By Olivia Snaije
Although crime fiction has been popular since the 19th century one might argue that never before has a literary genre seen such success on a global scale. From the passion for Scandinavian authors, which has lasted almost ten years, to new writers throughout Europe, readers are avid for this genre, in part, one might hope, because international crime fiction is always a window onto a society, and a very exciting way to armchair travel. Spain has its fair share of authors beginning with the revered Manuel Vázquez Montalbán and Arturo Pérez-Revuerte or the more recent Eugenio Fuentes, Domingo Villar, Antonio Hill, and Teresa Solana, to name a few.
Now an author from that very particular part of Spain that is the Basque country, Dolores Redondo, who studied law and owned a restaurant, is creating a buzz with the first volume of a trilogy that was reprinted five times in three weeks following publication in January in the original Spanish language. Translation rights have been sold in 15 languages to publishers such as Blue Door/HarperCollins (publication date 2014), Éditions Stock, Bastei Lübbe, De Bezige Bij-Cargo, Cappelen Damm, Feltrinelli, Record, Panteon and Marti Yayin Grubu. Moreover film rights to the trilogy have been sold to the German producer, Peter Nadermann, who co-produces Scandinavian crime films including adaptations of Steig Larsson and Henning Mankell’s novels.
If Redondo’s novel, The Invisible Guardian, has been such a hit with editors worldwide it may have to do with the fact that Redondo’s novel has so many facets to it that it becomes utterly compelling. To begin with, her descriptions of a rainy, impenetrable village steeped in history in the forest-covered Baztan valley is so evocative one is slowly but surely drawn into the cold dampness. Redondo’s heroine, the young, attractive inspector Amaia Salazar who is tracking a serial killer, while on the outside is competent and collected, is often frozen to the bone on the job, and plagued by nightmares, making her both human and fascinating to the reader.
Redondo said the character of Amaia “lived inside me long before she was put down on paper, she was being built with my own experiences and those of others that had made an impact on me. This facilitated and complicated equally taking the courage to talk about her, to make the archeological exercise of digging to find the place where it hurts, where fear dwells. When a character has as much “skin” it becomes frighteningly real and this is because we recognize emotions in her, pain, fear, common to all humans.”
Redondo’s inspector is part of a matriarchal family; a cast of characters that comprises strong women, both good and evil. Fertility, maternity, and filicide are the sociological threads in the novel.
“This kind of matriarchal family is typical of this area of the Pyrenees, women have an important role here, they are as united as confronted and this union helps them carry the burdens of life, yet forces them to withstand the burdens of the other women. Without a doubt this strength comes from the initial struggle from the people of this area with a hostile nature, and the custom of men embarking with shipping companies to Central America, leaving woman alone for years to take care of the land, animals, children and elderly people, and having to make decisions to manage the village, cattle, employees, etc., situations in which being allied with the other women of the family was paramount,” said Redondo.
Another fundamental element in The Invisible Guardian is its mythological aspect, which, as in similar societies, is integrated into Basque culture along with the reality of a contemporary world. Basque novelist Bernardo Atxaga fluidly weaves myths and magic into his fiction and French/Basque writer Marie Darrieussecq has said that the “fantastic” comes naturally to her.
A pagan mother nature, spirits and creatures are inexorably linked to the land, they inhabit the forests and mountains, and superstitions run deep. Amaia Salazar is torn between the rational, procedural aspect of her job, and ancestral beliefs. Redondo explains this co-existence in an area that remained pagan slightly longer than other places in Europe, and where alleged witches and heretics were burned during the Spanish Inquisition.
“My grandmother told me stories about these great, magic and evil creatures, and she used to tell these to me as real stories. When you are seven this can greatly stimulate your imagination. Then if you grow up in an urban environment you can easily forget about the legends, but when returning to areas like Baztan where nature is so powerful, it is only normal to accept that things here are governed by other rules…”
Redondo is particularly skillful in her descriptions of the forest—it’s alternately lush and menacing, protective, mysterious, dark and light, primitive yet enlightened:
“The tree trunks, blackened by too much water, glistened in February’s wavering sunlight, like the skin of an ancient reptile. The trees that had not lost their bark glowed with a green faded by winter; a gentle breeze revealed the silvery reflections of their leaves.”
But Amaia Salazar is also firmly ensconced in today’s world—she has contacts with the FBI from a training session she completed in New Orleans, and her outlook is cosmopolitan—she lives with an American painter who settled in Pamplona.
Inspector Salazar is cast in two more novels—Redondo has almost finished the second and said the structure of the third is complete, but “there can always be surprises that even I don’t know about.”