Alex vs. The Summer of Dead Toys
Thought I would compare two books that I’ve recently finished if for no other reason than they are both the first books in their respective series, will be published in the USA soon, I borrowed them from the library on the same day and they are written by continental European authors which is not my usual stomping ground, in fact I can’t recall reading anything from France or Spain previously.
What other similarities do they have? Well, the lead detective in Alex is Camille Verhoeven who is a widower following the death of his pregnant wife in a kidnapping case that has sidelined him from serious cases. Inspector Hector Salgado, the main character in The Summer of Dead Toys, is a divorcee returning from a suspension imposed for assaulting a suspect. So they are both alone and struggling to maintain their chosen career in the police force. I found Alex more taut and entertaining to read though without ever developing any particular fondness for Monsieur Verhoeven. The author skilfully sets up the initial kidnapping of Alex, the girl from whom the book takes its title, and places her at the centre of the piece where you expect a Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs scenario to play out while simultaneously developing the backstory of Verhoeven who has suffered the loss of his wife in similar circumstances and who consequently identifies strongly with the victim and can also be a conduit for ensuring that the pace of the investigation never relents as he has personal experience of the consequences. To avoid giving away too much, there are some wonderful twists and turns en route to a superlative denouement that will encompass role reversal between victim and predator as well as giving consideration to one of the frequent questions posed in crime fiction – if justice and the law are at odds which one would you rather prevail? At the end you can marvel at how far ahead one of the characters was in their thinking and execution in order to achieve what they wanted.
Turning to The Summer of Dead Toys, what we get here is arguably a more literary style book that favours characters more than plot which is not to say that the plot is weak or anything like that but simply that a greater amount of time is spent exploring the relationships of both Salgado and his associates and while this can be savoured as the writing is at times quite beautiful it isn’t directly related to driving the story forward. For me this ultimately proved to be the crux of the matter as the things I enjoyed most – the characters, the words, the writing style – were the very things that impeded / intruded upon the progression of the story and probably explains why it took me much longer to finish this one even though it is a shorter book (at least in terms of pages, don’t know about word count). I actually probably preferred Salgado as a character to Verhoeven in that he feels more rounded and his relationships and concern for those around him feature strongly. Featuring two separate cases, one which Salgado is investigating and one in which he is the suspect as a result of his previous assault, it is a race against time to uncover whether an apparent suicide is indeed that before he himself is potentially arrested for his role in the disappearance of the man he assaulted. Before he can uncover the truth though he will have to venture into another case long since forgotten and identify who Iris was and how she is affecting events many years after her death.
So if you’re looking for something to help you meet one of your reading challenges which one should you choose? I’m going to award this one to Alex on a score of 9 to 7 (out of 10) as it was much more fun to read and was one of those books that you would seek out at the end of the day in order to find out a little bit more of what was going to happen. If you are of a more sensitive disposition though you might want to give consideration to bypassing both books.