Creating a Visceral Sense of Place
By Layton Green
The Basque Country boasts some of Spain’s most breathtaking scenery and mouth-watering cuisine. It is also, at least within the pages of the runaway hit THE INVISIBLE GUARDIAN by Dolores Redondo, a place of dark crimes and buried secrets, a pocket of Old Europe engulfed in mythology and superstition.
A No. 1 international bestseller, THE INVISIBLE GUARDIAN follows a homicide inspector who returns to her long-abandoned hometown to solve a series of eerie murders. The novel was shortlisted for the CWA Dagger Awards and named Best Crime Novel of the Year by La Vanguardia. It’s a fascinating read and the first novel of the Baztán trilogy to be translated into English.
Dolores hails from San Sebastian (famous for many reasons, among them as a principal setting in The Sun Also Rises) and creates a visceral sense of place for her tightly woven psychological thriller. She was gracious enough to take the time to chat with me.
Thanks for taking the time to chat, Dolores. We’re thrilled to have you. This is my first time reading a modern crime novel set in Basque Country, and I loved the setting. Do you call this area home? Why did you choose to write about it?
Yes, I know the area very well. I come from a place close by, and I chose it to talk about the historical roots of the mythological and magical beliefs–which are very much still alive–and also because of the landscape, with such a strong natural force. It’s the perfect setting for a mystery and a police investigation!
Tell us a bit about how you came to be a published writer.
I always wanted to be a writer, and for a very long time I wrote short stories–until I said to myself that I was ready to write a novel. In the publishing industry in my country, this mixture of police investigation and mythology came as a surprise, as something new… and readers loved it!
THE INVISIBLE GUARDIAN, your debut novel, was a No. 1 international bestseller. That’s such an impressive achievement. Why did you choose to write this book?
I like the suspense and crime genre, but I missed stories that went a bit further, with more of a personal involvement of the investigator–which in this case is the main character–her family, her partner, her emotions and feelings… and also a setting rich in history that plays also a part in the characters’ behavior.
I really liked the mythological and supernatural overtones in THE INVISIBLE GUARDIAN. How close to reality is the book? Do pagan beliefs still hold strong in the Basque Country?
All over Europe in medieval times, the beliefs on witchcraft were battled by the Church through the Inquisition. The setting where my novel takes place was one of the most affected, as they had a huge magical presence due to a pre-Christian religion followed by the people of this region. Today some of those customs still exist as cultural traditions.
I’m always curious about literature tastes in other countries–how do thrillers and mysteries fare in Spain? What do readers expect in your genre?
I think there are two very important tendencies. On the one hand, the huge influence of the United States; and on the other, the European one, which in recent years has mainly come from the Scandinavian countries. I do think readers look more and more for a higher literary quality in the crime genre, as well as freshness and a direct connection with real life. I think they look for more originality, rather than just solving a murder.
Who are some of your favorite crime novelists, both at home and abroad?
In Spain, I’d name Alicia Giménez Bartlett. Internationally: Agatha Christie, Thomas Harris, Peter Straub, Stieg Larsson.
Which aspect of writing (character, plot, setting etc.) comes easiest to you? Hardest?
The plot comes easy to me; it grows and grows in my mind like it has a life of its own. The setting is something I really work on, as I do pay a lot of attention to where the story takes place and the history of that place–also the influence the setting has on the characters. For me, the greatest difficulty is to draw a character, give them life, feel them… and make the reader feel the characters as if they were real.
What advice would you pass on to new authors?
The most important is to read a lot. Also to take into account that first impressions in publishing are very important, so don’t send a manuscript until you feel this is the image you want to give, that this is your best work. Premature submissions thwart many careers.
What are you reading right now?
Right now I am writing my next novel. While I write, I don’t read any books that are being published at this time, so I don’t get contaminated. So, I’ve just finished Swan’s Way by Proust and I’m currently with Bleak House by Dickens.
Which book by another author do you wish you had written?
Mystery by Peter Straub. I can still feel, if I close my eyes, the breeze on Mill Walk. I think Lamont Von Heilitz is one of the best detectives ever created.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but there are two more books in the Baztán trilogy that have not been translated into English (this reader’s fingers are crossed). Are there plans for more translation? What are you working on now?
Yes, it’s a trilogy –so I hope Atria, my publishing house, will publish the next two books in the U.S. I hope they come out soon and readers like it as much as the first one.
At the moment I am currently writing a new novel, with a different crime, different setting, different characters… although I do want to go back to the main detective in THE INVISIBLE GUARDIAN, Amaia Salazar, one day with a new case.
To learn more about Dolores Redondo, please visit her website.