This is the third novel from Ames’ Juan Llorca series, set in Spain, though it is my second read, having already read The Man with the Three Jaguars (1961). As to why every title in this small series has the word three in it, I’m not sure, but Ames does like his amusing titles.
The story begins with Llorca a sergeant in the Guardia Civil, having a very odd experience when he goes exploring Benijacar. He has been recently posted there to provide reinforcements for the impending festival. Unintentionally Llorca trespasses onto Don Beltran’s estate through an open gate and by moonlight he hears beautiful singing and also comes across a woman in distress. Whilst fending off her attentions, Llorca gets knocked out from behind and wakes to find an English doctor, Jessica Fitzpatrick, near at hand – though conversation is at a minimum when it appears the dogs have been let loose on the estate. Looking back on the incident Llorca feels something is up; in particular he wonders why he only heard the town’s clock strike 6 times when he heard the singing when it was in fact 10 o clock.
Further mysteries are just around the corner, as when Llorca goes to tell Beltran about his open gate the following day, not only does he receive a shock as to who the woman he saw was, but he also comes across a murder and the victim is unexpectedly Dr Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick definitely comes under the heading of an unusual victim, given the lack of motive. Though of course the reader therefore knows that the motive will be key to identifying the killer. However to begin with though the officials decide it is an accidental death and what an accidental death it is! I won’t reveal the method of murder but it is the first time I have ever come across it. As with The Man with Three Jaguars there is a key suspect, who is also very powerful and rich, making them difficult to handle given that the senior officials do not want such an important person being bothered. Another thread to muddy the investigative waters is Jorge El Pajaro, the lead singer of the festival and secret lover of Beltran’s daughter; a situation which causes his grandmother to worry for his safety. Whilst this story does not have the laugh out loud comedy of Ames’ Jane and Dagobert Brown series, there are still lots of colourful and bizarre characters, including a rock fanatic named Primrose Greenbaum. Llorca is going to go through quite a number of head thumping experiences before he finally unravels the truth.
This read was definitely a tonic after my last two not so good reads and was wonderfully entertaining. Ames has a real skill when it comes to developing an engaging first person narrator and it impressed me how different he makes Llorca’s narrative voice from Jane’s. There is still humour, but Llorca’s humour is much more self-deprecating and full of understatement. The reader is in for quite a number of surprises at the end of the story. Clues are left for the reader earlier on, but I do think they perhaps need specialist knowledge of sorts. Ames’ elegant and smooth writing style in a way makes you less on guard when it comes to spotting clues, as it moves you along so well that you can forget to pause and think. I think though a few more clues might be have been good just to make the case less reliant on one particular type of clue. Nevertheless still a very enjoyable read.