An elusive serial killer in modern-day Spain takes inspiration from the brutal murders of Jack the Ripper in Anaya’s (Baria City Blues, 2017, etc.) thriller.
The latest case for Commissioner Carrillo in the city of Baria is a particularly savage murder. Cristiana Stoicescu, a known sex worker, has been mutilated. The commissioner, usually working in tandem with Inspector Malasana, initially looks at the victim’s employers as suspects: Romanian thugs who not only deal in prostitution, but also in other illicit ventures, such as blackmail. It soon becomes abundantly clear that the murderer has the same modus operandi as the infamous Ripper of Whitechapel. Furthermore, Cristiana’s killing occurred on Aug. 31, the same day as the Ripper’s first recorded slaying back in 1888. Carrillo anticipates that a second murder will correspond with the September date of the Ripper’s next killing. His guess is proven right, but he’s unfortunately unable to prevent the murder of another prostitute. Shortly thereafter, the murderer begins sending taunting messages to Carrillo directly, via text messages and handwritten letters. The press starts to mock the police’s inability to ensnare the killer, and soon, the public at large believes that “the new Ripper” has outsmarted authorities. In the meantime, Carrillo sifts through a bevy of suspects, false confessions, and apparent leads that seem to go nowhere. An FBI–approved profile doesn’t shrink the commissioner’s suspect list, which is made up of an array of seedy individuals who are guilty of many transgressions even if they’re not guilty of serial murder. Soon, Carrillo fears that the killer won’t stop at five victims—the number that’s attributed to the Ripper. Indeed, he may never stop at all.
Anaya’s novel is, rather appropriately, a dark and haunting affair. The killer is unquestionably vicious, and the fact that he signs off his messages to Carrillo with a derisive giggle (rendered as “Tee hee”) makes him all the more unnerving. The story’s secondary characters are memorable, if generally unsavory, and include everyone from drug dealers and addicts to sexual offenders. Even the police are far from wholesome; Malasana beats up suspects so often that it’s clear that it’s a routine part of his interrogations. There’s a shortage of significant female characters, though, aside from the notable (and tenacious) Inspector Galan of the Deputy Analysis Unit. The lengthy novel closely follows Carrillo’s investigation, which generates a school of red herrings. But none of these subplots is simply abandoned; Carrillo and Malasana always ensure that criminals pay for their crimes, even if they’re not directly connected to the serial slayings. Throughout, Anaya rigorously describes the environment—particularly the effects of late-summer weather in Spain; the characters are persistently burdened by brutal heat that can’t be remedied by shade, tap water, or air-conditioning. However, the text’s English translation from the original Spanish seems uneven. Grammatical errors throughout prove distracting, as do the multitude of Spanish-language sentences with no context. In the end, though, the book’s denouement is wholly satisfying.
A gloomy but distinctive mystery that overcomes occasional snags.