Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Long Siesta - guest blog by Nick Sweet

I'm down in Torquay today, taking part in the Agatha Christie Festival, of which more before long. In the meantime, here's a guest blog from Nick Sweet:

"Apart from having its Spanish detective, Inspector Velázquez, wrestle with a heroin habit, my new crime thriller, The Long Siesta, is unusual because there is a sense in which the history of the Spanish Civil War finds itself being rewritten within its pages. Actually this is all dealt with in the ‘book within the book’ that I worked into the novel. 

Let me explain. It is often argued by historians that the Civil War might not have taken place at all had General Franco not been able to make his way over to Las Palmas, from where he could easily fly to Spanish Morocco, where his fellow Rebels were eagerly awaiting his arrival so that the plan of attack on the Spanish mainland could be thought-out and ultimately launched, thereby kicking off the conflict. But Franco was on the island of Tenerife, and had already been given permission by the Ministry of War to make an inspection tour of Gran Canaria barely a fortnight before; and so he knew that if he were to make a new request, it was more than likely that permission would not be granted for the trip. In short, he needed a pretext to travel to Las Palmas; and the subsequent death of General Balmes conveniently provided him with one
While the question as to how General Balmes died is still a moot one among historians, it is clear that Balmes’ death benefitted Franco, by giving him a funeral to preside over on the island of Gran Canaria. The question is, did the future Generalísimo have his fellow officer bumped off, or was Balmes’ death brought about by suicide or the result of an accident? 

Readers of The Long Siesta will be happy to have this question answered for them; because—surprise! surprise!—it happens that one of the characters in my novel turns out to be the General’s killer. Balmes’ death, in fact, as arranged by my character (whose identity I’d better keep in the dark, to avoid ruining the story for readers), facilitates the start of the Civil War. Strangely, perhaps—or perhaps not so strangely—my killer is motivated by love. He threatens to ‘kill somebody important’ if the girl he lives won't have him; and, well, despite being fond of him, she is young and feels overwhelmed by his advances, so she refuses him. Her decision ultimately leaves her wondering whether the Civil War might have been averted, had she only been a little less timid.

I wanted to link episodes which took place during the Civil War (which of course raged from 1936 to 1939), with events in the more recent past (in this case, the summer of 1998); and managed to find a way of doing this that focused on a killer who was busy murdering priests in Seville in the most violent and gruesome fashion imaginable. In Spain the Catholic Church has always played an important part in the life of its citizens, and it also played a key role in the Civil War; so I wanted to bring the clergy into the novel. 

I was lucky, in that my reading of history—in this case, Paul Preston’s magnum opus on General Franco—provided me with a true to life murder mystery that has yet to be solved to this day. I took this as a way in, without really knowing where I was headed; then, after a priest is found dead in his own home on Seville’s Calle Viriato (apparently after calling an escort agency and asking for a gay young man to be sent over to his place), a second priest shows up in the Guadalquivir. Are the two murders linked? Well, Inspector Jefe Velázquez is convinced they are, and he sets out to investigate… And while he was about it, he dragged yours truly along after him as I clung to his coat tails." 

Thanks, Nick, and best of luck with the book.

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