Where The Streets Have No Sane!…… Barcelona Shadows by Marc Pastor

Mar 12, 2016Foreign Fiction0 comments

………………………………………… Just occassionally you read a book that not only resonates with you as a story, but it resonates with the world around you. Reading Marc Pastors novel about a female serial killer butchering children from the most vulnerable and poorest streets of Barcelona in the early 1900’s would have been chilling in itself………………

………………………….. the fact that it is based on the real life serial killer Enriqueta Marti, who procured poor children for use by rich paedophiles, before killing and dismembering them, gives it a whole new resonance when you think of the current scandals in the UK with ex-celebrities and ex-politicians alleged to have been engaging in the systematic abuse of young boys and young girls over many years. So as subjects go, this is certainly one of the more harrowing and grisly books I’ve read in many years, but in spite of the horrors within the pages of this novel, it’s also a compelling read.

As the children of the poorest families in the red light district of El Raval start to disappear, rumours grow on the streets of a monster who stalks the night and takes children away. The authorities, through a mix of apathy, trying to manage the city’s reputation and self-interest from those who are paedophiles, are trying to quash these rumours rather than investigate (eerily resonant with today too!)

But two police inspectors, Corvo and Malsano, are spurred on by a sense of injustice and morals to investigate, helped by the fact that they are both bloody-minded enough to ignore orders from on high to do otherwise! They track the killer through some of the dingiest, poorest neighbourhoods and unravel a plot that leads up to some of the most powerful people in the city.

At the heart of the book is the wonderful character of Moises Corvo. On the one hand he’s driven by his sense of right and wrong and his need to protect children from whoever it is who is kidnapping and then killing them and on the other he’s got a depth and breadth of experience of the city’s brothels that tells you he’s far from a ‘holier than thou’, morally-pure detective in his search for the killer. There’s such a contrast in him, a man who really no longer seems to give a shit about his life and yet driven to the point of almost obsessive determination to protect the innocent. An early phrase in the book sums him up perfectly!


Moises Corvo is a dog:

no-one pisses on his territory. And if that means stinking up the whole neighbourhood with the cloying stench of urine, he has no problem with that ............Corvo is an old dog, grim-faced and filled with vices, but he isn't ready to give over these streets to anyone.

The story is told in the third person and it’s never clear exactly who the narrator actually is for at times they slip into the first person and enter the story – but as I read it I took it to be Death – and reading other blogs suggest that was how others interpreted it too. It’s a clever way of telling the parts of the story that sit outside the narrative, such as the back story to Corvo and what happened to turn him into that ‘grim-faced dog’. The other half-character is Barcelona itself, its streets, attitudes, struggles, dark corners and a collection of some pretty weird characters who flit in and out of the story. These are what defintely qualify as ‘mean streets’ and the sense of menace and danger is palpable.

Barcelona Shadows is a well written novel, with a great character in Inspector Corvo. The plot is driven along at a pace and as the horrors mount and the twists in the plot unravel you are increasingly drawn in to the murky world it describes. For me, it was only those horrors that I had a difficulty with, though that wasn’t actually the book’s fault! I’m just a bit squeamish I guess! Nevertheless, as it’s based on a bloody gruesome true story and because of that resonance to the awful things we’re finding out today, I’d say Barcelona Shadows is a really good book but a pretty harrowing read – as I used to do with Dr Who you might want to read bits of this peering out from behind the sofa!

The Telegraph

‘Imagine a Gothic, technicolour, historical western, by turns lurid and tersely gripping, and sometimes genuinely firghtening’

El Periodico

‘Visceral and shocking, Barcelona Shadows opens up the heart of evil…’

The Independent

‘As gruesome as it is gripping…..highly recommended’

Book Rating - 8

Barcelona Shadows by Marc Pastor was translated by Mara Faye Lethem and was published by Pushkin Press in 2014. I bought it with my own cash, based on an excerpt I heard on a Guardian Books podcast
Though Marc Pastor tweets as @DoctorMoriarty, it looks to me like he tweets mostly in Catalan so doubt you’d find out much from that (unless your Catalan is fluent!!).
He is a crime scene investigator in Barcelona and interestingly was interviewed by the online magazine “This Is Horror“, where among their questions, they describe his work as ‘horror writing’. Ordinarily that’s not for me but perhaps explains why I found this a little disturbing to say the least!
Horror genre or not, there are a few reviews of Barcelona Shadows that you might want to check out if you’re thinking of going on to read it, and I’d recommend those at Crime Review and at BooksBonesBuffy ( who’s also got a Marc Pastor interview on her site. )