From the author of "Soldiers of Salamis," Melchor Marâin is a young cop from the big city, Barcelona. But he is also an outsider. The son of a prostitute, Melchor went to prison as a teenager, convicted of working for a Colombian drug cartel. Behind bars, he read a book that changed his life: "Les Misâerables". Then his mother was murdered. He decided to become a policeman. Now he has been sent to Terra Alta, a small town in rural Cataluäna, to investigate the horrific double-murder of a wealthy local man and his wife.
A police procedural might risk a little more: a domestic subplot, some struggles with the bottle, stifling bureaucracy. In due time, Cercas will give us all of the above. But he seems equally committed to the idea that, as Melchor argues to a colleague, 'novels don’t have rules … that’s their charm.' And it will surprise no one who’s read Cercas before that, in this series, he’s after something more intricate than a genre exercise ... In Anne McLean’s lucid translation, the language here — furious, precise — differs markedly from the novel’s established idiom. With a brio worthy of its 19th-century predecessors, it hastens us through Melchor’s early scrapes with the law, his departure from home and his youthful ascent through the hierarchy of a Colombian cartel running coke into Barcelona ... alternates past and present in novella-size chunks, taking us deeper inside the detective even as our aperture on Terra Alta widens. For a while, an imbalance between the movements threatens to topple the novel...It’s not easy to write hard-boiled, though, and for a while, the present-tense murder case feels like a way of marking time. Melchor may write 'elegant reports,' but he is observant more in the way of a novelist than of a detective: foothills, windmills, the rounded tips of shoes. And so the investigation runs out of steam, proceeding from motive rather than clue ... in cracking the moral certainties that hold him aloof from his fellow perpetrators or victims of history, Melchor emerges a palpably different detective than when he went in. It’s hard not to want to see where life, and Terra Alta, will take him next.
... moving ... Cercas, a winner of the European Book Prize, among other honors, delivers masterful storytelling here, weaving a compelling drama from themes of tragedy and resilience, the long reach of Franco-era vengeance, and Melchor’s relentless quest for meaning. A winning choice for both literary- and crime-fiction book groups.