review – Un buen detective no se casa jamás

Un buen detective no se casa jamás, Marta Sanz (Barcelona, Anagrama, 2012, 320 pp.; 978-84-339-7238-5)

The recent wave of popular interest in Nordic crime literature has helped provide a boost for the long-suffering Spanish publishing industry. But Spain itself is a match for Sweden or Denmark in its capacity for hiding the sordid and the grotesque under the surface of seemingly harmless environments, be they seaside resorts or blocks of city flats. In Un buen detective no se casa jamás Marta Sanz highlights the dark possibilities of the Spanish landscape, just as she did in its predecessor, Black, black, black (Anagrama, 2010).
What Sanz writes could with justice be called ‘inverted’ detective novels: the title of her novel comes from a classic essay by Raymond Chandler, and this serves to highlight Sanz’s dedication to the tropes of the detective story, in particular the ways in which they can be subverted, reinvented and applied to a modern, even ‘postmodern’ environment.

This new instalment reintroduces us to Sanz’s detective Arturo Zarco: he is a refined, egocentric homosexual, with a subtle capacity for cruelty to those close to him, but his most interesting personal feature is his self-awareness. He is an avid reader of Chandler, Hammett and Christie, and cannot fully separate the reality in which he lives from the fiction by which he lives it. Zarco admires Lana Turner, but searches for his own femmes fatales in the most unexpected places, never tiring of seeing his world conform to the patterns of written or cinematic texts. This acceptance of his position as reader, as heir to a ‘real’ world shaped by fictions, has the paradoxical effect of humanising him a great deal; we are not presented with a hero isolated within his own fictive reality, as decontextualized as the classical noir protagonists tend to be. Zarco is a human being, always amusing, flawed, with his own phobias and passions. He is addicted to fictions, and it is through his own actions that the novel navigates the realms of legend, fairy-tale, comedy of manners and straightforward crime novel, without once getting confused about its intentions. The overall effect is reminiscent of the sordid psychological landscapes of Patricia Highsmith: this is in some ways an anti-detective novel, a novel about the crimes inherent in families and societies in general, and it is all the more sophisticated and enjoyable for that.

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