The Summer of Dead Toys, Antonio Hill
$15, 362 pgs
“No one has ever been killed out of love; that’s a fallacy from tango.” - Héctor Salgado
This story grabs you on page one and refuses to relinquish its grip. From the first page: “It’s been a long time since I thought of Iris or the summer she died. I suppose I tried to forget it all, in the same way I overcame nightmares and childhood fears. … I’m six years old, I’m at camp and I can’t sleep because I’m scared. No, I lie. That very early morning I behaved like a brave boy. I disobeyed my uncle’s rules and faced the darkness just to see Iris. But I found her drowned, floating in the pool, surrounded by a cortège of dead dolls.” Yeah, try to shake that image. Good luck to you.
Today I am genuinely excited to introduce y’all to a major new talent in the American literary market. The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill, translated from the Spanish by Laura McGloughlin, is the American debut of a bestselling thriller from Spain. Inspector Héctor Salgado, Argentine by birth, is a veteran of the Mossos, Barcelona’s police force. An intelligent man with a dry wit, he carries a sense of melancholy and bewilderment – his wife Ruth has left him for another woman and taken their son Guillermo with her, though they have maintained goodwill, even love, for each other. Salgado has been on leave from the force due to a rare violent incident in which a brutality complaint was lodged against him by a suspect in a Nigerian sex-trafficking ring. Hey – who can blame him? You handle the case of a particularly nasty suicide by one of the underage victims and then you can argue with the inspector.
Salgado’s first case when he returns appears at first cursory glance to be a simple matter of an accidental death: 19-year-old Marc Castells’ body was found on the paving stones below his attic window, where he’d been known to enjoy a last cigarette before bed, following a night of partying on the eve of San Juan. From the beginning something about this case tweaks Salgado’s radar and that was before everyone in Marc Castells’ orbit begins receiving mysterious emails from someone who signs his- or herself “alwaysiris.” In order to get to the truth of what happened to Marc Castells, Salgado will have to travel back in time to solve Iris’s death and sort fact from fiction, supposition, and prejudice involving issues of economic privilege, right-wing politics, the Catholic church, and a cult of personality inspired by a particularly charismatic classmate of the victim.
One of the many delights of The Summer of Dead Toys is the depth of its characters. Inspector Salgado is our main protagonist but the supporting characters are so well-developed that this is really an ensemble cast. Leire Castro, Salgado’s new partner, is particularly intriguing – young and new to the force, she is a thoroughly contemporary woman working in a hidebound, traditionally male career. In less-skillful hands Agent Castro might be a trope but Antonio Hill has breathed real life into her. Hill’s plotting is intricate but never convoluted, his pacing relentless, the clues expertly and precisely placed. And you know how the inevitable subplot is so often a trifle, a mere distraction, but somehow assumed to be necessary? Not so here. The subplot here is necessary.
Go immediately to your local indie bookshop and start reading The Summer of Dead Toys today. Why? Because the sequel, The Good Suicides, was released in June AND I’ve got it right here in my hot little hands. I know! I was delighted, when I liked this one so much, to know that I didn’t have to wait to dive back into Salgado’s Barcelona and hang out with Agent Castro again. By the time you finish the first installment, I’ll have the review for the sequel ready for you. Look for the review of The Good Suicides in a few days right here!