SPAIN BOOK REVIEW: ‘Blood Med (Max Cámara 4)’ by Jason Webster

Blood Med

Spain is corrupt and on the brink of collapse. The king is ill, banks are closing, hospitals are in chaos, homes are lost, demonstrators riot and rightwing thugs patrol the street. The tunnels beneath the streets are at once a refuge and a source of anger. And as the blood flows Cámara roars in on his motorbike…

 Cámara is back in Valencia, with his partner Alicia and his anarchist, marijuana-growing grandfather Hilario. In the old police headquarters, the mood is tense, as the chief hunts for cuts – who will go, Cámara or his friend Torres? The two men are flung into action investigating the suicide of an ex- bank clerk and the brutal murder of a young American woman. As the city erupts around them, their case takes them into the heart of the trouble.

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Blood Med is the fourth in the Max Cámara series by Jason Webster, following on from Or the Bull Kills You, A Death in Valencia and The Anarchist Detective. The story starts in early summer Valencia, where Cámara is back at work as the Chief Inspector at the Policía Nacional, after extended leave. Living with his now-unemployed girlfriend Alicia and his grandfather Hilario, readers are instantly given an insight into Valencia and its current state.

The King of Spain is close to death, throwing a huge cloud of uncertainty over the country already on the brink of collapse. As pro-Republican supporters hit the streets, ready to reclaim the nation from its monarchy and right-wing government, Cámara is assigned the murder of a young American blogger named Amy. Thanks to cutbacks in the Jefatura, the decrepit boss, Maldonado, has pitted Cámara against his friend Torres, each given separate cases to solve. In previous times, the pair have been found working together to solve cases and eat paella, but now their separate performances will decide who keeps his job, and who loses everything.

Enter a new character, Laura Martín, the only member of the sexual violence team. The differences between Laura and Cámara are apparent; she is blunt and a stickler for rules, and for some reason Cámara continues to call her by her first name, unlike other female members in the squad. As they search for Amy’s killer, Laura is convinced Amy’s Valencian husband is the culprit, while Cámara feels there are other avenues to explore. While the unlikely pair work together to find out why an everyday girl was murdered execution-style, they quickly find there is nobody they can trust.

It is not only Cámara’s professional life that highlights the corruption and despair of living in present day Valencia. Uneasiness hangs over Cámara’s happy home with the prospect of lay-offs, Alicia has no work, and they are helping Hilario, a golden character if ever there was one. Cámara’s grandfather had a stroke (in the previous book) and has relocated from Albacete. The trio work with the homeless living in underground tunnels abandoned after money to complete the metro lines (the same which destroyed Cámara’s home in book two) dried up. People are broke and desperate. Jobs are nowhere to be found and suicide is on the rise as people are forced from their homes by the banks. The streets are filled with protesters, labelled terrorists by the ridiculous and inept regional government. The striking misery of the city attacks Cámara personally, when he is forced to hunt down medication he needs for his grandfather, as pharmacies are no longer paid by the government, leaving people powerless to care for themselves. Immigrants are being harassed, the poor have nowhere to turn, and banks are being shut corralito style so the city doesn’t go bankrupt.

Cámara’s life falls in a deep pit of anguish and torment (have tissues handy) when the realities of the cutbacks to essential services touch him in such a way that it’s hard to believe Valencian’s live such difficult lives. Despite the immense pain of living in Valencia’s dark and brutal reality, there are still deaths to be solved. As Cámara tries to find Amy’s killer and help Torres with his similar killing, a storm of evil rears its ugly head in the crevices of the city, bringing the murders and corrupt bastards which have destroyed Valencia into daylight.

The book is far removed from the previous in the series. The first two almost seem light-hearted in comparison, such is the decay of Valencia, and the third gave readers an imperative insight to Cámara’s life and family. The book needs no stretches of the imagination – it shows what a blight corruption has made on Valencia. The lack of medical supplies, the rising factions – left and right, the violent divide between the rich and poor are laid bare, in a way no other writer has even attempted to portray. Max Cámara is the one of the few characters I look forward to reading, and along with the others around him. Cámara’s girlfriend, his grandfather, those whom he works with, or meets under the city, all have strong characteristics that make you love or loathe them. Driving on Cámara’s motorbike through the streets, the feelings of both the characters and the once-noble city can easily be felt. So many books talk of sunshine, the food, the beaches, but here is a book that takes on another reality, along with the serious issues which face the region of Valencia, distinct from the rest of Spain. This book was released the same week as the abdication of King Juan Carlos, followed by the streets filled with people, calling for freedom, an eerie coincidence indeed.

There are parts of this book I didn’t enjoy, though this is no disrespect to the author. The fact that women are treated as disposable, cheap fuck-toys to hurt and kill with indifference is hard to read, but is a part of how men from certain lifestyles and values see women. The evil, vulgar and sickening behaviour of the cretins in this book could well use a trigger warning for readers who feel uncomfortable with such sexual violence, something that won’t leave my mind in a hurry. That said, the book should not be dismissed as something using sexual violence for entertainment, rather the author has wandered into territory which is reality in a world gone mad.  The book is credible in its portrayal of Valencia and its current state, as is the feeling of those who are faced with having to struggle in this environment. Readers will be desperate for the vicious thugs, from the violent right-wing Franco lovers on the street, to the other super-scum, those in Valencian power, to be brought to their knees (and worse!). Sadly, whether everyone gets what they deserve in their interlinked web of corruption, either in real life or the Cámara series, will remain to be seen.

Five stars to Blood Med. May the Max Cámara series have a long and illustrious life. I don’t read crime books very often; this is a series worth an exception. Cámara may be king, but Valencia has become a dark queen thanks to Jason Webster.

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