#35 / Jason Webster, A Death in Valencia

Jason Webster, A Death in Valencia (London: Chatto and Windus, 2012). The second in the Max Cámara series provides some much needed summer warmth and a genuine insight into modern-day Spain  4 stars

Opening line: The green-and-white Guardia Civil patrol boat looked out of place so close to the shoreline. 

Fed up of our seemingly never-ending British winter, I found myself reaching for Jason Webster’s A Death in Valencia, set during a sweltering summer in Spain’s third largest city (and home to one of its most famous traditional dishes, paella). Being transported to the land of sun, sea and sangria proved to be an excellent move.

A Death in Valencia opens with the body of Pep Roures, a well-known paella chef, being recovered by Chief Inspector Max Cámara from the sea. The subsequent murder investigation is set against the background of a number of challenging events: the town hall’s commercially-motivated demolition of El Cabanyal, an old fishing quarter by the sea; the sudden collapse of an apartment block; the kidnapping of the director of an abortion clinic, and the visit of the Pope. Cámara, too, is going through a tough time, with the emotional fallout from Or the Bull Kills You (the first in the series) leading him to act rather unwisely on occasion, in spite of his grandfather Hilario’s sound counsel.

While the plot takes a little time to ignite, the novel builds to a satisfying conclusion, not least due to its rich depictions of Valencia and contemporary Spanish society. Readers learn about regional details such as the all-important rating system for paella, as well as larger issues, such as the fundamentally divided nature of Spanish society: conservatives with ‘traditional’ values rooted in the church on the one hand, and those who celebrate regional diversity and change on the other. The Valencian setting is also vividly evoked, especially the old El Cabanyal quarter (which really is under threat – see www.cabanyal.com).

Source: http://www.deverdaddigital.com/pagArticle.php?idA=9749

El Cabanyal

If you’re a Max Cámara fan, or are interested in this series, you might like to read Mrs. Peabody’s interview with Jason Webster, recorded at the 2012 Harrogate Crime Writing Festival and available here. Areas explored include the legacy of the Spanish Civil War, the role of Spanish proverbs, and the influence of the author Vázquez Montalbán.

Mrs. Peabody awards A Death in Valencia a highly enjoyable 4 stars and looks forward to meeting Max Cámara again soon. 

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19 thoughts on “#35 / Jason Webster, A Death in Valencia

  1. Mrs. P – Oh, yes, I remember your interview! It’s good to hear this one earned four stars. I’ve been meaning to try this series and haven’t gotten to it. But after reading your fine review I think that ‘haven’t gotten to it’ has just been changed to ‘haven’t gotten to it yet. Thanks for (as ever) a thoughtful and detailed review.

    • You’re welcome, Margot. This is definitely a series I’ll be keeping my eye on. Interesting detective and social commentary make for a winning mix.

  2. Glad you enjoyed it. The second of an excellent series, that’s developing nicely. You might like to
    try ‘ Guerra’ his view on the civil war & it’s continuing effect on Spain, very good indeed.

    • Thanks, Brian. I’ve had my eye on Guerra and Jason’s travel writings for a while – they look very good. You’re very widely read!

    • You’re welcome, Wendy. Jason has been based in Valencia for a number of years and he really knows Spain well. The interview mentioned at the end of the review shows the breadth of his knowledge of Spanish history, politics and culture. Very interesting.

      You might want to start with the first in the series (which I’ve not read yet but intend to catch up on) – it’s called Or The Bull Kills You. But starting with the second actually worked OK for me.

  3. This sounds good, would really like to try some Spanish crime fiction and I went to Valencia once! Meanwhile I am reading HHhH and am very impressed. It’s so cleverly done, practically reads itself because it is full of interesting information and the story is brilliantly told, in a deceptively casual, laidback way, but definitely not an easy read – it makes me sad and angry and unsettled, more than any pure fiction novel: I keep stopping to think, “This stuff actually happened!” – and could happen again, God forbid, the stuff of nightmares, I think you would like it, it is such an intelligent book. Right, back to the book!

