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4.1 out of 5 stars
Or the Bull Kills You: (Max Cámara 1)
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 4 March 2011
`Or the Bull Kills You' is a vivid, masculine, energising book by a writer unafraid to confront the reality of violent death.

As in any good murder mystery, the identity and motives of the killer (or is it killers?) remain concealed until the end. Chief Inspector Max Camara of the Valencia Cuerpo Nacional de Policia resists the temptation and pressures on him to indict the most obvious suspect. Instead, using the tactics of the bullfight, he gets to know each of the suspects, observes the weaknesses of each, assesses their capacity to torture and kill and predicts their responses before moving in for the final confrontation.

To really appreciate this book you have, like a matador, to be in control and refuse to rush. Then you realise that Camara is not only a detective: he is also a mystery. In parallel with the revelation of the hidden lives of the suspects is the revelation of a side of the detective he has previously refused to acknowledge. Who among us really likes to admit he, or she, is driven by animal instincts? By identifying with the bull, Camara acknowledges he has within him both bull and bullfighter. Using the art of the matador to control the bull within, rather than denying its existence, he learns to benefit from, rather than be at the mercy of, animal vitality.

I suspect this is a book which will be read mostly by men, but for me it was engrossing and I hope that it will find many more readers among women.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 24 February 2011
I am a fan of Jason Webster so couldn't wait to get my hands on this.

The character Max Camara is pretty well built up and has posibilities, but for now he is a bit too predictable.

The plot is fine enough but the book suffers from a lack of atmosphere (those who have read "Shadow of the Wind" or "Winter in Madrid" will know what I mean). I have been to Valancia City and the narrative didn't evoke anything much for me. The descriptions of the city were a bit flat and there were some parts of the plot where I felt lacked credibility (Max had a night of passion with a lady friend and got accidently separated the next day in a crowd, but they both did not contact each other for two months).

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was that there didn't seem to be any twists and turns that are the hallmark of a good yarn. I also found some of the speach a bit American, such as quite a lot of use of "kind of" which is not really Spanish.

So, a bit disappointed but I don't want to write it off.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 14 March 2011
Jason Webster has written some fine, quasi-travel books about Spain - 'Duende', 'Andalus' and 'Guerra'. These are books, which as someone who lives in Spain, I've often recommended to English speakers who want to learn more about Spanish society beyond what the Lonely Planet Guide offers. This is Webster's first novel, although some have suggested that his non-fiction books are sometimes overly embellished by his clearly fertile imagination. Set in Valencia, 'Or The Bulls Kills You' adds to the ever growing number of crime novels coming out of Europe these days. The difference this time is that the author writes in his adopted city of Valencia, in contrast to those who centre their books in their own cities, such as Henning Mankell in Ystad, Jo Nesbø in Oslo, Manuel Montalbán Vázquez in Barcelona and Ian Rankin in Edinburgh. Webster has come up with an intriguing detective Max Cámara and the story is set against bullfighting and the Fallas celebrations in Valencia. As an introduction to what is apparently going to be a series of novels featuring the detective Max Cámara, the plot unfolds in a fairly erratic fashion - at one crucial point a significant event is inexcusably ignored until the very end of the book - and the storyline is frequently broken by unnecessary background detail about Valencia and the organisational structure of the Spanish police. Hopefully, future plots will be more tightly composed and Webster will cut back on his deeply irritating use of Spanish in the text - sometimes translated and sometimes not - which simply detracts from the flow and impact of the narrative. Better editing would improve the book immensely and also get rid of a number of typos.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 30 March 2011
Jason Webster's "Or The Bull Kills You" is a promising start to a prospective series but as an individual book does not quite live up to its promise.

"Or the Bull Kills You" is set in contemporary Valencia in the milieu of the bullfight and the antis campaign. The story follows the structure of the bullfight and Webster provides considerable and interesting background on the sport and its roots in Mediterranean culture, including ruminations on its sexual symbolism. Further local colour is added through the backdrop of the Fallas carnival and municipal elections in which the banning of the sport is - at least superficially - a campaign issue cynically selected to attract the youth vote.

Jorge Blanco, a star matador is murdered in a brutal parody of his art. Other deaths follow. Chief Inspector Max Camara and his sharp-tongued sidekick, Torres, set on the trail. There are whiffs of conspiracy, cover-up, warnings-off and pressure for a quick resolution.

