While I organise my review, because both myself and Mr C have a nasty flu which came on us over the weekend, I will give you a special treat in the form of an excerpt from The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo. (It’s awful both of you being ill at the same time; you should be allowed to take it in turns so one can play the nurse!)
BLURB: A killer at large in a remote Basque Country valley , a detective to rival Clarice Starling, myth versus reality, masterful storytelling – the Spanish bestseller that has taken Europe by storm.
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.
About the Author: Dolores Redondo was born in Donostia-San Sebastián in 1969. She studied Law and Gastronomy. She began writing short stories and children’s stories and in 2009 published her first novel, The Privileges of the Angel.
The Invisible Guardian, first volume of the Baztán Trilogy, was published in Spain in 2013, with rights sold in thirty languages, and has sold over 100,000 copies. The second novel in the trilogy, The Legacy of the Bones, went straight into the Spanish bestseller lists at number one.
Dolores currently lives and writes in the Ribera Navarra.
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER ONE
Ainhoa Elizasu was the second victim of the basajaun, although the press were yet to coin that name for him. That came later, when it emerged that animal hairs, scraps of skin and unidentifiable tracks had been found around the bodies, along with evidence of some kind of macabre purification rite. With their torn clothes, their private parts shaved and their upturned hands, the bodies of those girls, almost still children, seemed to have been marked by a malign force, as old as the Earth.
Inspector Amaia Salazar always followed the same routine when she was called to a crime scene in the middle of the night. She would switch off the alarm clock so it wouldn’t disturb James in the morning, pile up her clothes and, with her mobile balanced on top of them, go very slowly downstairs to the kitchen. She would drink a milky coffee while she dressed, leave a note for her husband and get in the car. Then she would drive, her mind blank except for the white noise that always filled her head when she woke up before dawn.
These remnants of an interrupted night of insomnia stayed with her all the way to the crime scene, even though it was over an hour’s drive from Pamplona. She took a curve in the road too sharply and the squealing of the tyres made her realise how distracted she was. After that she made herself pay attention to the motorway as it wound its way upwards, deep into the dense forest surrounding Elizondo. Five minutes later, she pulled over next to a police sign, where she recognised Dr Jorge San Martín’s sports car and Judge Estébanez’s off-roader. Amaia got out, walked round to the back of her car and fished out a pair of wellingtons. She sat on the edge of the boot to pull them on while Deputy Inspector Jonan Etxaide and Inspector Montes joined her.
‘It’s not looking good, chief, the victim’s a young girl,’ Jonan consulted his notes, ‘twelve or thirteen years old. When she didn’t arrive home by eleven last night, her parents contacted the police.’
‘A bit early to report her missing,’ observed Amaia.
‘True. It looks like she rang her older brother on his mobile at about ten past eight to tell him she’d missed the bus from Arizkun.’
‘And her brother waited until eleven before saying anything?’
‘You know how it is, “Aita and Ama will kill me. Please don’t tell them. I’m going to see if any of my friends’ parents will give me a lift.” So he kept quiet and played on his PlayStation. At eleven, when he realised his sister still hadn’t arrived home and his mother was starting to get hysterical, he told them Ainhoa had called. The parents went down to the station in Elizondo and insisted something must have happened to their daughter. She wasn’t answering her mobile and they’d already spoken to all her friends. A patrol found her. The officers spotted her shoes at the side of the road as they were coming round the bend.’ Jonan shone his torch towards the edge of the tarmac where a pair of black patent high heeled shoes glistened, perfectly aligned. Amaia leaned over to look at them.
‘They look like they’ve been arranged like this. Has anyone touched them?’ she asked. Jonan checked his notes again. The young deputy inspector’s efficiency was a god-send in cases as difficult as this one was shaping up to be.
‘No, that’s how they found them, side by side and pointing towards the road.’
‘Tell the crime scene technicians to come and check the lining of the shoes when they’ve finished what they’re doing. Whoever arranged them like that will have had to touch the inside as well as the outside.’
Inspector Montes, who had stood silently staring at the ends of his Italian designer loafers until this point, looked up abruptly as if he had just awoken from a deep sleep.
‘Salazar,’ he acknowledged her in a murmur, then walked off towards the edge of the road without waiting for her.
Amaia frowned in bewilderment and turned back to Jonan.
‘What’s up with him?’
‘I don’t know, chief, but we came in the same car from Pamplona and he didn’t open his mouth once. I think he might have had a drink or two.’
Amaia thought so too. Inspector Montes had slipped into a downward spiral since his divorce, and not just in terms of his recent penchant for Italian shoes and colourful ties. He had been particularly distracted during the last few weeks, cold and inscrutable, absorbed in his own little world, almost reluctant to engage with the people around him.
‘Where’s the girl?’
‘By the river. You have to go down that slope,’ said Jonan, pointing towards it apologetically, as if it were somehow his fault that the body was down there.
As Amaia made her way down the incline, worn out of the rock by the river over the millennia, she could see the floodlights and police tape that marked the area where the officers were working in the distance. Judge Estébanez stood to one side, talking in a low voice with the court clerk and shooting sideways glances to where the body lay. Two photographers from the forensics team were moving around it, raining down flashes from every angle, and a technician from the Navarra Institute of Forensic Medicine was kneeling beside it, apparently taking the temperature of the liver.
Amaia was pleased to see that everyone present was respecting the entry point that the first officers on the scene had established. Even so, as always, it seemed to her that there were just too many people. It was almost absurd, and it may have been something to do with her Catholic upbringing, but whenever she had to deal with a corpse, she always felt a pressing need for that sense of intimacy and devotion she experienced in a cemetery. It seemed as though this was violated by the distant and impersonal professional presence of the people moving around the body. It was the sole subject of a murderer’s work of art, but it lay there mute and silenced, its innate horror disregarded.
I hope this intrigued you enough you’ll return for my review – right now I’m going to dose myself up with Lemsip!