A child killer roams the streets of early-20th-century Barcelona in Spaniard Pastor’s jumbled, lurid English language debut.
It’s 1911, and the city teems with immigrants and prostitutes as the crime rate skyrockets. Inspector Moisès Corvo—a man who alternates between his impressive intellect and his well-worn fists to get the job done—is called to a crime scene where the victim is drained of blood, with a bite wound to the neck. This sparks a panic that a vampire is on the loose, a rumor seemingly substantiated for the reader using awkwardly alternating first-person scenes from the point of view of a killer, who’s of questionable supernatural origin and refers to himself as the Shadow. During the course of his investigation, Corvo discovers that, unbeknownst to the police, children are disappearing off the streets. Since they’re the offspring of Barcelona’s less desirable residents, no one raises the alert, and it’s difficult for Corvo to pique his superiors’ interest. It’s soon clear to the reader, if not to Corvo, that the children aren't merely being stolen—often for sex—but are also being slaughtered by a prostitute-turned-killer known as Enriqueta Martí (a real-life figure who was arguably Spain’s most prolific murderer). Corvo and his partner are always, infuriatingly, one step behind Martí and her teenage accomplice, Blackmouth, as they snatch children in broad daylight.
Even those with a strong stomachs may balk at the callous violence against children, which seems excessive rather than essential to what could have been a compelling historical plot.