IAN RANKIN TWEET May 28:
This hugely imaginative collection of (mostly crime) (mostly Barcelona-based) short stories comes out in August. The ‘Connections’ sequence, in particular, is terrific.
If none of these crime short stories wins a prize this year the judges will have proved they have no sense of humour. To be blunt, I can’t recall a cleverer comic crime story collection – probably because there hasn’t been one.
Reminiscent of Saki at his most inventive and unified only by Solana’s uniquely anarchic Spanish humour, these fables are dazzlingly differentiated. The title story tells of what it promises and is packed with crime fiction in-jokes and deliberate anachronisms; the second is a blueprint for the perfect modern-day murder; the third being a we-can-see-what-she-can't-comedy with a brilliantly callous last paragraph...and so they go on, via a gang of ghosts, a vampire who uses Factor 50 sun-cream and a crowd of Barcelona’s riff-raff, hurtling through to the last sentence of the book: “you never know what might happen.” ShotsMag
THE FIRST PREHISTORIC SERIAL KILLER is a collection of short stories by Barcelona-born novelist and translator Teresa Solana. It’s a lively, bizarre, witty, cruel, crude and sometimes picaresque collection. The first five tales start with the story that gives the collection its name: three dead Neanderthals found with their heads bashed in with a rock, one after the other, prompt the weakling of the tribe to find out how they died (after all he has to keep his place in the group somehow). Be prepared for an anachronistic tale with a sharp eye for social status and a sly humour. The following four stories cover motifs such as domestic murder and a solution to corpse disposal, death and satire in the art world, ghosts in a quandary – and vampires in the era of sunblock. The remaining stories in the collection make up the prize-winning “Connections”; a kaleidoscopic collection of eight crime stories involving characters and events in and around Barcelona, all touched by a shooting in a Barcelona pharmacy.
This was my first foray into crime fiction in short story form and I was worried that I would grow tired of what I thought could become a predictable format. But Solana is not predictable and the outcome was that I enjoyed these stories hugely. Translated by Teresa Solana’s husband Peter Bush, this translation must be one of the closest matches to the writer’s voice and intentions possible. Solana’s earthy, dark wit; her ability to speak through varied characters; her satirical eye for the layers and workings of Barcelona society (which speak to everyone everywhere) and her finely crafted invention that knits together the stories in “Connections” mean that I shall definitely be on the hunt for a full-length Teresa Solana novel.
Very highly recommended – for those with a taste for murder, the surreal, and possibly – the stories of Saki. Euro Crime
This subtly inventive story collection from Spanish author Solana (The Sound of One Hand Killing) floats effortlessly from whimsy to horror, from exploring the inner life of ghosts to witnessing a murderous gang fight. The book is divided into two sections: the first contains five humorous stories of dark fantasy; the second is eight interconnected tales of crime among the Barcelona bourgeoisie. In the title story, cave dweller Mycroft attempts to solve the third head bashing among his troglodyte clan in 14 moons, and in the process invents religion. Another highlight is “Still Life No. 41,” in which a museum curator is fired when one of a sculptor’s works turns out to be the rotting body of the sculptor. Also notable is “The Second Mrs. Appleton,” in which a husband who poisons his wife receives fitting retribution. Solana’s understated narratives allow the criminality or weirdness to build until the reader is unexpectedly immersed in it. All are well worth reading. Publishers Weekly(Sept.)
Teresa Solana has carved out a distinctive space for herself as a crime writer with her ‘Barcelona’ crime series, featuring private detective twins Borja and Eduard. Irreverent and satirical, her novels deconstruct Catalan society, puncturing the pretensions of rarefied literary circles or the New Age meditation scene. One of the murder weapons in The Sound of One Hand Killing is a Buddha statue, which gives you some idea of the wicked humour that infuses Solana’s writing.
The First Prehistoric Serial Killer is something a little different – a collection of crime stories that shows the author at her most freewheeling and inventive. Take for example the eponymous opening story, which is set in prehistoric times, but whose detective caveman, Mycroft, seems to have an in-depth knowledge of psychological profiling and investigative terms – all very tongue-in-cheek. Narrators range from a concerned mother-in-law and spoiled museum director to a vampire and a houseful of ghosts, with each story giving Solana a chance to stretch her imagination to the full – crime, humour and the grotesque are mixed in equal measure into a vivid narrative cocktail.
