Sunday, 13 March 2016

The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo

The naked body of a teenage girl is found on the banks of the River Baztán. Less than 24 hours after this discovery, a link is made to the murder of another girl the month before. Is this the work of a ritualistic killer or of the Invisible Guardian, the Basajaun, a creature of Basque mythology?

30-year-old Inspector Amaia Salazar heads an investigation which will take her back to Elizondo, the village in the heart of Basque country where she was born, and to which she had hoped never to return. A place of mists, rain and forests. A place of unresolved conflicts, of a dark secret that scarred her childhood and which will come back to torment her.

Torn between the rational, procedural part of her job and local myths and superstitions, Amaia Salazar has to fight off the demons of her past in order to confront the reality of a serial killer at loose in a region steeped in the history of the Spanish Inquisition.

Amazon description

As I am sure I have said elsewhere on this blog, I have always had a liking for crime fiction. Within crime fiction there seems to be a growing sub-genre of magic-realist crime fiction. Eka Kurniawan's Man Tiger, which I reviewed here is longlisted for this year's International Man Booker Prize.  Then there are the works of Mia Couto, James Doss, James Lee Burke, Colin Cotterill, and others. Now we can add Dolores Redondo to the list.

The Invisible Guardian has already seen great commercial success in Europe, as well as being shortlisted for The International Dagger Award (a prize for best crime novels translated into English). So I came to this book with high expectations. If you are someone who reads crime fiction mainly to find out who did it, you are likely to be disappointed, as I worked out who the serial murderer was quite easily. But there is far more to this book than that.

In fact if I were to criticize anything in the book it would be that there is almost too much going on. The novel has so many themes, every character is provided with a substantial backstory, and the descriptions of the forest and countryside extend over many pages.

The story's setting in the Basque country in a town set in deep forested valleys is beautifully invoked by the author. It is an area steeped in pre-Christian traditions and beliefs, including in the Basajaun, a sort of Basque Bigfoot. It is these traditions that provide the magic realism in the story and which Amaia Salazar, of course, at first rejects.

Much of the tension in the book comes from the central character's struggles with the traumas of her childhood. These resurface in her consciousness as a result of both returning home and because of the nature of the murders that she is investigating. She is also struggling with a recalcitrant fellow male officer who resents her leading the investigation (something of a trope in detective stories) and her vicious older sister Flora. It was these psychological struggles that engaged me and kept me wanting to know more.

This is the first in a series of crime novels by the author and it will be interesting to see where Redondo is able to take Amaia, having revealed so much of her backstory in the first book. It will be interesting too to see if the magic realism makes it into book two.

I received this novel free from the publisher in return for a fair review.

1 comment:

Robin Gregory said...

Thank you for another wonderful review, Zoe! This sounds very unique. I'm amazed at what writers are doing with MR these days.