19th May 2024
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Book review: ‘The Barcelona Connection’ – a crime-thriller by Tim Parfitt

In this, his first murder mystery, Tim Parfitt very cleverly weaves together two parallel though quite different stories, set against the background of a contemporary Barcelona that is even busier than usual with major international meetings.

The action takes place over just a few days and extends north of Barcelona to Figueres, Girona and towns in the Girona province, with a connection up to Nîmes in southern France. The whole book is divided into short pieces flipping between the two main storylines and the various characters, so the reader always knows how each is advancing – or being stymied, or worse – and how they all come to connect.

One storyline follows art detective Benjamin Blake as he attempts to determine the authenticity of a newly discovered Salvador Dalí painting that looks like a study for The Hallucinogenic Toreador, and for a client who wants to keep the discovery a secret; the other follows a murder and a gang of kidnappers, whose ransom demand threatens to wreak havoc in Barcelona during the imminent G20 summit.

Blake’s involvement in both stories comes when he is attacked at a gas station near Girona on his way to Barcelona one night, while taking the painting for tests. His car is stolen, together with the painting in a portfolio case in the trunk, and he regains consciousness near a dead body at 5am.

As evidence piles up, the two plot lines interweave, with some highly ironic as well as suspenseful results. There are, for instance, some very funny moments of intersection when the self-important special agent sent in from CITCO, Spain’s Intelligence Centre for Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime, misinterprets clues found on the trail of Blake, confusing the kidnapping with the painting by Dalí.

Rather than go further into the plots themselves and take away your enjoyment should you come to read this book, let me say what I especially appreciated about the writing:

One element I most enjoy about many murder mysteries is the rich atmosphere and local colour, the many details of a particular place and culture. In this case, you will find much about aspects of Catalan and Spanish culture, from descriptions of places and widely varying social groups or districts of Barcelona itself, to how people behave, interact, use languages and view each other, and suppositions they make from surface evidence.

You will find some of the differences between Catalans and others from the south or centre of Spain, as well as another touch of otherness in the Basque Inspector Vizcaya, along with all the overlap in those people whose backgrounds are mixed and who live in Catalonia.

You will see great differences of wealth and class, beginning with the major character of the Marquès de Guixols, who has not much left other than his title and a huge masía – an old stone Catalan farmhouse he can barely afford to maintain – which is, of course, why he is so anxious to ascertain that the Dalí he found in his cellar is authentic.

Then, in Barcelona, there are squatters, eco-activists, and sleazes in lowlife hotels, as well as self-promoting politicians. There are the different police corps, from the Catalan Mossos d’Esquadra to the national Guardia Civil, plus the abovementioned CITCO agent parachuted in to monitor possible eco-terrorists.

One thing I must insist on is that you will not be confused by all these characters and groups. I myself was quite surprised at how easily I could retain the information about who was who and what their role was in the plot(s), and follow their interactions. I do sometimes lose the thread of who’s who in murder mysteries as the plot thickens, but here, on the rare occasion I was not sure, I was able to look back a bit to the introduction of the character, as Parfitt has titled each short chapter according to the main participants.

My one objection would be the all-too-vivid descriptions of grotesque maiming and pain, as I am one of those odd people who likes their murder mysteries without a lot of violence.

In addition to all the complexities already referenced, the reader learns a lot about art authentication, and about Salvador Dalí and his peculiar life and way of working, as well as the very popular Dalí Museum in Figueres and how it came about. All in all, this book has a lot to offer the reader, from pure entertainment to solid information and, possibly, a fuller understanding of the complexities of Spain and Catalonia in particular.

The Barcelona Connection by Tim Parfitt is published by Maravilla Press (€13 paperback or €2.79 Kindle edition). Click here to order it on Amazon, or it can also be ordered from all bookstores by quoting ISBN: 978-1-7393326-1-7. Tim Parfitt will be discussing his book at the Secret Kingdoms Bookshop in Madrid on 28 September. Click here for further details.

ALSO READ: Book review: ‘A People’s History of Catalonia’ by Michael Eaude.

ALSO READ: Book review: ‘Us with Us’ – a year long sojourn in Cadaqués.

If you would like to write a review of a specific book related to Spain, please email: editorial@spainenglish.com

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