A Spanish homicide detective encounters more bull than he bargained for.
Chief Inspector Max Cámara of the Valencia PD has detested everything to do with “blood-in-the-sand” ever since as a child he saw a matador sink a sword into an already crippled, helpless animal. Young as he was, he regarded the contest as shamefully unequal. Years later, however, he finds himself reluctantly standing in for his boss, the police commissioner, at a particularly significant corrida. It features nonpareil matador Jorge Blanco, who through his consummate skill and exemplary bearing has almost single-handedly rescued bullfighting from what had seemed an inexorable decline. As usual, Blanco’s performance is heroic. He’s the darling of the crowd—with, it turns out, a notable exception, since later that same night his naked, mutilated body is discovered in the deserted bull ring. So, because happenstance put him at the scene, Cámara catches a case he’d much rather have done without. For one thing, his personal life has recently become depressingly distracting. Moreover, it’s hard to locate a single citizen in all Valencia who takes bullfighting lightly. Rabid fans of the sport include the commissioner, the mayor and a variety of lesser politicians—all of which, as Cámara knows full well, is tantamount to seeing the case as a potential career-killer.
Webster’s insights into bullfighting shed light on aspects of the Spanish character, lifting this debut and its bleak and brooding protagonist above the ordinary.