrator to work with him, and there our story begins. They undertake tasks the rich can't do themselves. They pawn things. They check up on employees. And occasionally deal with infidelity. But they don't plant bugs or keep thick files or even present invoices. They don't pass themselves off as professionals: "it's more like asking a friend to find out what he can in exchange for a generously-filled envelope."

So they are surprised when murder comes their way.

This much fits the mold of the amateur sleuth, the everyman who finds himself confronting a mystery. But these guys are a delightful, inexperienced pair, and make up eveything as they go along. I enjoyed the ride.

This relates directly to the other thing that made this so fun—and why I like mysteries from elsewhere: they're Catalan. I don't know if Solana is portraying some stereotype, or if, as I suspect, we get a window into the alien culture. For example, they never comment on it, but they don't work very hard by American standards. They do take siestas. They stay up late eating. They sleep in. When they get tired of working, they knock off and go eat something. And there are various things you hear, in the narrative, about life in Barcelona. Where the rich live. Where they shop. What family relationships are like in the middle class Martínez household. How they feel about the Castilians. And then it has some lyrical description. The author and narrator love their city. It feels like a book written to be enjoyed and laughed at by natives, in a sparkling translation.

If I had any reservation, it would be that Solana does not adhere to all of the details in the unspoken (but it must be written about somewhere) contract between mystery authors and their readers. There is a delicate dance in a mystery in which the author reveals just the right amount so that the reader, on finding out whodunit, will smack themselves in the forehead, saying, "I should have known!" Reveal too little and the denouement comes out of left field; reveal too much and the reader solves the mystery before the detective does. But who is to say that a Catalan mystery has to follow our up-tight estadunidense (or whatever it would be in Catalan) formulas? Not I.

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