Bitter Lemon Press, 2013
originally published as L'hora zen, 2011
translated by Peter Bush
softcover; UK (available in the US May 2013)
A strange small statue, a dead neighbor, and a murder at an "exclusive, luxury alternative centre" where the wealthy go for Bach-flower and other homeopathic therapies are only part of the lineup in this third (and unfortunately for me, the last right now) installment of Solana's entertaining series set in Barcelona. The brothers Borja and Eduard are back and once again find themselves in some pretty wild predicaments; the usual Solanaesque satirical punches are intact, this time aimed at alternative therapies, what people will do to stay forever youthful looking (especially plastic surgeries), and there are also little hints of barb pointing at the world of writers and readers. With more focus on the brothers and a better flow than in book two, A Shortcut to Paradise, here the author adds to the mix of brotherly craziness, murder and the vegetable sausage fare of the alternative therapy center by placing her characters into the realm of spy fiction and rare art as well.
As the novel opens, someone has broken into the brothers' office, and the place has been overturned. Going all postmodern on her readers, Teresa Solana injects herself as a character seeking the help of Borja and Eduard, and has an appointment that day. Not wanting to give away the show that their office is a setup, Borja remembers that his upstairs neighbor had given him a set of keys to his apartment, so they decide to meet the author there. While routing around the place before her arrival, the brothers stumble on to a dead body -- that of the neighbor -- who's obviously been there some time. With Solana on her way, though, they take a bit of their non-existent secretary's perfume and spray it in the neighbor's flat for her visit, hoping to disguise the smell of decomposition. The author's request is simple: she's writing a novel about "alternative therapies," and wants to set some of her chapters in the area north of the Diagonal, so she comes to the brothers to enlist their aid in gathering research for her. They are only too happy to help -- the credit crunch and economic downturn leaves Eduard's wife Montse unable to procure a loan for her business, and money is tight all over; Borja has even agreed to be a middleman and hold on to a small statue until he is called to deliver it, an easy task for the reward he'll get of several thousand Euros. After Solana's visit, they quickly clean up any traces of themselves and leave the door open for the smell to waft down and the body to be discovered. They then make their way to the Zen Moments center, where they wangle their way into a weekend stay; after suffering through a few not-funny practical jokes, the brothers are on hand when the owner of the place is discovered dead. Their friend, Inspector Badia, wants them to help catch the killer, which may be difficult, because Borja has become the focus of a group of thugs who want something he has; since Borja's involved, Eduard is along for the action.
There's so much in this book -- antiquities trafficking, spies, the mafia, murder, and of course, the sardonic look at alternative therapies -- and as usual there are some very funny moments with the brothers, both while pursuing their line of work and at home. The satire is great, as always, but at some point there has to be a limit -- as much as I love her tongue-in-cheek critiques, the murder investigation had little complexity, and offered way too easy of a solution, making the resolution to the murder rather unexciting, and frankly, rather flat. And really -- a character named Lord Ashtray is just silly and didn't appeal. As I'm writing this I'm sitting here wondering if maybe she's not writing her books for the crime element as much as the social -- if this is the case, then I suppose a rethink on approaching her novels is in order. Anyway, the action in The Sound of One Hand Killing leaves no doubt but that the brothers will return in another installment, and that they will be dogged by business left unfinished in this one.
So, my final words on this book -- I liked it with only a few reservations, and do recommend it for readers continuing with the series (if you haven't read the first two, definitely do not start with this one); it has some very entertaining moments and I absolutely love the brothers and can't wait to see what trouble they get into next. While I'm a little less than overwhelmed with the murder solution, the entire series is worth reading because of the main characters -- their craziness will keep me coming back for more.
***oh yes! Because I'm a moronica sometimes, I accidentally bought two copies of this book, so if you would like my extra copy and you live in the United States, I'm happy to just give it to you and I'll pay postage. Don't be embarrassed to ask -- you'll be doing me a huge favor helping me to keep my library manageable! Not a contest -- first person who comments gets it.