Silence of the White City by Eva Garcia Saentz

Exotic, dark, twisted and entirely engaging, this first entry in a series set in Basque country is rife with bizarre ritual murder, family secrets, revenge fantasies and alien culture.

The Silence of the White City – Eva Garcia Saenz – Vintage/Black Lizard TP $16.95 – 9781984898593 7/28/2020

This first of a new series of mysteries set in Basque country is already popular in Europe and this translation is likely to make it so here. I predict that American readers will embrace the author, the characters and the landscape with gusto. The tale has an eerie bitterness shrouded in an exotic culture which is itself a mystery to most U.S. devotees of the genre.

The sleuth is Inspector Unai Lopez de Ayala, a young policeman in the city of Vitoria in Northern Spain, a region steeped in Basque culture. Some twenty years previously, a series of ritual double murders with bizarre characteristics plagued the city. They were apparently solved, the culprit found and imprisoned, and the matter put to rest. Now the release of the murderer is imminent and a few days before his release another double homicide with identical features occurs, throwing the city into a frenzy of fear. The victims are always one male and one female with no apparent connections, but of the same age, naked and posed each with a hand on the other’s cheek in mimicry of a medieval carving on a local church. Their ages are at intervals of five years ( five, ten, fifteen, twenty and so forth), the bodies placed in historic sites progressing from the dark ages to the present and surrounded by the eguzkilore, Basque symbol of good luck and charm against evil. Inspector Ayala, known as “Kraken” since childhood was a child himself at the time of the original crimes but is now tasked with solving the current atrocities. A tangled and dark story emerges with themes of twins, revenge and family tragedies that is unlike any this reader has encountered.

The inclusion of Basque names of persons and places provides an atmosphere of alien piquancy to an engaging plot. Witness these: Estibaliz, Luxto, Xabi (people) and Txagorritxu (a place). Some of the action occurs in Palermo where there are multiple references to Hemingway and his time there. Altogether a fine stew of spices and substance. The effect is charming and compelling. I would recommend this to any died-in-the-wool reader of mysteries, or in fact any reader of fiction in translation.