Back to one of my favourite authors to kick start this month’s reading. Today’s read is the first in Ames’ Spanish-set Juan Llorca series and given my usual inability to read a series in order, I have already reviewed the second and the third in the series: The Man with Three Jaguars (1961) and The Man with Three Chins (1965) on the blog.
Unlike the other stories in the series I have read it takes until half way through the novel until the corpse appears, with the first half of the book being much more focused on Llorca’s social and romantic entanglements. Being a sleuth who acts first and thinks later, Llorca is right in the heart of the case when a man is found dead underneath Julia Fairfax’s balcony. Fairfax has been receiving a lot of attention from the male population in Madrigal, including Llorca, as well from Garfield S. Rittenbaker; a wealthy American travelling with his son and niece. The world of art and forgery also weaves its way into the central mystery. Llorca also has to deal with colleagues in the rival diversion of CIB (Criminal Investigation Brigade), who muscle their way into the case. An unusual, though by no means original, element to the case is a parrot who repeats a number of incriminating phrases. No Llorca investigation would be complete of course without him ending up with a lot of bumps, scraps and bullet wounds in the process. His recovery rate is vastly impressive considering what happens to him.
As with the other stories in the series Ames gives his readers a wonderful sense of setting, including the tension between natives and holiday makers, as well as recreating the landscape for the reader. Julia is well-drawn, being quite intriguing and enigmatic for most of the story; being a richly dressed woman, who yet lives rather simply and is reticent about her past. Ames provides a number of red herrings in this direction and one rather slippery verbal clue. Though I feel more showing and a little less telling would have been better. Due to only half of the novel being concerned with the investigation I think Ames got a little rushed, as some of the clues did appear a bit too late for my liking. Nevertheless his ability to tell a pacey story is unchanged and his entertaining style rushes you to the end, making sure you pick up a number of erroneous assumptions along the way, meaning a number of twists can be unfolded. Having now read three novels with Llorce I find him quite an endearing character, even if he doesn’t always make the most sensible of choices at times, but his emotion-led character makes him a winning narrator. So perhaps not Ames at the very top of his game, but still another fun read by him.
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Silver Card): Blonde