The Summer of the Dead Toys, the debut thriller from Antonio Hill, introduces readers to Barcelona detective Hector Delgado, a character clearly intended to anchor an ongoing series. As the novel opens, Delgado has just returned to Barcelona from an extended stay in his native Argentina, where he has been waiting out an administrative leave as a result of his physical attack on one of the suspects in his last case, a case involving the importation of young African girls for the sex trade.
If his professional life is in something of a turmoil, his private life isn’t much better. Although married with a son, he has been separated from his wife who is currently exploring her sexuality, and he sees his teenage son sparingly.
His leave still not settled, he is asked by his superior as an unofficial favor to look into the case of a young man of nineteen from a wealthy family who supposedly has accidentally fallen to his death from a balcony of the family’s apartment. He is to work with a new officer, Leire Castro, who has already been handling the case, but quickly what was thought to be a pro forma investigation, meant to keep Salgado busy and out of trouble while the beating case was awaiting resolution, soon turns into a full-fledged mystery. Family secrets, pedophilia, marital conflicts among the privileged classes complicate the investigation, and the maze of events past and present becomes even more challenging when the investigation of Delgado’s own case turn up a corpse.
It is a cleverly plotted novel with plenty of false positives, red herrings and all the dead ends that make for an exciting thriller. As a character Delgado makes for an interesting hero. Although he supposedly has a reputation as a master detective, he often seems to take a back seat to his other colleagues: Castro who, though new on the job, is quite ready to take things into her own hands and is adept at reading clues, and Martina Andreu, a friendly colleague who is working on Delgado’s case. Indeed, as the tune has it he gets by with a little (make that a lot of) help from his friends. Add a wealth of personal problems, both his own and those of an assortment of others in what is a cast of thousands and there is plenty of human interest to keep the reader happy.
A caveat or two: the prose style is often awkward and stiff. The book was originally in Spanish, and is translated here by Laura McGlouglin, so whether the awkwardness of the prose is there in the original and carried over by the translator, or it is McGlouglin’s own contribution is a conundrum. Suffice it to say, awkward is annoying no matter how it originates. The exposition at the beginning is often clunky. Much of it is necessary, but it could be presented with more style. Finally, minor characters, in some cases characters we meet once and never again, are given needlessly detailed descriptions. For example, the height of a professor consulted on African superstitions and never seen again seems an unnecessary bit of information. It, and its ilk, retard the forward momentum that is central to any good thriller.
In the end, Summer of the Dead Toys is a promising debut. The deeper a reader manages to get into the story, the better it gets.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=0770435890]