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by Antonio Hill and Laura McGlouglin, trans. read by Mark Bramhall
Random House Audio, June 2013
Unabridged pages

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Inspector Hector Salgado is a Barcelona transplant from Argentina, but his character suggests that he is genetically related to the dour detectives so prevalent in contemporary Scandinavian crime novels. Depressed over his divorce from a wife who left him for a woman, unable to contact his only son who refuses to answer his cellphone, and haunted by memories of a difficult childhood, Salgado would be quite at home with Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole or Jussi Adler-Olsen's Carl Mørck.

Salgado returns to Barcelona's stifling summer heat from a mandated vacation in Buenos Aires. His superiors hoped that while he was gone, the bad press from Salgado's brutal beating of a suspect, Doctor Omar, would die down. Salgado suspected Omar of practicing voodoo, performing illegal abortions on prostitutes, and of somehow being mixed up in the drug trade. Salgado strongly believes that justice must be done at all costs, and he's not shy about becoming the judge and jury if he thinks no one else will make an abusive felon pay for his misdeeds.

While on probation, Salgado is asked by his superiors to look into the apparent suicide of a college student named Marc, who has recently returned from studying abroad in Ireland. While smoking a cigarette as he sat in an open window, Marc either jumped or fell to his death. Perhaps he was pushed. Salgado is assigned a new partner for this investigation, Leire Castro. She is a rising star in the department, but she has unexpectedly become pregnant and must decide whether to tell the biological father, and, indeed, whether to go through with having a baby. She is sharp, impartial, and calm--a good counterpoint to the hot-tempered Salgado, who is often steered by his own prejudices. In this case, his dislike of rich and superficial people leads him to suspect the victim's private school pals.

As Salgado seeks an answer that will assuage the suspicions of Marc's distraught mother, he, in turn, is being actively investigated. Omar has not been seen since Salgado's return. All clues seem to point to the inspector having taken his quest for justice a bit further.

There is a lot of action in this police procedural, with many suspects engaged in unsavory behavior. The Barcelona setting is a plus, as Hill takes his audience through a variety of neighborhoods. The cast includes people from almost every part of the social strata. There is also an unusual number and types of sexual hook ups, which makes the novel a bit of a soap opera in this regard. Few of the relationships are connected to the investigations and don't advance the story. In addition, there is another death, alluded to in the title and a short preface, which the author doesn't get back to until near the end of the tale.

Mark Bramhall is a seasoned audio performer who has read a wide variety of novelists, including Margaret Atwood, William S. Burroughs, and Louis L'Amour. He does a fine job with the narrative as he moves the characters through the steamy city. He creates a range of voices for a procedural that has far too many players. The one poor choice that he or the director makes is to have all the characters speak with slight Spanish accents. Since it is clear that the story is set in Spain, this tactic is totally unnecessary. Moreover, the accent he uses is some generic Spanish and does not represent the way people speak English on the Iberian Peninsula. Salgado speaks with the same accent as everyone else, though the moment he opens his mouth, people start referring to him as "the Argentine." That difference - Salgado's sense of being a permanent outsider - is an essential part of his character, but itis not reflected in the performance.

Though it will be hard for devotees of police procedurals to gather why THE SUMMER OF DEAD TOYS was such a hit in Europe, it is an action-packed work that will satisfy those looking for an interesting setting and a suitably complex detective. There are far worse ways to spend a few hours than roaming the streets of Barcelona with Salgado.

§ Karla Jay is a legally blind audio book addict, who lives in New York City, where she is Distinguished Professor of English and Women's Studies at Pace University.

Reviewed by Karla Jay, July 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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