Max Cámara, the cynical, persistent, pragmatic, intelligent, likeable Spanish detective is back and better than ever. Valencia's most dogged detective is on leave, and in self-imposed exile in Madrid, to cook, read and have sex with the lovely Alicia. But is that enough for a man like Max?
Max is pulled back to his hometown of Albacete, a place he has sought to run from his entire life. The author expertly describes the mood of this provincial Spanish area; the stark landscape that surrounds the barely-enjoyable place is evident throughout. It's dirty, it's stuck in the past, it's a place where any man would want to leave his memories behind.
The character of Hilario, Max's grandfather, once again steals the show with this witty lines, stubborn attitudes and bold behaviour. Hilario is a link to the past that Max cannot escape, and as more details of the man's past, and the past of his relatives, come to life in Hilario's unremarkable apartment, the reader can learn more about Max than ever before. With the last two novels, Or the Bull Kills You, and A Death in Valencia, hints of Max's life have delighted and teased, but now so much of Max's troubled past bursts from the page, serving to illuminate the character and make him even more complex and yet more relatable.
Pressing issues in today's Spain dominate the storyline; when a young girl is murdered, Max finds himself on the trail of murderers and also corrupt leaders, their hands yellow with the stain of saffron smuggling. Max juggles this modern-day issue, along with ghosts of the past; the local cemetery is digging up Civil War and Franco victims, and the two events are more interlinked than Max could imagine. The conversation surrounding the idealisms of pre-war Spain are explained in such a way that those with little knowledge can easily understand, along with the fear imposed on the population in the post-war 1940′s. Sentimentality is spared as the facts are told through the eyes of a person who has had to deal with the reality of living in such times.
Webster brings the book and its themes to life through comfortable and believable relationships between the characters. Max and Hilario's family connection is convincing and authentic, and his relationship with journalist Alicia is refreshingly realistic. Any person who has suffered a difficult childhood and wished to leave their early life behind can feel Max's desire to run and never look back.
The whole novel, dominated by the stuffy atmosphere of Albacete, holds Max in a kind of purgatory in which he needs to escape. Is the future back in Valencia? Perhaps Madrid? Max may be able fight crime and lay ghosts to rest, but can he stop himself from sabotaging his own future?
The book reaches a satisfying and poignant end, and leaves plenty of scope for yet another Cámara installment. The scenes in the hospital can feel very close to home. Readers may never put saffron in their cooking again without thinking twice. Even Max is looking at his paella sideways...
The Anarchist Detective is the best Max Cámara yet. Webster's talent with this character strengthens with every installment. Spain's past and present weave together to produce an eloquent and emotional novel that can be read in a single sitting.
There were some things about this third Max Camara novel that I found irritating. It seemed unlikely that a recent stroke victim with a speech problem could recount long passages of personal history and I felt the author could think of no other way of delivering the information even though I found it hard to believe. I also felt that there was some confusion between the saffron storyline, the civil war narrative, the murder of his sister and the current murder investigation. I think Webster, whose Duende is a wonderful book has some way to go as writer of fiction if as the cover of this book suggests , he is to be compared to Donna Leon. However, I've given the book 4 stars because Max Camara is a brilliant creation, a complex, intriguing man who, I feel , will continue to develop in interesting ways. So despite my criticism I am already looking forward to Camara's next outing and hope it won't be to long.
"The Anarchist Detective" is British author Jason Webster's third book in his Max Camara police series. The first two novels - set in Valencia, Spain - were almost straight-up police procedurals. They were good reads; Webster caught the flavor and rhythms of the third largest city in Spain. But this novel, "The Anarchist Detective", rises to a higher level. Webster's writing is more assured and his plot and characters more interesting than his first two books.
