City of Good Death by Chris Lloyd ~Goodreads~
Published by Canelo 2015
Kindle edition 318 pages ~Amazon~
Hey everyone! Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for the City of Drowned Souls by Chris Lloyd, and today I’m bringing you a review of the first book in the series City of Good Death as well as a guest post from Chris himself telling us about the research behind the books. Many thanks to Faye Rogers for inviting me on the tour!
An intense and brilliantly realised crime thriller set in the myth-soaked streets of Girona
A killer is targeting hate figures in the Catalan city of Girona – a loan shark, a corrupt priest, four thugs who have blighted the streets of the old quarter – leaving clues about his next victim through mysterious effigies left hung on a statue. Each corpse is posed in a way whose meaning no one can fathom. Which is precisely the point the murderer is trying to make.
Elisenda Domènech, the solitary and haunted head of the city’s newly-formed Serious Crime Unit, is determined to do all she can to stop the attacks. She believes the attacker is drawing on the city’s legends to choose his targets, but her colleagues aren’t convinced and her investigation is blocked at every turn.
Battling against the increasing sympathy towards the killer displayed by the press, the public and even some of the police, she finds herself forced to question her own values. But when the attacks start to include less deserving victims, the pressure is suddenly on Elisenda to stop him. The question is: how?
Research For The Books
“When you set books in a beautiful city thirty minutes from the Mediterranean, you just can’t get enough research. That’s my view at least and I’m not budging. Having said that, I’ve discovered that there does come a point when the research can take over and I’ll never be able to find a use for a lot of what I find. Sadly, that’s when I know it’s time to stop whiffling about and get on with the writing.
The Elisenda Domènech stories are about an officer in the newly-devolved Catalan police force in the city of Girona, so they do call for a fair bit of research. A lot of this is trying to understand how the police (Mossos d’Esquadra) and the judiciary work, which is very different from the way things are in the UK, and simply keeping up with life in Girona and Catalonia. When I first got the idea for the series, I was lucky enough to be awarded a bursary by Literature Wales, which meant that I could spend a month in Girona researching for the first book. It was tough, but I managed it…
For this initial research, my first job was to talk to the Mossos d’Esquadra. Until recently, there wasn’t a tradition of police procedural novels in Catalan or Spanish, so the police didn’t really understand why a foreigner was so keen on finding out so much about how they worked. Finally, though, they realised I wasn’t public enemy number one and they turned out to be really helpful. A sergent in the press office in Barcelona opened all sorts of doors for me and was incredibly patient in answering all my questions, no matter how bizarre they must have sounded. Even with that, there’s a bit of a difference between the official story and how the officers on the street actually work, but through a friend I met a Mosso who was one of the scariest characters I’ve ever met and who gave me the lowdown on some of the more informal aspects of the job. It was really useful, especially for adding more human touches.
The first book in the series, City of Good Death, revolves around a number of local legends in Girona. I first came across them when I was researching for a travel book, and I’d filed them away in my head. That was also when I discovered the Virgin of Good Death, a small statue above a gateway who was there in medieval times to give a final blessing to condemned prisoners being led out to their execution outside the city walls. The statue’s still there and it was incredibly exciting when I first saw it. I knew it had to feature in the book. Even so, I needed to find out a lot more, so I spent time in the city archives and looking for the parts of the city where the legends were set. That proved to be very useful in the end as I had to change a couple of strands, and the wealth of stories meant I had plenty of backups to choose from. A lot of people were really helpful here, including a museum director and an archaeologist, who gave me a private tour of a medieval apothecary before it had been opened to the public – unfortunately, that was one of the strands that was cut in an early draft, but it’s stored away for a future story.
The final piece of research at that time was simply wandering the streets of the city to get the feel of the place. I can’t stress how important that is. You really need to have a picture of your setting, get to know the sights and the smells, the noise from a shop and the heat from the pavement, the places where office workers congregate for a smoke and a gossip, the changing population in a café through the day. I looked for the home of each of my characters, where they shopped, what they saw on their way to work and where they liked to go for a drink or a meal. Perhaps I got a bit obsessive, as I used to imagine my characters talking to the real people that I came across and how they’d interact with them, but it helped me get to know them well and picture their lives.
