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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 11 December 2008
Any crime writer seeking to use Barcelona as a setting must contend with the extremely long shadow cast by the godfather of Spanish crime, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, whose 16-book "Pepe Carvalho" series, which is also set there. Fortunately, Solana manages to make the city sing in the service of her odd couple detecting duo. Eduard and Borja are the middle-aged co-directors of a slightly shady firm of "fixers" consisting of themselves, a fictional secretary represented by an artfully draped shawl and timely spritzes of perfume, and a small entry room with a fancy faux door to their perpetually "under construction" main office.

Their off-the-books quasi detective agency runs on an artfully cultivated reputation for total discretion, which allows them to float into the upper reaches of society while not having to do anything actually illegal. In this debut, the two are asked by a prominent politician to investigate how his wife came to pose for a painting he knew nothing about (the subtext being a question about her marital fidelity). For a while, this allows Eduard and Borja to drive around Barcelona in a borrowed Smart car, trailing her to a succession of upscale shops, fancy cafes, and hairdressers. However, when she turns up poisoned, they suddenly realize that they've landed themselves in something rather more serious than they expected (or are really prepared to deal with).

Meanwhile, there's a nice domestic backdrop to all this, as we meet Eduard's wife and children, and Borja attempts to escape the romantic attentions of Eduard's sister-in-law. Eduard is the prototypical Watson, narrating the story in the wake of his more flamboyant and risk-taking partner, living a stable family life while Eduard lives in an apartment provided by his married girlfriend. The two are different enough to be good foils to each other, yet not so much so that their friendship strains the reader's credulity -- and oh yes, did I mention, they're secretly twins!

There's a very nice comic streak throughout the tale, and the elements (blackmail, false names, switcheroos, etc.) are quite old-fashioned in many ways. And the story unfolds quite nicely, allowing the author to tweak the noses of Barcelona's upper crust and political elite, while delivering a good sense of the city. The only letdown is in the final unmasking of the murderer, which strikes the only false note in the book and is somewhat disappointing, given the quality of the rest of the book. The book appears to be the launch of a series, as the secret brothers are a nice platform for further adventures, and there remains a great deal of murkiness to their shared history that seems destined to be revealed.
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VINE VOICEon 27 January 2011
I highly recommend this engaging, readable book. The story concerns a couple of brothers (twins), Eduard and Pep. Eduard lives a "normal" life in Barcelona with his wife and three children; Pep, who previously disappeared for a long period, has reinvented himself as "Borja", an impoverished aristocrat, and does not let Eduard tell anyone, even his wife, that the two are brothers. Borja's name is not his only invention; he also owns a business that does nothing but has an opulent front. Eduard used to work in a bank but now "works" with his brother as his partner - they do small tasks for the rich of Barcelona, such as quietly selling assets on behalf of their owners. There's a lot of back story in the first half of the book about the two brothers and their rather tragic boyhood, and about the social scene among the upper echelons of Catalan society. I loved reading all this, but if you like books that jump right into a fast-moving plot, be warned that the jewels in this novel (and there are many) are not of that variety.

The plot-proper concerns a request to the brothers by a leading politician, Lluis Font. Font has discovered a portrait of his wife in an art catalogue. He has purchased the picture concerned, but wants the brothers to find out if there are any more of them, and if so to discreetly stop them becoming public knowledge, as this would cause a scandal and upset Font's chances at party leadership. Always a month away from financial disaster and with Christmas coming up, the brothers take the commission and the associated ready cash, and begin to follow the wife. This provides the author with many excellent opportunities to present a scathing yet lightly amusing account of high-society life, exposing it as a nest of permanently shallow people obsessed with personal appearance and shopping for nonessential luxuries. Naturally, events escalate as the brothers find out more and more unexpected truths, culminating in a genuine murder case.