"Anarchist" is set in the smaller city of Albacete, inland and southwest of Valencia. It is the birth place of Chief Superintendent Max Camara and he has returned to the city to help his ailing grandfather. He is on an extended leave from his position in Valencia and has been living with a new woman friend in Madrid while he decides on his future. While caring for his cantankerous old grandfather - who had been a Republican during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930's - he discovers some family secrets of that contentious and violent time. But the Civil War had not been the only difficult time for the Camara family. Young Max's sister had been raped and murdered and his parents died soon after, unable to cope with their daughter's death. Max was sent to live with his now aged and ailing grandfather. During his current stay in Albacete, while caring for his grandfather, another young girl is found raped and murdered and a bunch of bodies of people killed by the Franco government were found buried. One of those murdered was Max's great-grandfather. Oh, and there's also a saffron smuggling operation going on that Max is asked to informally look into.
If all of these plot points seem complicated, Jason Webster is able to weave them into an excellent story. His characters are all nuanced portrayals who catch the interest of the reader. Webster's first two books were solid 4 stars but with this one, he's moved up to 5 star.
This third episode in the Inspector Max Camara series is more character driven and was, therefore, a more interesting read for me. These crime stories--written by an ex-pat Brit--are set in contemporary Spain, but this time the specific location shifts to the small city of Albacete in the austere La Mancha east/central region of the country. Albacete's reputation as one of Spain least attractive urban centers fits the bleakness of the plot where murders are committed in seedy, trash-filled sections of the ville. Valencia based protagonist Max Camara is on the scene because his octogenarian grandfather has had a health crisis. Much of this crime story is interlaced with accounts of Camara's family history and his deep connection with the grandfather (a richly imagined character who is a highly independent, pot smoking skeptic of anything relating to government or organization. As is often the case for stories taking place in modern Spain, events are overshadowed by the civil war that shattered the social and economic structure of the country in the 1930s. To this day, the period is often spoken of publicly in the only most careful and round about ways as all wounds have not yet healed. Without getting into the details, "The Anarchist..." is very well spun story with gritty but credible backstories for the characters and some interesting contemporary elements, particularly when a murder investigation leads to a delving into fraud in the saffron trade!
Another compelling story from the Max Camara series and a must read for Jason Webster fans... Max Camara is a law unto himself with his own unique way of getting involved in things.. In this story although he was on long term leave from work following his last murder case, Max still somehow gets involved in trying to solve three mysteries ie- the murder of his sister Concha, the more recent murder of a young 15yr old girl and a saffron smuggling gang... I love Hilario who is Max's grandfather who has had an enormous impact in Max's life from an early age, who after suffering a stoke still shows immense strength and courage..Its where we pick this story up as Max has moved back to Albacete to look after him. I have read all three of the Max Camara series although I loved the third one number two is my preference , having said that I can't wait for number four..
Any English speaking person who lives in Valencia or who knows it well, will already be hooked on this series of Jason Webster. My only complaint is that the books are too short, i know when I finish one, I will have to wait another year for the next.
This is set in real Spain, not the Spain of ex-pat whimsy and sun-drenched escapism. And Max Camara is a detective who lives and breathes in this world of corruption, passion, poverty and defiant hope where the past is a lurking shadow around the next corner. I have loved all the titles in this series as well as Jason's previous books about the heart and soul of this great enigmatic country, (eg Duende and Andalus) What I particularly loved about this latest offering was the way in which other characters, particularly Camara's Grandfather also have also developed in depth and history creating a richer more diverse perspective on a dark and complex world. Intriguing and compelling.
Max Camara , just back from a long leave to recover from injuries sustained during his last case, is almost immediately plunged into the case of a young girl, raped and murdered. Leads seem to be connected to events which happened in the Spanish Civil War, long before she was even born. Amazingly, he also feels that his Grandfather, Hilario, might know more than he is admitting too. He has also reconnected with an old school friend, Yago, who is also now head of the police in the region. When Max and his girlfriend, Alicia, are nearly killed while investigating into the production of Saffron for which the area is famous, he realizes that there is a serious fraud going on.