    • Oh, please whisk me away to Spain now! Valencia would be good but anywhere would do!

      Glad to hear that you’re impressed with HHhH. I’ve heard mixed reports so far (more on the negative than positive side), so it’s good to get a view that redresses the balance. Will have to take a look at it soon…

  4. I’ll definitely put this on the TBR list, and hope that the library gets it. I enjoyed the interview with Jason Webster, especially on the legacy of the Spanish Civil War.
    By the way, any opinion on The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill? Or on Death on a Galician Shore?
    I must read a book set in Spain soon. I will look for this one, too.

    • Yes – that interview was a goodie. I haven’t read either of the two you mention, but The Summer of Dead Toys is actually on its way to me at the moment, so I’ll be able to let you know what I thought of that one soon! I’ve picked up Death on a Galician Shore a couple of times in the bookshop, but have hesitated as I know other reviewers haven’t been overly impressed. I think it’s one I’ll get round to eventually, but it’s not a top priority for now.

    • Great! Do they have the first one too? I haven’t read it yet, but plan to backtrack.

      I hope you enjoy the warmth of the Spanish sun, Kathy! It did me good to feel a little bit of heat, even if it was only from between the covers of a book! Still cold and rainy here at present…

  5. Thanks for the intriguing review: I’m adding it to my list as well. I studied in Valencia in the mid-nineties, and I ate paella at least once a week. Now I make it a couple times a year without all the good seafood available in Valencia 🙂

    • You’re welcome, Rebecca. As someone who’s lived in Valencia (lucky, lucky you), it’ll probably be a doubly interesting reading experience.

      I am a complete paella addict too 🙂

  6. I will await your comments on The Summer of Dead Toys, which has gotten good reviews. I’ll wait on Death on a Galician Shore, as I’d have to purchase it; it’s not in my library system. The title is enticing, though.

  7. Hi Mrs P, just finished reading ‘ The ‘ Terrorists’ the last in the Martin Beck series. Had read it once before about 6 years ago, couldn’t remember much about it, so was almost like reading it for the first time. I think this is their finest & they ended it perfectly, no theatrics.

    One of the joys of this one is that Gunvald larsson has a major part in it, he really is one of their best creations. The interesting thing for me was how easy the 2 books from Leif Persson, part of his trilogy, follow on from the Terroists, yes it has an assination of a Swedish Prime Minister. I just had the feeling the characters from both books could quite easily swop places! It has another
    appearance of Kvastmo & Kristiansson, ‘the clod Squad’ as Larsson names them! Could they be the template for Backstrom?

    At the back of this Harpers edition there’s a section called PS, reallY interesting, love to know who compiled it. Anyway they mention the series was called ‘ The Story of a Crime’ ! interesting, it seems its Salomonsson who used that phrase for the trio of Perssons books, they do represent the authors.

    • Thanks, Brian. It’s lovely to revisit these old classics and find that they are just as fine as you found them last time around.

      I’m sure you’re right about all the continuities between Persson and S&W. The more we look, the more we seem to find! I think you’re *definitely* on to something with the ‘clot squad’ to Backstrom progression. Persson is clearly paying homage in all sorts of ways to the greats!

  8. A question, have you,or anyone else come across’The woman who resembled Greta Garbo’ by
    Maj Sjowall & Tomas Ross? Does not seem to be in print in the UK, would be interested to read it.
    Also Cop Killer & The Locked Room. Were these the only ones to come out in hardback? I have
    both of these from Gollancz, with their distinctive yellow covers from 74 & 75. Everything else is paperback. Have not seen any of the others in hardback.
    Just started reading the new Fred Varges, courtesy of good old BH, they have all her books. In the
    first few pages a murder by a loaf of bread! Brilliant!

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