There's lots to love about this book, particularly the way the author combines a story about three generations of a family, with telling, witty portraits of all the characters. I suspect she does not put a foot wrong in her portrait of class snobbery or of social climbing, or of attitudes among the middle classes represented by Eduard's wife and sister in law. Very few of the characters are well-read - Eduard had dropped out of his degree in Catalan literature in disgust after undertaking a survey to show that nobody in the department had actually read Don Quixote (which he himself found indigestible) - but he's an educated man (his knowledge of the classics comes in useful at the end) and in his relative ordinariness and lack of eccentricity, an apt narrator. The only other "intellectuals" in the novel are the various police officers who appear now and again: everyone else is frantically pursuing courses of alternative therapies, beautification, watching football or other trivialities, causing Eduard to reflect on what the anti-Franco revolts of his youth had in fact achieved, as his city increasingly becomes an overcrowded, homogenised temple to Mammon, and where the very rich live in a bubble of their own creation, regarding everyone else, whether middle-class professionals or people living in boxes on the street, as poor and beneath contempt.

There's much more to this novel - overwhelmingly, it has a wonderful sense of atmosphere so that the reader is totally immersed in Catalan ways and mores. I found the crime plot (after the murder is committed) less interesting, and wonder if the author could have got away without even introducing it. There is a rather hastily added denouement and a paragraph or two of moralising which is the only time the author loses her admirable ability to be serious with a light touch. One of the many positive aspects is that the story of the brothers (particularly Pep/Borja), though now revealed in outline, has many tantalising gaps and aspects (such as Eduard's mother in law and Borja's relationships with his mistress and Eduard's sister in law) that have plenty of potential for future development.
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on 8 March 2010
There are two elements to this book: the gentle satire and observation of the wealthier classes in Barcelona, their activities, politics and lives; and the crime thread, when a politician's wife is found poisoned, and two unconventional twin investigators are charged with solving the crime.
I found the crime story unconvincing. There was no real detecting involved. The two amiable investigators wandered about following and talking to and, luckily bumping into significant characters. And the final denouement of the murderer was weak and improbable, as was his careless method.
The description of the atmosphere and characters surrounding the narrator's family is warm and funny, as are other elements - such as the survey that finds that out of 500 Spaniards polled, 482 have never read Don Quixote, and the same number would never admit to that in public.
The part of Barcelona society dealt with is that part living mostly "North of the Diagonal," the Catalan, more well-heeled sectors of the city. There is nothing wrong with this choice of course, but as a portrait of Barcelona - which it doesn't set out to be, I acknowledge - the book leaves undescribed much of that vibrant city and its layers and atmosphere.
In spite of the modern setting, the murder-story seemed old fashioned to me in its lack of character depth and motivation, and it relied too much, as too many crime novels do, on lucky coincidences.
The translation is a curious mix of the up-to-date and out-of date idioms. There is the odd grammatical mistake too: "had broke" instead of "had broken", for example.
"A Not So Perfect Crime" is a light read, and entertaining, but more for learning a little about the social habits of the characters than for understanding about crime and punishment in that complex city.
If you like some darkness with your crime, this book is not really for you.
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on 17 November 2008
A fast paced modern crime novel interlinked with humour and satire, this first novel deserves as much success in the English speaking market as it has had in Spain. The author has created two central characters, the two but completely different twin brothers, who play off each other in the manner of Holmes and Watson. It is fluently translated in a nice easy style making it an easy read. In all an excellent and entertaining addition to the genre.
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on 10 October 2015
Had a big problem with this - found it very pedantic and slow going. Not sure whether that's what the original is like (Spanish novels can be very 'wordy') or the translation. Whatever, I gave up after a couple of chapters....
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on 25 October 2008
Well written, a very easy yet satisfying read that deserved its excellent translation. With a humorous plot well executed the 'brothers' are surely set up for a follow up. If I had a criticism it would be that the book did not feature enough of Barcelona but that didnt spoil it in the least. Well recommended and close to five stars.
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