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Book Review: Blood Crime by Sebastia Alzamora

The author doesn’t sugarcoat anything and the story is made that much more horrific by the brutal atrocities committed by the worst monsters of all: the human ones.

Soho Crime is an imprint that’s been doing some pretty impressive work for a while now. They publish a lot of international authors, some of them to high acclaim, such as Fuminori Nakamura, but some that would possibly never gain any notice here were it not for them and while it’s true that they are—to state the obvious—largely a crime imprint, they aren’t afraid to push the envelope as long as there are elements of crime mixed in with whatever other genres it might be mashed up with. And while Sebastia Alzamora’s Blood Crime may well be their first horror offering, it’s likely to leave you hoping it won’t be the last.

In Blood Crime, Superintendent Munoz is a police inspector in Barcelona, Spain who becomes obsessed with the brutal murders of a Marist monk and a young boy that stand out amidst a slew of monk slayings throughout the city. The year is 1936 and the Spanish Civil War is in full swing, bathing the city in blood and corruption as the anarchist republicans seize power and begin to persecute members of the Catholic clergy. The two deaths that Munoz is interested in are different because the victims have had their throats viciously ripped out, their bodies exsanguinated. Any fan of horror fiction will recognize the cause of death right out the gate, but it isn’t a huge leap of intuition as the book starts out with one of multiple journal entries by the vampire.

But Blood Crime is more than a vampire story, so much so that the vamp is really secondary to the thread of the story for a large portion of the book, only making narrative appearances a few times in the tale in spite of it being billed as “narrated by a vampire”. What it’s really about is the bloody horrors of war and the depravities and indulgences of monsters of all stripes. Alzamora strips away the imagined glory and glamour of war, exposing the ugly underbelly of reality and laying bare the hard truths that any survivor of real war is familiar with. The author doesn’t sugarcoat anything and the story is made that much more horrific by the brutal atrocities committed at the hands of the worst monsters of all: the human ones. If you are sensitive to large quantities of blood and extreme violence, this is probably not the book for you.

Translated from the Catalan, Soho placed Blood Crime in more than capable hands when they chose the mother daughter team of Martha Tennent and Maruxa Relaño Tennent as their translators. Sebastia Alzamora is a brilliant wordsmith, a much awarded poet with an obvious love of the written word, and his gorgeous prose is well served here, particularly in the passages narrated by the vampire:

“The futility of the human being reaches its maximum expression in the chill of the tomb and the putrefaction of the flesh. The ludicrous dream of great human endeavors–whether of empires, ideas, cities, or fortunes–finds resolution in the grey, repulsive color that dead things acquire.”

Alzamora’s alacrity with description and exposition is nothing less than exceptional and the brutal and violently blood-soaked events of Blood Crime flow beautiful, sublime, and oddly gentle from the tip of his adept pen.

Blood Crime is a mash-up of literary, historical crime fiction with underpinnings of horror. And therein lies one of the two potential elephants in the room. Some vampire purists may be put off by the sparse appearances of the vampire and the hyper-intensive focus on the horrors of war, the barbaric cruelties of humanity, and the political intrigue and elements of espionage that surround such an event. But make no mistake. While the connection between vampires and the Spanish Civil War are tenuous at best, there is horror aplenty to be found in this tour de force of a gothic thriller. The other slight downfall to the book is the ending, or rather the lack thereof. It literally stops midsentence, leaving a lot of loose ends and unanswered questions. And maybe that lack of finality is an intentional device but it’s likely to leave some people less than satisfied with the outcome.

Written in the tradition of gothic horror authors like Lisa Mannetti and Susan Hill, Blood Crime with its mixture of crime, horror, and history is perfect for a stormy fall evening, curled up next to the fire with a warm brandy and a cozy blanket or a cat to cuddle up with. It’s a thoughtful and incisive book that looks deep into the abyss of human cruelty and requires some deal of reflection upon completion. Sebastia Alzamora is a master wordsmith whose talent is well represented here in this English debut that is hopefully just the first of many to come from this impressive and promising Spanish author.

SHANE DOUGLAS KEENE

Publisher: Soho Crime
Paperback: (288pp)
Release Date: 13 September 2016

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