Saturday, June 12, 2010

*Water-Blue Eyes, by Domingo Villar

Originally published, 2006 as Ojos de Agua
Translated by Martin Schifino
Eurocrime/Arcadia Books, 2008
167 pp.

Leo Caldas is a homicide inspector in the city of Vigo, which lies on the northwestern coast of Spain in the region of Galicia. His partner is Rafael Estévez, who had recently been transferred there from Zaragoza in Aragón, and who has a bit of a problem understanding local attitudes, not to mention the steep streets or the weather. As the novel opens, Caldas is working at his gig on a local radio talk and listener phone-in show, “Patrol in the Air.”  He’s rather tired of doing this show, because while he waits for someone to bring up the topic of murder, most people call in with matters that are more appropriate for the city police. But just after program #108, Estévez arrives to take Caldas to a high-rise apartment building on the island of Toralla, which sits in the bay off of Vigo, scene of a rather brutal murder of a saxophone player.  It’s the method of death which leads Caldas and his partner to discover where they should begin their search for suspects – the vital evidence which may have helped has been cleaned up by the victim’s housekeeper. 

Villar’s characters are well drawn. As a policeman, Caldas is a professional, but with the arrival of Estévez he has to work a bit harder to keep his partner out of trouble. Caldas has a father who makes wine in the countryside, and the two don’t see each other often because the father is unhappy that his son went to live in the city. He also enjoys good local delicacies and local wines, and was in a prior relationship with a woman named Alba, but due to a disagreement about having children, they’re no longer together. Rafael Estévez is a sort of a sidekick figure, who provides a bit of comic relief here and there, but who becomes easily frustrated with the lack of black-and-white answers he gets from the locals and often flies off the handle. Estévez is perpetually amazed that when Caldas introduces himself during their investigation, people readily identify him with “Patrol in the Air,” which happens throughout the story and provides a bit of a running comedy schtick between the two.

Water-Blue Eyes is just 167 pages long, but crime fiction readers will not be disappointed. There’s nothing extraneous to detract from the investigation --  no long-winded character portrayals, no overly-detailed analyses, and even the murder is described just enough to allow the reader to know what happened without going into overkill.  There is never any desire to skim over long, boring sections because there aren’t any. It also easily offers a good sense of place, so that you can smell the forests as well as the sea while you read, and your mouth will water at the delicious local food mentioned throughout the novel.

There’s another book out by Villar featuring Leo Caldas called La Playa de los Ahogados, but it has not yet been translated; when it is, I’m there. But for now, I can highly recommend Water-Blue Eyes. This is my first work of Spanish crime fiction, and now I’m on the hunt for more. 


fiction from Spain


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