Author: Rafael Reig
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
181 pages • £8.99
We loved Rafael Reig's last novel, Blood on the Saddle, so it was with high hopes that we cracked the spine on his latest. Sadly, we were destined to be disappointed; A Pretty Face doesn’t fizz as Saddle did. Which isn’t to say that it’s bad – just not perfect.
Like its predecessor, Face is set in a futuristic Madrid, where evil corporations loom large over the populace, rubbing shoulders with drunk detectives and gormless gangsters. As with previous detective fictions, the city is as much of a character as its lead, with glorious descriptions of its streets and canals sometimes more detailed than the inhabitants.
Bad Reig is still better than most authors on a good day. Handling metaphor as ably as Raymond Chandler, Rafael’s love of language is still there on every page. And the plot is just as brilliantly ludicrous as its predecessor. Like The Lovely Bones if it were directed by Terry Gilliam instead of Peter Jackson, Face is narrated by a dead girl. Except this dead girl was an author in life, and she’s being haunted by one of her characters (a grotesque, sex-obsessed teenager). Which is obviously a bit of a distraction when you’re trying to solve your own murder.
Despite her great premise, the lead character is where A Pretty Face falls flat – we didn’t realise how much of Saddle’s joy rested on the slumped shoulders of its hero Carlos Clot. He still appears, but not quickly enough to compensate for his replacement’s whining tone. By diminishing Saddle’s hero, Reig’s knocked a star off this review – but his poetic grace is enough for us to let him keep the other four. Bring back Clot, and we’ll discuss a fifth…