In the hills above Valencia is a notorious nightclub called Sunset. When its larger-than-life owner, Jose Luis, dies suddenly, everyone assumes it was a heart attack. Perfectly understandable for a man of his age, size and lifestyle.
Meanwhile, all is not well for Max Cámara at HQ. His new boss, Rita Hernández, has it in for him and his idiosyncratic methods. He must abandon a complex investigation into home-grown extremism to check out what looks like a routine death at Sunset. But an anonymous phone call suggests otherwise…
Back in the city, Max’s journalist girlfriend, Alicia, is working on a lead that could turn out to be the story of her career. How her own investigation connects with Max’s at Sunset, and an unholy network of drug dealers, priests and shady officials protecting a dark government secret, will place both their lives in jeopardy and push everything to the very edge.
(Before I begin – I make no apology for being MIA with Spain book reviews. I didn’t see anything I wanted to read for months. Admittedly, I didn’t look too hard. If I missed something worth reading, leave me a comment)
What can I say about Max Cámara. Fatal Sunset is the sixth book in the series (I’ve reviewed the others here) and the author has decided to really mix things up this time. Fatal Sunset is longer than the previous books, which is a nice bonus, taking in a far bigger plot than in the past.
Cámara is a Valencian cop who was in Barcelona during the last book, another was based in Albacete. This time he is back in his home city, and out in the Sierra Calderona, the mountains outside Spain, aka my favourite place on Earth and the location of three of my own books, so I was thrilled to get into this novel.
The book starts off from the point of view of the victim, and gets weird fast. Page 2 has the guy reminiscing about his childhood, watching water run along the insides of his mother’s thighs as she washes her ‘down there’ (dude! wtf). But it’s okay, because he’s a victim and is dispatched.
Off to Max Cámara himself, back at the station in Valencia, and wow, he is a changed man. Cámara used to be a likeable, pragmatic rogue, breaking all the rules (in a city/country which was so riddled it didn’t matter). But that guy seems to have withered with age. The world is changing, and at least attempting to clean house, and the women now in charge of the station want everything done properly, not rude, not disrespectful, not wasteful or illegal. Only Cámara doesn’t agree. Cámara seems to go out of his way to be difficult right from the very beginning. He’s handled some high profiles cases in the past and now has developed one hell of an ego. Congrats to the author; it would have easy to just pump out another book with the same old character traits, but Webster hasn’t taken the easy route or written a flawless character.
Cámara likes to continuously point out that he comes from a long line of anarchists, like his wonderful grandfather, and how he likes the disorder and defiance that comes with being an anarchist. Only it doesn’t work for Cámara anymore. He is middle-aged; what he learned as a kid, and was influenced by family, isn’t so important, for now he has had plenty of time to develop his own ideals; he could be a grandfather himself. Cámara isn’t aspiring to be a good anarchist to make granddaddy proud, rather he is a breed of man, breed of cop, which is dying out, and he is rebelling against everything, like an angry kid.
Fatal Sunset bounces between characters for its point of view with every chapter, with enough characters to rival a Games of Thrones book. There is Alicia, Cámara’s girlfriend (girlfriend? She’s middle-aged too. Sidekick maybe), who is, as usual, digging up conspiracies and stories but seems to achieve little, which is a shame. As Cámara and Alicia works to solve murders and unearth conspiracies, they never work together that well. We get to hear about how she makes breakfast half-naked, or the way her thighs wrinkle when she puts on pants, but Alicia is not a strong character anymore. She has also undergone a transformation, much like Cámara; failure to adapt has also left Alicia misplaced in the world.
However, there is Carlos, the ‘bad guy’, who is digging up stuff on Alicia, and Cámara by association. Carlos is a stiff, self-inflated guy, but the trouble is, he is better at what he does than Cámara and Alicia. The ‘bad guys’ are ruthlessly efficient, where as Cámara is an old-style detective in a new world and seems to succeed with luck as much as with experience.
But the whole theme of old v. new shines through in the short-burst chapters which flick between characters. There is no denying that policing (and the world) is changing around Cámara; the days of sitting around eating paella with his buddy Torres are done. The seedy elements of Valencia, and Spain in general, gives a feeling that the place is as stale as the endless cigarettes. Webster has done a fine job in setting the tone and the vibe of everyone and everything. It’s hard to be specific without giving away the big scandals Cámara and Alicia find (no spoilers here!) but there is a sense that if Cámara didn’t spend so much thinking about himself and how he liked to be different, he could have been more successful. Sometimes it is easier to bring something down by playing by your opponent’s rules rather than your own. Cámara never really figures that out, or at least, never gives it a try. Webster has made a character you want to see succeed, but also want to ring his sweaty neck. Kudos on that score.
There was one passage that stuck out for me, pg 193
Either side of the bag strap, her breasts hung low on her chest, nipples splayed to the sides. Below, her belly was taut and firm, yet the skin sagged in small crescents beneath the navel, where he first airs of her pubis crept up, heralds of the dark silhouetted triangle of her sex. Cámara watched in awe. But for her age, and the signs of motherhood, she appeared like an embodiment of Artemis, the Moon goddess herself out hunting during the hours of night.
And this is just a sliver of the long description of the character. Really, Cámara, really? The characters in the book are all barely described, yet here Cámara is, in the countryside perving on women who run their land nudist-colony style. She could look like a goddess if only she didn’t have qualities that make women real, like age and being a parent? Really, Cámara? The constant descriptions of women as objects makes me feel uncomfortable while I read. I used to like you, Cámara, but you are practically ageing yourself out of the system with the sexism and casual homophobia. Women’s bodies are decorative features to be described for entertainment, and there are people who use words like ‘poof’, as if they were shot out of a cannon in the 50’s and landed in the 21st century by accident. Cámara is circling around a world that needs to change, whether people like it or not. The criminals are evolving, still scum, but evolving. Cámara needs to as well. Both he and Alicia are essentially good people, but this time have not done a great job with their investigations or behaviour.
Congratulations to Jason Webster for his latest installment; six novels based on one central character is no easy feat for a writer, and Webster has successfully moved the character into a new stage in his life in Fatal Sunset, rather than just churning out a book which could have just coasted on the success of previous editions. Thank you, Jason; I have not had a book in my hands that had me turning the pages this fast in a while, or thrown it in frustration at times. This book is certainly not a boring read.
If we see Cámara and Alicia for book seven, I hope they get a holiday first! Cámara needs to chill and eat rice again, but ease up on the marijuana – really, at your age, Max? Just don’t ever leave Alicia behind; a crime character with a steady relationship is rare (no rolling through women like he’s at a drive-thru for Max), and one main reason that sets Webster’s series apart from the generic crime series that are available. I have no interest in reading any crime series other than Webster’s.