The Summer of Dead Toys, By Antonio Hill


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The Independent Culture

A stifling summer's morning in Barcelona. Inspector Hector Salgado has been lying awake, unable to sleep. He has just returned from Buenos Aires and is not in the best of moods. Salgado has lost his suitcase at the airport, and is deeply depressed after a painful separation from his wife and son.

What's more, he is still recovering from a brutal beating by a suspect in a case he was involved in. The investigation had touched upon two incendiary subjects: paedophile rings and voodoo worshippers. But the beleaguered policeman's enforced leave of absence – during which his sympathetic boss is attempting to salvage Salgado's career after the latter's own violent behaviour – is not to bring him peace. In order to take his mind off the case, his boss asks him to undertake an unofficial investigation into the circumstances behind the death of a student. Things are to get even worse for the embittered Spanish copper...

The first thing that strikes the reader about Antonio Hill's hugely impressive debut novel is its evocative and atmospheric language (rendered in Laura McGloughlin's nuanced translation). The sense of oppressive heat is ever present, and the treatment of the sultry, louring city evokes the master of Barcelona-set narrative, Carlos Ruiz Zafón. But Hill's book (despite its literary apparel) is a crime novel, and the author – whose other speciality is psychology – seems to have arrived fully-formed with confidence and authority, peeling back the skeins of deceit and betrayal in a most satisfying fashion.

His detective is to uncover layers of corruption in the upper echelons of Barcelona society, as a teenager's fall to his death leads to the unveiling of clandestine truths about leading families. Hill utilises one of the most shopworn (but comforting) conventions of the genre: two initially unrelated cases, to be linked by a detective at the end of his tether.

Yet for all his storytelling skills, Hill's real achievement is in the creation of an idiosyncratic new character. Salgado, one suspects, may be put together from a variety of familiar elements plucked from other writers, but he emerges as somehow keenly individual. If Hill can keep up the momentum of his inaugural effort, this will be a series to watch.