For me, however, it was the second half of the book that stood out – a set of eight stories under the heading ‘Connections’ – almost all set in Barcelona, and all linked in some way. In a note to readers, Solana describes the stories as a ‘noirish mosaic that shows off different fragments of the city, its inhabitants and history’ and then throws down a gauntlet… ‘Reader, I am issuing you with a challenge: spot the connections, the detail or character that makes each story a piece of this mosaic’.
Well, it took me a while, but I had the greatest of fun figuring out the links between the stories (some really are just a passing detail, and I can only imagine the devious pleasure the author had in planting them). My favourites were ‘The Second Mrs Appleton’, for its deliciously twisted denouement, and ‘Mansion with Sea Views’, whose conclusion was unexpectedly dark and disturbing. Mrs Peabody Investigates
Here, Catalan crime writer Teresa Solana turns her hand to the short story in an accessible collection that marries dark deeds to broad satire. In the titular tale, a troglodyte nod to Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, a caveman attempts to solve a series of skull-crushing murders with detection techniques that haven’t yet been imagined. He also invents prophecies, gods and the ability to tell the future by interpreting dreams. In other tales, a concerned mother and her equally elderly friend have a very novel way of dealing with an abusive son-in-law, an old-fashioned vampire misunderstands the nature of a very modern bloodsucker, with macabre results, and a piece of modern art shows worrying signs of decomposing while on display. Daily Mail
Barcelona has a fine tradition of original crime writers and, in general, Catalan fiction has a very rich and distinct character but Solana is a one-off. Most of my favourites novels are dark noirish tales, they often have a sense of humour, e.g., Manuel Vasquez Montalban or the true ambassador of darkness, Sebastia Alzamora. Solana takes the humour to a whole new level though. From black humour to observations on life’s absurdities she is the bee's knees. Solana has built up a reputation for her wryly comic Borja and Eduard Barcelona mysteries. The First Prehistoric Serial Killer is a short story collection in two parts, the first – five random tales, the second – eight connected stories centred around Barcelona. Often playful, these stories also have the power to hit home. These are stories told from a woman’s perspective or at least with that in mind. Solana makes me laugh out loud at times and very few novels have that effect on me. This is a perfect example of how comedy can compliment noir.
The opening story, the title piece, ‘The First Prehistoric Serial Killer’, is the funniest. I’m glad I wasn’t reading it on public transport because the sudden outbursts of laughter would have drawn some attention. Set in the Neanderthal world, the narrator awakes one morning to find another corpse in the cave, this time it’s Athelstan’s skull that has been crushed. Ethelred is the chief of the hairy bear tribe. The narrator ventures the theory that the bloodstained rock and the smashed skull are connected but Ethelred, a rather “laconic troglodyte”, doesn’t want to jump to conclusions:
“‘Hold your horses,” he commented. ‘I want my breakfast first.’”
Lackland was the first killed, but he wasn’t very bright so no one thought any more of it. Then Beowulf, the right side of his skull was caved in, but he was left-handed after a creature took his right arm, ruling out suicide. The narrator, Mycroft, investigates, adopting Holmesian deductive reasoning he comes up with the idea of ‘The First Prehistoric Serial Killer’. After getting the identity badly wrong on two occasions, Ethelred tells him he will be immolated the next morning if he can’t find the right answer. A wonderful play on words and meaning in which Mycroft examines the secret of women becoming pregnant, the battle of the sexes and intuit psychoanalysis. He also posits the idea of a deity and manages to annoy the neighbours, the Canters, a tribe in Canterbury. It’s a brief tale but so witty and inventive.
‘The Son-in-Law’ deals with a septuagenarian mother and her terminally ill friend responding to the discovery that her daughter is being abused by her husband. ‘Still Life No. 41’ is about a young woman’s first exhibition as director of the Museum of the Ultra-Avant-Gard. The artist, Eudald Mataplana, has gone missing and there should be 40 exhibits but 41 arrive from the artist’s studio. There are two more stories in the ‘Blood, Guts and Love’ section of the book.
