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Neighbourhood detectives

Dos y dos son cinco*

Laura Malasaña

Editions Barataria, 2007, 309 pages

Javier Sánchez Zapatero
Translation: Helen O'Sullivan

 

Dos y dos son cinco, the debut from the Catalan writer and journalist Laura Malasaña, includes three short stories starring Manuel Molina. Tired of the same old routine of working in a factory, Molina decides to completely turn his life around and, aided by a distance learning course and meticulously reading How to be a first-rate PI, he becomes a private detective. Despite his family's lack of enthusiasm on hearing about his change in profession, Molina manages to to open an office and even hire a secretary, Elena, who, being completely calm and with plenty of common sense, turns out to be the perfect counterbalance for the impulsiveness that guides Molina's actions. The interaction between these two characters is, in fact, one of the greatest assets of the stories, which show a constant conflict between, on one hand, a feeling of excitement and naïve dreaminess that seem to surround Molina, and, on the other, the analytical coldness that his secretary applies. Molina's Quijotesque view of the world – carried across by his narrative role and the way in which events are filtered through him to the reader – prompts several hilarious moments in the stories, as well as accentuating his anti-heroic character, graphically made clear in the first part of the compilation. Far from the pure mould of the classic detective novels of the genre and the serious nature of the cases investigated in such works, in El misterioso caso del asesino de perros (The mysterious case of the murder of the dogs), Molina, while dressed in a blue tracksuit, is hired to track down the culprit who has killed local elderly ladies' pet dogs.

The stories that make up Laura Malasaña's work are both tremendously lively and written with such rhythm and pleasantness that is is hard not to read them in one fell swoop. Collectively they stand out due to their authentic local tone – at times bordering on the esperpento – that the author uses to recreate daily life in the neighbourhood. Both ironic and critical, the stories starring Molina and those around him act as a link between the reader and the extraordinary atmosphere of reality-charges suburbia. Thus, our protagonist finds himself in Tarrasa: “a crumbling exhibition of factories which once gave meaning to the town, but then left it full of job seekers and cleaning ladies”. In this setting Molina worriedly contemplates how great things and and his long-dreamed-of heroic life of setting up a detective agency never came to fruition, and how he now has to take on cases concerning dog killings, the disappearance of wine bottle and the theft of video tapes. The apparent modesty of the cases he has to investigate is counteracted by the fact that, as Molina proudly declares as often as possible, they could be “straight off the tele”. This also helps him to demonstrate to his wife, Conchi, that giving up his safe job in the factory for the unknown, dream-fulfilling job of a private detective was not such a ludicrous idea as she thought. In fact, in the third of the short stories – El misterioso caso del famoso impertinente (The mysterious case of the brash celebrity) – it is precisely his wife who is more excited about Molina taking on the case. Despite being right in the middle of his family holidays on the coast of Almería, Molina has to solve the disappearance of a video tape of two celebrities together on the beach, shot by paparazzi. 

Pleasant and entertaining, Dos y dos son cinco highlights the writing ability of its author, and hopefully we will shortly see more of her work in bookshops. Her refreshing style, use of irony and story-telling ability make Laura Malasaña one of the most important names among the new generation of Spanish authors.

* Two plus two is five


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