Southern gothic meets Euro hipness in Catalan novelist Cantero’s inventive, enjoyable outing in postmodern mystery writing.
Take a mysterious mansion, “plus a noseless suspect, a dead criminal wanted in six states, one fugitive, a missing lawyer, seventeen people in the morgue, two in surgery, and lots of paperwork,” and you’ve got the makings of a scenario that’s surely good for setting tongues wagging in small-town Virginia. Yet most of the good citizens of Point Bless have long been unaware of the goings-on at the Wells mansion, where the ghosts of suicides wander among dark corridors and hidden rooms. Cantero lets us know at the outset that we’re in on a very long joke, with winking through-the-fourth-wall asides (“I’ve noticed that all manuscripts are bad; any book randomly opened in a friend’s house is good; the same book in a bookstore is bad. When this story is completed, that beginning will turn better”). Any story that features a lawyer named Glew and a butler named Strückner is automatically promising, never mind hesitant openings, and our protagonist’s sidekick is a welcome force of nature, a mute Irish girl who is both amanuensis and ninja. And if that protagonist starts off the proceedings wide-eyed and naïve, delighted by such small things as rural cafes with “many sauce bottles and thingies against the glass,” he emerges as a capable player in a game of poltergeists, hollowed-out books, malevolent masterminds and sundry secrets in a setting that wanders between real and dream worlds, alternate realities blending with elective affinities.
Freemasonry, of course, figures into the equation. Quirky in presentation and good fun throughout, Cantero’s yarn pleases at every turn.