Part II, ‘Connections’, is eight linked tales about the people of Barcelona and visitors to the city. Two separate crimes that have ramifications, some unexpected, for a host of different people. ‘Flesh-Coloured People’ is the story of a sixteen-year-old girl caught up in the robbery of a chemist store while she is buying some condoms. The mention of her period deflects any further inquiry from her father as to why she was there. Her mother would not have been so easily put off, it would have led to the third-degree blah, blah! To the girl, mug shots all look the same, she’s never has been able to distinguish Orientals apart, even though she was born in China. It’s a musing on identity and attitudes not just towards race, but of age and priorities – this girl has a Beyonce concert to go to in two hours. However, a man was shot dead, the magnitude of what happened may be about to hit home. ‘The Second Mrs Appleton’ is actually the story of Mr Appleton, a British diplomat experiencing difficulties in his career. His new wife, Paige, is young and sexy and not very bright, a bit unsophisticated and unfamiliar with politics or diplomacy. The Barcelona posting might be the last chance so when she questions the value of having a separate Catalan language her husband starts to think hard about why he married this woman. Some of the stories are darker in.Connections., they dive into the underbelly of the beautiful city.
Solana’s slightly surreal tales are stylishly told, very clever and have more substance than you initially realise. She explores themes of naivety, generational differences and identity while having a pop at selfishness and ignorance. Peter Bush’s excellent translation keeps the spirit of the original very much alive. I am sure I will be re-reading these stories at some point. Nudge-Book
How can you resist a title like that? Even if you prefer your crime fiction long and dark, this collection of grotesque short stories is well worth your time. Teresa Solana has already established an international reputation as a Catalan crime author and Bitter Lemon Press has published several of her novels, including the imaginatively entitled The Sound of One Hand Killing. Her love of zany, surrealist touches and black humour shines through in her novels, but it’s in this short story collection that it really comes to the fore.
The book is actually made up of two parts. The first, Blood, Guts and Love, contains tongue-in-cheek riffs on traditional crime and horror fiction themes. In the title story, a prehistoric detective is asked to investigate a triple-murder which is threatening to disrupt cave life. The only reason he is assigned to this task is that he is pretty useless at hunting. As his suspicions solidify, he becomes not only the world’s first detective but also the first religious charlatan. He might even consider inventing psychoanalysis – after all, it’s not like he has anything better to do. In the other stories in this section, ghosts try to keep a house to themselves, an exhibition organiser is fooled by far too realistic works of decomposing art, two nice old grannies become vengeful killers and a vampire feels out of step with the modern world.
So far, so crazy. Best sit back and enjoy the wild ride! The emphasis in the first part is very much on improbable situations, and the comic effect arises from the deadpan voice of the unlikely narrators. These light-hearted and utterly weird tales are probably a crime writer’s holiday.
In Connections, the second section, things become less eccentric and decidedly more noir. The author takes us back to Barcelona for a series of inter-connected stories of murder and betrayal. Taken all together, they represent a mosaic of contemporary Barcelona life, or rather, the less savoury aspects of it. It is up to you to spot the connections, which in some cases are not at all obvious. Each story is self-contained and has a clever little twist, but it’s when they are taken together as a whole that the satirical picture of Solana’s home town emerges. Barcelona is described as a city of contrasts, of strong opinions, full of people on the make, hustling not just in order to survive, but to maintain their comfortable lifestyle or to keep boredom at bay.
The criminal underworld mixes uneasily with the wealthier classes. A spoilt little rich girl witnesses a shooting in a pharmacy. A British diplomat tires of his less-than-ideal second wife. A woman is desperate to get out of her opera-going duties. An interpreter sees rather more than she bargained for while working for an international drug cartel. Four women in prison at first mock but later on are terrified by a posh new inmate. A builder discovers an unpalatable truth in an old house he is renovating. Most of the stories have a satisfying conclusion, but a few end on an ambiguous, unsettling note.
This is a very original take on crime stories, great fun to read and an excellent introduction to Teresa Solana’s work. CrimeFictionLover