Now, because I can’t always get to Girona as often as I’d like, I do a lot of research from home. I check out Catalan newspapers and watch the news most days on the internet, just to keep up with the buzz over there. I’ve got friends in the city who help me with all sorts of strange questions that I throw at them and I follow all sorts of accounts about the city on social media. I also follow the Mossos d’Esquadra on Twitter and on their website – it’s great for picking up not just ideas but also the little pieces of news and information that help me try to be accurate and real. Another essential is Google Maps, for when I’ve forgotten exactly how you get from this street to that square or which way someone would try to escape through the old town.
Coming back to what I said earlier, there is a fine line when it comes to research. It’s easy to want to know everything, but often you find that you can really only use a fraction of it. That can end up being not only time-consuming, but it also confuses the issue as there’s just too much rattling around inside your head clamouring to be used. But if you don’t do that extra bit of research, you can miss something that will transform a story – something you discover can send you spinning off down a path that you simply hadn’t thought of before that point. That’s happened to me a few times and they’re without a doubt the most exciting discoveries at any point in researching for a book. I’ve learned that for me, the secret is to focus my research on what I need to know, but to keep my eyes and ears open in case there’s a closed door along the way that’s just asking to be opened.”
I’ve never read a crime thriller set in another country other than the UK, so to learn that City of Good Death was set in Spain I was immediately curious as to where I would find it just as good as those set where I live. What I mean by this is simply that I find the one’s set in the UK easier to picture inside my head because I have a good idea of the setting, and the familiar places. So going into this book I was a little hesitant but intrigued at the same time, and I won’t lie it took me a while to get used to the Catalonia names but once I settled into reading I found the plot incredibly compelling. The descriptions of the settings were great help to allow me to form a picture inside my head of where the characters were. Chris Lloyd clearly knows the precise details of the setting from experience which I think is essential with writing about real places.
In the streets of Girona there is a murderer on the loose, and they’re using the rich history of myths and legends to eradicate the city of its despised residents; a loan shark, a corrupt priest, and a group of thugs. Sotsinspectora Elisenda Domènech and the new Serious Crime Unit are tasked with catching the killer, only the killer turns their attention to less deserving victims. The plot fitted in with the setting and my perspective of it really well, and I can’t stress how refreshing it is to read a crime thriller set in another country despite my hesitance. It was different in a brilliant way, and I absolutely adore our female detective Elisenda she is definitely up there with my top favourite detectives. The gutsy Spanish attitude really makes her stand out amongst her male colleagues, and being the only female detective makes her even more brilliant.
There are plenty of twists in this book as I would expect from a crime novel, and the revealing of the killer had me chewing my nails and my heart to race. My guess as to who it would be wasn’t strictly right but not wrong either…phew.
I’m excited to get stuck into the next couple of novels of the series to see what Elisenda is faced with next!
Chris was born in an ambulance racing through a town he’s only returned to once and that’s probably what did it. Soon after that, when he was about two months old, he moved with his family to West Africa, which pretty much sealed his expectation that life was one big exotic setting. He later studied Spanish and French at university, and straight after graduating, he hopped on a bus from Cardiff to Catalonia where he stayed for the next twenty-four years, falling in love with the people, the country, the language and Barcelona Football Club, probably in that order. Besides Catalonia, he’s also lived in Grenoble, the Basque Country and Madrid, teaching English, travel writing for Rough Guides and translating. He now lives in South Wales, where he works as a writer and a Catalan and Spanish translator, returning to Catalonia as often as he can.
He writes the Elisenda Domènech series, featuring a police officer with the newly-devolved Catalan police force in the beautiful city of Girona. The third book in the series, City of Drowned Souls, is published on 6 February 2017.