The 1952 murder of a famous socialite in Franco’s Spain brings an aspiring young newspaperwoman up against the oppressive regime.
There’s a lot of ground to cover—narratively, historically, politically—in this debut mystery, and after a shaky start in which the reader struggles a bit to keep track of the wide array of characters being introduced, the author settles into her tale nicely. Newspaper people often make for good sleuths, and Ana, from a family of journalists that includes a father kept from working because of his opposition to Franco, is a winning mixture of wised-up, eager, and canny. She holds her own with the martinet police inspector assigned to the murder, and she's helped by her older cousin Beatriz, a scholar forced to sell off her precious possessions (especially her books) to survive. Spain’s Fascist regime gives the novel a ready-made atmosphere of fear and suspicion. But the real measure of that time is in the details rendered with the familiarity of something closely observed. Details like the marvel of a family being able to afford stewed beef for lunch, of living quarters grown more cramped and shabby, become stand-ins for the grind of life in an established dictatorship, for the way decent people experience the narrowings of their material, emotional, and intellectual lives.
If this first mystery is, as many are, the introduction of a detective for a new series, then this young reporter may prove to be a character readers are eager to follow.