Spanish novelist Mendoza (The City of Marvels, 1988) concocts an involved mystery set in pre-WW I Barcelona: anarchism, arms deals, sexual politics, and cynical manipulations of power. A shadowy Frenchman, Lepprince, arrives in Barcelona and, with a rich broker, Savolta, runs a shotgun factory that actually is producing and selling munitions to the fast-arming Germans. An equally slippery lawyer, Cortabanyes, is an ambiguous agent for the factory owners, a role he masks with populist sympathies; meanwhile, his assistant, the romantic idealist Javier Miranda, is being bamboozled into a white marriage with Lepprince's mistress at the same time that he's being fed false leads to the murder of a journalist who seemed to be onto the arms merchants' dealings. Mendoza employs a passel of styles to illustrate this sometimes eye-crossing mosaic--overall, the book is slow going: lots of red-herring bones--but page by page it does have its attractions: irony, world-weariness (``Everyone knows that there is only one link between honorable people and criminals, and that link is the police. Nemesio Cabra Gomez wasn't stupid and knew that if those above could get their hands on those below by means of the police, those below could also use the same means, ever though it would take more effort and lot of tact''), and the ever more inventive forms its theme, dishonesty, takes.