‘Murder and mayhem in Barcelona’ is an understatement. Teresa Solana’s book A Not So Perfect Crime (Bitter Lemon Press, £8.99) may be full of murder and mayhem, but it’s also packed full of humour, acute observation, a complicated plot, and downright ridiculousness.
It’s the sort of book that had me laughing out loud, and repeating sections of it to anyone who would listen – it’s that funny.
Perhaps it’s partly the description of working for a small business. For private detectives (and twins) Eduard and Borja have a neat little set-up, helping wealthy clients with their ‘dirty laundry’. In reality, there’s just the two of them, though they go to great pains to present a picture of a much larger operation should any clients come to their offices. Fake doors give the suggestion of other offices behind them; nail varnish, a potted plant and a broken laptop (it doesn’t look broken) on another desk intimate the presence of a secretary who is seemingly absent on an errand. Clients are never allowed to stay too long, lest they begin to freeze and consequently realise that the radiators, too, are a sham.
The duo land a lucrative assignment when a politician comes to them, suspecting his wife of infidelity. It’s something to do with a portrait of his wife in an exhibition, yet he never knew that she knew the artist. All rather implausible, but our heroes deal with the implausible all the time, trying to make it plausible.
The mystery deepens when the politician’s wife is fatally poisoned by a marron glacé in a box of sweets delivered anonymously. Our detectives’ work nearly comes unstuck when Borja himself eats another of the sweets, and there are also some shenanigans to do with swapping one picture for another in the politician’s house, and getting caught red-handed.
Best to read it yourself. This is Solana’s first published novel, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Moving swiftly on from the ridiculous to the sublime, here is a completely different book. Clare Wigfall’s The Loudest Sound and Nothing (Faber, £8.99) is a devastatingly original collection of stories, all the more devastating for being so short. The title story is perhaps the most moving. Aureline, whose husband was drowned at sea, and whose son is blind, takes the boy to the cliff, to the edge that he cannot see, to look into the space where his father has gone. She pleads with him to tell her what he can see. ‘I see the loudest sound,’ he whispers, ‘and nothing’.
All the characters in the other stories in the collection are also searching for something that’s missing.
Therese, idly digging in the ground in the story entitled When the Wasps Drowned, finds a ring. That was the summer the police dug up Mr Mordecai’s garden. Dark undercurrents run in all these stories. A woman is peeling potatoes for tea while there are coppers in the courtyard outside – coppers who have come to take her husband away – and she learns what she never knew about him in eight years of marriage.
All the stories are thoughtful, moving, bold snippets of people’s lives. This is a powerful collection, which combines the rawest of human emotions with the poetic fluidity of descriptive writing.