Alicia Gimenez-Bartlett is serious about crime. Not only has she received the Feminino Lumen Prize for best female writer in Spain, but she’s developed a fantastic crime series based on her character, Inspector Petra Delicado. And listen, that is quite an accomplishment – Spain is not known for its liberal views of women, especially women in charge of police investigations.
Death Rites is Gimenez-Bartlett’s third book featuring Inspector Delicado, who is not your stereotypical female cop. She’s a hard-drinking, cigarette smoking two-time divorcee who can take a good punch in the face. I’ll admit it, I don’t know many(okay, any) women like that. In the U.S. or any country.
Delicado is an intellectual working for the Department of Documentation for the Barcelona Police force. Basically she is working a desk job, minding her own business, when she is suddenly assigned to solve a rape case which quickly turns into a serial rape case and two murders. She is teamed up with Sargeant Fermin Garzon, a tight-lipped, slovenly fifty-seven year old who is uncomfortable taking orders from a woman.
Not only does Delicado have to deal with sexism, but she has to contend with a rapist who is marking his victim’s skin with lacerations in the shape of a flower. As the victims pile up, the press portrays Delicado as incompetent and the victims refuse to cooperate with the investigation. Meanwhile, her ex-husbands refuse to leave her alone which gives her a pessimistic view of marriage:
Marriage was a fatty substance which always left stains on the skin, however much you scrubbed it with soap.
What’s most impressive about Gimenez-Bartlett’s writing, is that is is literary. She doesn’t fall prey to stereotypical cliche characters that inundate police procedurals. There are references to Dostoevsky and existentialism which make the novel more substantive and intriguing. The characters are equal to the plot. Not only does the reader wonder ‘What is going to happen?’ but also ‘Why do these characters behave this way?’ With any good novel, these questions are all answered at exactly the right moment.
The relationship between Delicado and Garzon progresses in fits and starts, but provides us with some interesting philosophical conversations about society and a woman’s place in it. We see each of them become more vulnerable with each other as their intensity and drive to solve the case heightens.
Bottom line, the Inspector Delicado series belongs in the upper echelon of Mediterranean Noir fiction, because it has all the elements of an engaging crime novel. And even better that it features a woman, foibles and all.
Death Rites by Alicia Gimenez-Bartlett
translated by Johnathan Dunne
Prime Time Suspect by Alicia Gimenez-Bartlett
Translate by Nick Caistor
Dog Day by Alicia Gimenez-Bartlett
Translated by Nick Caistor