Thrillers are not usually my cup of coffee - unless they are the camp, hammy Agatha Christie variety where one is nestled in a morally polar fantasy-world and the bad guys and/or gals invariably get their just desserts. So it was with much trepidation that I turned the front cover of Jason Webster’s A Death in Valencia. I was not to be disappointed. Even cameos are brought to life and one feels their pains, one hurts when they do and one laments their departures.
To be honest, the title is a total misnomer. I suspect the publishers just did not want the nomenclature, “Death in Valencia” for fear the novel would be confused with or just might draw comparisons with Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice”. Though really, there is a genuine commonality - both are literary, each with a mystery at their heart.
So why is the book’s name inaccurate? Well, there are a number of “deaths” depending on one’s moral perspective. I do not think I should beat about the bush. One of the themes of the book is abortion. So, in some sense, if one is anti-abortionist the tally of referenced deaths would be in the hundreds. Pro-abortionists will count at least a handful of deaths, not necessarily linked or committed by the same person(s) - but I am not going to give the game away! There is also allusion to petite mort, little death, or orgasm; the decline and fall of old Valencia; as well as the moral, emotional and spiritual atrophy of the main protagonist. One is left questioning just what is murder.
Another leitmotif is the lore of Valencian paella. I did not know that locals categorise this platter with one of three labels, “Bò, rebò and mèl” [p.108] - ‘good’, ‘very good’ and ‘honey’. There is a higher rank, but I shall leave the reader to discover said label for themself. However, you may ask [p.110]:
‘So what’s below bò, then? What happens if it’s a bad paella?’
‘No such thing,’ he said.
The reader will also discover what is so special about socarraet and why aficionados of paella fight over it [pp.107/8].
Death. Life. Great themes, beautifully introduced and handled by the author. Twice during my reading I was in floods of tears and once almost inconsolably so. I was quite literally mourning for a wee while the final demise of one of the characters. The tale fully inveigled me, so that I was unaware of the author’s voice in the well crafted writing of this skilled novelist. I so enjoyed the book that I quite deliberately only read a few chapters at a time in order to prolong the exquisite pleasure of my perusal. I hope you will be as gratified as I with this literary mystery.