Marina Dolc, a bestselling writer, is clubbed to death by someone she lets into her room at the Barcelona Ritz. The murder weapon is her heavyweight trophy, so emulating the plot of her winning novel. A sycophantic critic writes her obituary, closing with: "You will be on the road to paradise, taking a short cut between the stars. Speaking Catalan and charming the angels with your smile". Her melodramatic novel is called, like this one, A Shortcut to Paradise.
Teresa Solana's second novel featuring the detective twins Borja (the city-wise one) and Eduard (the homely one) is part roman à clef, part a plot within a plot. The quantity of the cast and the subplots is further compounded by bit-part characters with the sketchiest of backgrounds, with women called Maria, Marina, Mariajo or Mariona, Montse, Merche... or Maite. Clues are scattered like the breadcrumbs left by Hansel and Gretel, and the whole has the implausible air of a fairy-tale night where only the unexpected is predictable.
Not that confusion matters nearly as much as you might think. Once aboard the roller-coaster, the reader is swept onwards, disbelief firmly suspended, and critical faculties sparked on every occasion that the author introduces another suspect, another decoy – or another genre. It's pure Agatha Christie, in assembling the full cast for a reconstruction of the scene preceding the crime; pure Conan Doyle, in the relationship of the elder twin Borja to his sensible sidekick, Eduard; and sheer Dorothy L Sayers in the retired cop, Lluis Arquer. Yet the brightest star is the city of Barcelona, here seamed by taxi rides leading to the Up & Down club in Port Olimpic; to a "modernist salon" in Gracia (with an aphrodisiac meal contributed by Ferran Adria); along the briny Barceloneta, then back to the Hotel Ritz, scene of the crime.
In Britain, crime is the one genre outside of world classics that gets translated regularly. It travels well, but this book has to work hard to hit home in the target language. That it does is a testament not only to the translator, Peter Bush, but also to the fact that here, too, we have more than our fair share of bad writers on good stipends; of sponsorship corrupted by personal and political interests. And we can appreciate a finishing touch that involves sending an unpopular writer to Coventry – or to Antarctica. Satire, after all, is a universal language.