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Sister Mary Murderous

Favorite genres are traditional mystery, police procedurals, espionage, Eurocrime, literary fiction and nonfiction history, especially WW2 and Cold War.  I write about crime fiction at Read Me Deadly (www.readmedeadly.com)

The Summer of Dead Toys - Antonio Hill In this debut novel by translator-by-trade Antonio Hill, Barcelona police Inspector Hector Salgado has just returned from his native Buenos Aires and a month-long forced leave. Hector was ordered to make himself scarce for long enough for the bad press to die down from a scandal born of Hector's savage beating of Doctor Omar, a creepy voodoo figure in a human trafficking case.

Though Hector has returned to the force, his boss, Superintendent Savall, orders him to stay in the background, and gives him an inconsequential assignment. A rich young man, Marc, from a wealthy and influential family fell or jumped from a window and was killed, and the young man's mother has been harassing the police, insisting on an investigation. Hector is the perfect choice for the job, along with a brand-new, but promising detective, Leire Castro.

Leire Castro is the one who first notices some anomalies in the scene of Marc's death, and as she and Hector investigate further, they learn more and more about the dark underbelly of some of Barcelona's most influential families, both past and present. Does Marc's death have something to do with the death of a young girl years ago, at the summer camp where she and Marc were friends?

When Doctor Omar disappears and his office is found spattered with human blood, with a pig's head on his desk, Hector is under suspicion and must hope that his colleagues can solve that case before Hector loses his job and more.

Hill gives us a long look inside some aspects of Barcelona that tourists don't see. There is the world of privilege, but also human trafficking, child and spousal abuse, drugs. And we see that all those smiling Barcelona residents can also be extremely prejudiced, against South Americans, women, Africans.

Author Hill has a keen eye, and his plotting was ambitious, but his storytelling skills need a lot of work. This is where the book could have used a firmer editorial hand. Hill tells the story from the points of view of many different characters, which just didn't work. It gave the book a disjointed, uneven feel, and undoubtedly contributed to the lack of depth the characters have. It's hard to develop a character when the story's point of view changes frequently. He spends quite a bit of ink on some fairly minor characters, for no apparent purpose.

The writing is unclear, with it being too often difficult to tell which character is being referred to. There are also some sloppy errors, like a character owing 4,000 Euros in one chapter, which inexplicably becomes 3,000 Euros a few chapters later.

What bothered me more, though was that Hill also has a writing tic that became annoying fast. He makes a mysterious statement, which he then explains shortly afterward. But he uses this device constantly and about the most mundane things. For example, he drops the names Ruth and Guillermo, leaving the reader wondering who they are, then explains later on the page. Similarly, he has a character make a cryptic comment about her parents having a reason to disapprove of her current partner even more more than her old one, then tells why a few sentences later. This whole telegraphing technique, which I imagine was supposed to give an air of mystery to the book, just become a tiresomely overused device.

While Hector Salgado and Leire Castro are promising characters, their promise went unrealized in this novel.