I finished the novel "Tots els camins porten a Romania" (All Roads Lead to Romania) by Ramon Usall i Santa. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Those of you old enough to remember the fall of communism in the late 1980's will have noticed a portrait of Nicolae Caeucescu (former communist dictator of Romania) with bullet holes. Wéll get to that in a bit. The story isn't a "page turner" nor a gripping mystery. Although there is indeed a mystery to solve, it is more about the journey than the destination. I pretty much solved the mystery early on, but loved the journey. The author places us in foggy and misty Lleida and modern Catalunya. We learn all about Rafel Rovira, the detective, his daily routine of having breakfast/brunch at the neighborhood bar and talking about the fortunes of Barça (the author is a devotee of football/soccer). He has a friend, en Joan, who is a Mosso de L'esquadra (a member of the Catalunya Police Force) and another friend, la Txell, who is a journalist for Avui, a Catalan newspaper (if it bleeds it leads!).
We start the book learning about the detective Rafel Rovira and his life. After he's finished with one of his marital infidelity cases, his monthly classified ad (remember those!) appears in the day's edition of Avui. He's sat at the bar when the call comes in. A Romanian maid has discovered the body of one of her clients (also Romanian) at his home lying on the floor dead with blood pooled around the body. She calls Rafel. She didn't call the police because of fear of deportation (pre-EU).
Soon after, Rafel brings in his friend Joan, the policeman, to the case. They go to the home and discover communist books on the bookshelf and a portrait of Caeucescu riddled with bullit holes at his side. They contact the victim's brother with the help of the Romanian maid. The brother asks the maid about Rafel. She trusts him. The victim's brother hires Rafel to investigate the matter, i doncs... tots camins porten a Romania.
Along the way, we follow along as Joan and Rafel traipse through Lleida investigating, and la Txell does her journalism. Rafel has had a mad crush on Txell for years, well, a bit more than a crush- more like unrequited love. They talk about the case and their work is synergistic. They have a weekly dinner together and seem to grow closer. Soon, Rafel is off to Romania to investigate the case, his expenses paid by the victim's brother, Ioan Grigore, and this is where the story gets quite interesting. His friend from the Mossos puts him in contact with a Romanian cop he knows. I won't spoil the plot, but the details of life under the brutality of the Caeucescu regime are explored along with the post-Communist reality of Romania.
The first conversation of our detective Rafel with his client Ioan Grigore was by telephone. They spoke English, or as Rafel calls it "Kofi Anan" English) as a mutual language and I found this quote to be interesting
Ramon Usall i Santa wrote: De fet, a ell li agradava dir que parlava l’anglès Koffi Annan. És a dir, que es feia entendre amb tot aquell que, parlant anglès, no fos natural d’Anglaterra o dels Estats Units. L’anglès BBC, l’altra tipologia de la llengua de Shakespeare segons la divisió dialectal que n’establia en Rovira, quedava fora del seu abast i entendre’l o fer-s’hi entendre representava per a ell un esforç sobrehumà.
Per sort, la veu que parlava a l’altre costat del telèfon s’aproximava més aviat a l’anglès Koffi Annan i no va comportar cap dificultat per a ell entendre el que li volia dir. My translation: In fact, he liked to say he spoke "Kofi Anan" (Kofi Anan was the President of the UN General Assembly, a Ghanaian) English. That's to say that he could make himself understood with all those who weren't native speakers of English from England or the US. BBC English, the other type/class of Shakespeare's language according to the dialectical division that established itself in Rovira, stayed outside of his command (supply) and understanding or making himself understood in it required a superhuman effort from him.
Luckily, the the voice that was speaking on the other end of the phone was closer to Kofi Annan English and there wasn't any difficulty in understanding what he wanted to say to him.
This is part of what I have discovered to be true traveling in Europe wherever a multinational mix is present. Once when I was in Lisbon with my Brazilian traveling partner, she wanted to go to Bairro Alto, a bar district chock a block with Northern Europeans of various nationalities. My friend couldn't speak English very well, but she could speak it with these L2 speakers just fine. Well, good enough for them to understand. I couldn't deal with it and ended up speaking with a Brit and an Australian, with whom I was more at ease despite our own varieties of English! The only Portuguese were behind the bar slinging drinks. They were too busy to engage in conversation.
As far as I know, "Tots els camins porten a Romania" has not been translated. Speaking of translation, and this being an original Catalan novel, I actually found it significantly easier to read than the translated Hammett novels. Maybe that's because there weren't a thousand variations of "smash, crash, punch" and overly descriptive phrases about someone's eyes or face. That, and translating 1920's urban American slang into Catalan. Still, I do believe that all my reading of the Hammett novels helped to make this book so much easier to read. I didn't have to look up many words, but I did make notes of turns of phrase I found interesting and useful.
I ordered the second, and only other, book in the series in hardcopy. It's called Seixanta-vuit. It's about a mystery Rafel Rovira must solve involving the 1968 uprising in Paris. That will take some time to arrive.
So, I started the next novel in Catalan, a translation of the novel Hammett by Joe Gores. I wanted to keep my momentum going. It was made into a movie, directed by Vim Wenders, of the same name. It is written in the style of Dashiel Hammett. He's a character in the book- the reluctant, out of retirement, detective mucking about in corrupt and fuggy prohibition era San Francisco. The novel explores Hammett's post-detective writing and his relationship with writer Lillian Helmand. While a knowledge of Hammett's works isn't critical to enjoy the story, I'd say that a reader would get much more enjoyment out of it if they had. I'm a third of the way into it.
I finished "El señor de los cielos". It is an interesting behind the scenes look at the inner workings of a drug cartel, in addition to things getting blown up and revenge attacks. What a shame these people turn their talents to crime instead of more useful endeavors. Still, it does dovetail with the Hammett novels in prohibition era America. While prohibition (the outlawing of alcohol) didn't create organized crime, it certainly helped it to blossom and expand its operations. The same has happened with illicit narcotics. The repeal of prohibition in the US helped to greatly diminish the lawlessness and violence it spurred. Narcotics still remain illegal in most of the world, so another organized criminal industry is flourishing as a result... leading us to "El señor de los cielos".
The next Spanish book will wait a little while. Maybe a week or so.