Teresa Solana, The First Prehistoric Serial Killer and Other Stories, translated from the Catalan by Peter Bush (Bitter Lemon Press 2018 – published 15 August)
First line: A number of us woke up this morning when the storm broke, only to find another corpse in the cave.
Teresa Solana has carved out a distinctive space for herself as a crime writer with her ‘Barcelona’ crime series, featuring private detective twins Borja and Eduard. Irreverent and satirical, her novels deconstruct Catalan society, puncturing the pretensions of rarefied literary circles or the New Age meditation scene. One of the murder weapons in The Sound of One Hand Killing is a Buddha statue, which gives you some idea of the wicked humour that infuses Solana’s writing.
The First Prehistoric Serial Killer is something a little different – a collection of crime stories that shows the author at her most freewheeling and inventive. Take for example the eponymous opening story, which is set in prehistoric times, but whose detective caveman, Mycroft, seems to have an in-depth knowledge of psychological profiling and investigative terms – all very tongue-in-cheek. Narrators range from a concerned mother-in-law and spoiled museum director to a vampire and a houseful of ghosts, with each story giving Solana a chance to stretch her imagination to the full – crime, humour and the grotesque are mixed in equal measure into a vivid narrative cocktail.
For me, however, it was the second half of the book that stood out – a set of eight stories under the heading ‘Connections’ – almost all set in Barcelona, and all linked in some way. In a note to readers, Solana describes the stories as a ‘noirish mosaic that shows off different fragments of the city, its inhabitants and history’ and then throws down a gauntlet… ‘Reader, I am issuing you with a challenge: spot the connections, the detail or character that makes each story a piece of this mosaic’.
Well, it took me a while, but I had the greatest of fun figuring out the links between the stories (some really are just a passing detail, and I can only imagine the devious pleasure the author had in planting them). My favourites were ‘The Second Mrs Appleton’, for its deliciously twisted denouement, and ‘Mansion with Sea Views’, whose conclusion was unexpectedly dark and disturbing.
As some of you may already know, August is ‘Women in Translation’ month (#WITMonth), an initiative that seeks to promote the works of international women authors, and to highlight the relative lack of women’s fiction in translation. Big thanks are due to Bitter Lemon Press for championing the work of Solana in the English-speaking world, and to her translator, Peter Bush, who does such a wonderful job of communicating Solana’s very special authorial voice.
And here, in no particular order, are another five crime novels by women in translation that I’ve particularly enjoyed and covered on the blog.
Masako Togawa, The Master Key, translated from Japanese by Simon Cove (Pushkin Vertigo 2017) – 1960s character-driven Tokyo crime with a twisty-turny plot.
Ioanna Bourazopoulou, What Lot’s Wife Saw, translated from Greek by Yannis Panas (Black and White Publishing 2013) – a mind-bendingly imaginative apocalyptic hybrid crime novel.
Elisabeth Herrmann, The Cleaner, translated from German by Bradley Schmidt (Manilla 2017) – a quirky Berlin thriller with an unforgettable protagonist.
Dolores Redondo, The Invisible Guardian, translated from Spanish by Isabelle Kaufeler (HarperCollins, 2015) – the first in a distinctive police series, set in the Basque country.
Malin Persson Giolito, Quicksand, translated from Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles (Simon & Schuster 2017) – our 2018 Petrona Award winner; a superb exploration of the fallout from a school shooting.
An interesting review Mrs P, thanks very much. I hadn’t heard of Teresa Solana but I do know Barcelona, so will look out for the Connections stories when I next go there.
Sounds good, Mandy! In Spanish, I think it’s called Materia Grisa (!) http://www.agenciabalcells.com/en/authors/works/teresa-solana/materia-grisa/
I keep hearing about this collection, Mrs. P., and it certainly sounds different to her novels. It also sounds intriguing. Solana’s got wicked wit and a good storytelling ‘smoothness,’ in my opinion, so I am interested in this one. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
I did! Short stories are very hard to pull off (whether crime or otherwise), and although I felt some of the stories came off slightly better than others, the sheer inventiveness running through them was a delight. And I absolutely LOVED the ‘Connections’ sequence.
Your observation about ‘smoothness’ is interesting. I agree that she’s a very good storyteller. I must go back to her novels. I’ve only read one so far.
Ha, I’ve just read this book for WIT Month and will be writing a review shortly! Great fun, wasn’t it?
It was 🙂 I will look forward to reading your review!!!
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