The Dirty Secrets of Barcelona’s Upperclass

Rosa Ribas, Sabine Hofmann: Das Flüstern der Stadt (Spanish title: Don de lenguas) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ ISBN 978-3-463-40354-0 Two female writers, a female journalist as the main character in a crime story with Franco’s Falangist Spain as the backdrop – the result is a fantastic novel, a masterful plot narrated in a wonderfully nuanced language. Too bad I never learnt Spanish, I had to contend with the German version of this Spanish-German coproduction. I bet, in the Spanish version I would have been even more fascinated by the refined use of language. Such a well-written book!

Ana Maria Noguer is a young journalist working for a newspaper that each day performs a careful balancing act between not offending the Franco regime and its journalistic mission to report the truth. Ana Maria usually does not come into touch with political reporting, she covers the glamour life of Barcelona’s upperclass society, attending cocktail parties and opera performances. One day however she is tasked to report about the brutal murder of Mariona Sobrerroca, a lady beloging to the said upperclass. She was the widow of a well-known physician. The police is under political pressure to come up with a quick result and the investigation is handed over to Inspector Isidro Castro.

Castro and Noguer meet as they have to cooperate. The police needs a little PR and Ana Maria needs Castro to learn the details about the case. An initially uneasy cooperation evolves into a somewhat trusted partnership. At first they follow a lead saying that Mariona Sobrerroca became the victim of an armed robbery. But Ana Maria has recruited the help of Beatriz, a linguist, to analyze love letters among the victim’s possessions. They conclude that the lady had rather fallen into the trap of a conman, contacting lonely wives to get their money. It all seems to fit together, the police is happy, Ana Maria’s editor-in-chief is happy. Ana Maria herself and Beatriz however have a doubt. It all looks to good to be true.

She and Beatriz continue the investigation that officially is closed, despite Inspector Castro’s explicit injunction to stay out of the way. Gradually they uncover a conspiracy meant to bury disturbing, compromising facts about Barcelona’s upperclass society. A dangerous undertaking as they find out.  Mariona Sobrerroca’s deceased husbands knew a lot of important families and many of Barcelona’s distinguished ladies. He also knew quite a few of their dirty secrets. The murderer of Mariona Sobrerroca knew that too. And so a cat-and-mouse game develops that takes us deep into the Spanish society under the rule of Franco, where the past catches up with the present and puts political careers at risk.

If the cunning plot of this novel is an argument good enough to buy it immediately, I would like to point out another lovely characteristic: The story has a lot to do with books, with writing, with literary style. Recruiting a linguist to uncover a hidden truth – even Inspector Castro has to admit at some point that literary sciences can be of direct practical use to society. Even if he doesn’t like the final result of Ana Maria’s and Beatriz’ conclusions.

I read a the last chapters of this novel while being sick, and besides Ana Maria and Beatriz, I had Mozart helping me through the day with his Piano Trio in D Major:

A Mozart Piano Trio to Recover from a Flu

Guilt, confessions and a murderous violin

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Jaume Cabré: Confiteor (English title: Confessions) ISBN: 978-2-330-02226-6 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ The focal point of this novel is a violin built in the 18th century in Italy: the very first “Storioni”. A violin of an extraordinary quality and of exceptional value. A dangerous violin as betrayal, theft and murder follow it from its birthplace in Cremona through the Nazi extermination camps to Franco’s Spain. Its dark secret comes to haunt the young Adrià, violin student and precocious humanist, as his father is killed. It continues to haunt him as it drives a wedge between him as a successful humanities scholar and his Jewish wife Sara. An extremely thrilling novel with many facets, however it requires a certain patience as Cabré jumps from one temporal level to the next, voluntarily blends the characters, the events and the contradictory feelings. An interesting technique, but…

The novel is full of musical references: Brahms, Bruckner, Bartok, Beethoven, Shostakovich, Schubert. But as a link to the novel I picked Pablo de Sarasate’s “Spanish Dances”, representing everything that young Adrià hates about his violin lessons:

In love with a German violinist