Webster, who has lived in Spain for almost two decades and is married to a prominent flamenco artiste, is the author of several travel books about his adopted country. He is thus well positioned to create an authentic Hispanic ambience for his fiction. However, here the local detail seems labored - there is a lot of it, but we never quite smell the arena, breathe the dry warmth of the climate or enter into the atmosphere of the cafes and fiesta. The plot too lacks momentum and its denouement is unsatisfying. As the central hero, Camara is likeable but he never quite rises above the stereotype of the fictional detective - he is constructed from all the usual baggage of middle-aged crisis, difficulties with authority, struggles with alcohol and tobacco, disastrous personal life and an unwavering commitment to unearthing the truth.

It is possible that if Webster continues into a series he will find his rhythm, but this book is a near miss.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The real strength of Or The Bull Kills You is the sense of place, the detailing of the history and culture of bullfighting, and the insights into the political machinations of local politics and the police system. The characterisation is relatively standard fare: Camara is the talented but awkward cop who rails against the system and falls easily into women's beds; the other characters are fine without lighting up the page. The plot works okay until near the end, when it starts to become a little ragged and the finale is contrived for dramatic effect which works to undermine the credibility of the tale. There were also some elements that didn't seem to add up in my mind. A nice touch is the theme of impotence that runs throughout. Overall, an interesting, competent first novel that needed a little more consistency of plot to go with the well developed sense of place and history.
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This is the first book in the Max Camara series set in Valencia. The author lives in Valencia and the city is a major character in the story. Max Camara is a Chief Inspector in the Policia Nacional which has responsibility for the investigation of major crime in Spain. There is another police force as well, the Guardia Civil which is paramilitary and has links with the ministry of defence. These two forces are rivals who begrudge co-operation.

There is a move within the city authorities to ban bullfighting. It is a move with which Camara has some sympathy as he loathes bullfighting. Unfortunately his boss has coerced him into representing him at a bullfighting festival starring Spain's rising star matador, Jorge Blanco. When Blanco does not turn up at the post fight celebration, a search is started and his naked body is found decorated in the same way as a slaughtered bull, in the middle of the bullring.

Shortly afterwards, Blanco's manager is found dead in similar circumstances. Is it a serial killer or a copycat? Soon things start getting very complicated as Valencia is in the throes not just of a fiesta but also of the mayoral elections. Meanwhile, Camara has difficulties of his own - the final moments of one relationship and the possible start of another which provoke disturbing memories of his past. His bosses are not terribly sympathetic to what they consider are his wayward methods and add another layer of difficulties to his life. But Camara is alive to the world around him and makes connections with what he sees and hears.

This is an excellent thriller with an electrifying sense of place. You can feel the heat both of the fiesta and the election and the taut excitement of the battle - man versus bull - policeman versus murderer - probity versus corruption.
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on 15 July 2013
A delicious blend of murder, mayhem and Spanish delights. The hero(?) is a policeman whose approach to crime-solving lands him in disaster after disaster until, like Colombo of happy memory, he is rescued by a deus ex machina and all his blunders are forgiven.
Apart from the heady cocktail of crime, punishment and sexual athletics, the novel offers the customer a masterchef menu which tempts our mental taste-buds with offerings of Spanish food, Spanish wine and, for dessert, a serious look at the, for many, untasted world of bullfighting.
I enjoyed this book, found it difficult to put down, and recommend it to all who like to mingle new facts with traditional fiction.
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There is an incident near the start of the story which the main character basically ignores. I failed to suspend disbelief and this irked me the whole way through the book. It was then picked up almost at the end and was used to tie up some plot lines. But it was so out of character for the policeman to ignore it that it ruined the book for me.

I've read Webster's non-fiction books and enjoyed them. His first attempt at fiction was deeply disappointing. Some parts were well written and I would read any subsequent book to see if the author has a more consistent plot line. But any more inconsistencies like this one and I won't bother with a third.
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on 11 June 2012
I think it is true that some books you really don't want to put down and can't wait to pick up again. But, for me, this is not one of them. A lot of tell and not show, long passages without dialogue, irrelevant information (the author trying to convince himself, not trusting the reader to be following the plot?) all added to this not being a classic. I am not even sure Camara, the main protagonist, is very much different to a lot of other fictional detectives - drinker, smoker, women problems, rebellious - we have had those before - just the setting (Valencia/Bull fighting) was new. Preferred his non fiction.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 10 February 2011
Spain is a place of possibility, a place where parallel worlds meet, a place where if you look and look again, you seen something different. Moorish, Christian, Jewish, pagan, the spiritual and the profane, a place of sometimes brutally contrasting opposites.A perfect place then for a detective novel where what is real changes like a shapeshifter dancing to some arcane logic. And Jason Webster just about nails this ,spot on, first go. His hero Camara succeeds because he is part of this contradiction and open to what might emerge from it. The characters are strong, the pace swift, the mystery puzzling and Valencia -a city I love -moves through the shadows and open spaces of the narrative shaping and being shaped by what is going on.
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