Cet article est également disponible en: French
Original title in Castilian Spanish: El gardián invisible (Destino, 2013)
I only started reading The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo because I knew the setting. I last visited Elizondo, where most of the action takes place, when walking the Pyrenean Senda (GR11) in 2012. And over the last ten years I have been there regularly as well as living nearby for three months. So I was more interested in the backdrop than the plot. Initially.
Very quickly the action takes over and pages continue to turn. I’m not a crime thriller fan, but there are certain books which go beyond their genre and achieve a wider appeal. This is sure to be one of them.
Elizondo and the Baztan valley
For a start Elizondo, in Basque northern Navarre, is a remarkable town, like a Cotswold wool town, founded on the strength of the luxuriant pastures of the Baztan. Dolores Redondo rebuilds the imposing stone-walled houses for the reader, enveloping them in mist, rain, rivers and woods, but skilfully avoiding overloading the page with description.
Her Elizondo – my Elizondo – is a town on the verge of modernity, with a new police station, a by-pass and out-of-town supermarket. But the doors on most shops are creakily ancient; inside the past has yet to be dusted away. Here, carnival is not just some tame spectacle resurrected for tourists; masked youngsters wielding chainsaws continue to contest the powers-that-be.
And any story set in the valley – like the 2012 film Baztan by Iñaki Elizalde – has a wealth of folklore to draw on: amongst them Mari, earth mother, and the basajaun, guardian of the forest. Both feature in the tale.
The weight of tradition
A reflection of the valley in real life, the story hinges on the conflict between past and future, between superstition and science. When I was last in Elizondo, men dancing the traditional mutildanzak shared a street with a fairground attraction airbrushed with fast cars, faster women and a scene from a pole dancing show.
The police inspector protagonist, Amaia, represents a new generation of women, but her elder sister Flora is strangulated by tradition and duty. Amaia has been put in charge of the investigation of a series of murders, returning to the town she has fled and the childhood she wishes to forget. She is both an insider and an outsider. She brings with her an American husband and a happy marriage which begins to crack under the stress. The story is centred as much on her and her family as on the investigation of the crimes. Although by the end goodies and baddies are clearly identified, they are all finely drawn: motivations emerge as credible, observations razor-sharp. Redondo wants us to know why.
The crisis-ridden Spain of 2012, the political scandals, the ETA don’t get a mention – but nonetheless the story is defined by its location in time and space. It could not be anywhere else. What I thought was a mere backdrop turns out to be an essential clue to the plot.
It would be a great book to read (when it comes out on a Kindle) whilst walking in the Pyrenees – just avoid wild camping.
The English edition The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo (Blue Door, an imprint of HarperCollins) will be published on 19 June 2014. It is the first volume of the Baztan trilogy. The second volume, Legado en los huesos (The legacy of the bones), set in nearby Arizkun has already been published in the four official Spanish languages.This entry was posted on Friday, April 4th, 2014 at 2:31 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a comment below, or trackback from your own site.