Review: A Death In Valencia by Jason Webster (Chatto & Windus)

Death in Valencia

A Death in Valencia is the seconding outing of Chief Inspector Max Cámara. I greatly enjoyed the first one, Or the Bull Kills You, but I often leave gaps between books in a series. It’s partly because I like having something to look forward to and partly as I’m nervous about not having enough distance and the earlier book overshadowing it.

This time though I couldn’t resist. It’s probably because at the time of writing (at the end of April) it’s been raining solid for days. And curiosity I think has got the better of me.

Or the Bull Kills You is set around bullring and the community that surrounds and supports it. This gives Webster a ready made cast in several ways as you need people that fit roles in that environment and you can play those against each other. And when you take away that setting does Cámara stand on his own?

In many ways A Death in Valencia is a better book because the scaffolding of the bullring is removed leaving Cámara and his supporting cast to deal with another death in a new set of circumstances. I was a little worried at the start as Cámara seemed to be bumbling along a little too aimlessly but Webster lays down another thread and starts weaving them together, which is when it moves from interesting to exciting as Cámara really gets to shine.

This though is not a police procedural by numbers and there isn’t a standard checklist that our Chief Inspector goes through and this is even highlighted when he is ordered to play nice and do things by the book and then he wilfully disobeys. And this is what is endearing about this new Spanish detective. He’s shambling, anarchic and fascinating to follow.

The murder itself is the death of a local paella chef whose discovery is an illustration of the complexities of the Spanish policing system (which are luckily outlined as a note before chapter one). Not only does Cámara have to deal with different agencies he’s caught up with town hall’s demolition of El Cabanyal, the colourful fisherman’s quarter. And then there is abortion clinics and the imminent arrival of the Pope.

If listed all the dramatic elements and twists in A Death in Valencia could seem, not obvious, at least guaranteed to create tension and could boil over into either melodrama or farce. But Webster sails the troubled waters with a swan’s eloquence regardless of what’s being thrown into the soup of this tale. They are handled with a light touch so they flavour the direction and politics but the issues never dominate. Though they pull Cámara in interesting and unexpected directions.

That isn’t to say that it’s without colour. There is a great cast of supporting characters, some are regulars and likely to turn up hopefully in future books and others only playing their part here but each make their mark.

If you like your detectives a little strange and shambling around a warm and colourful location you can’t go far wrong with Chief Inspector Max Cámara

A Death In Valencia is out today.

My brief review of Or the Bull Kills You 

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