In a guardian article on best crime fiction in English translation Ann Cleeves mentioned Eugenio Fuentes’ novel The Depths of the Forest – El interior del bosque. Since Stu‘s and Richard‘s Spanish Literature Month was upcoming and I’ve never read a Spanish crime novel before, I thought it would be an excellent choice.
The book starts chillingly with the POV of the first victim. Gloria, a beautiful painter, is hiking alone in Paternóster, a remote nature reserve, in Spain. She feels dread but since she’s all alone, there doesn’t seem to be any reason. A few minutes later she’s murdered brutally. This isn’t a spoiler. Her murder is revealed on the bokk cover and happens in the first few pages. The next POV is quite unusual. A rat finds Gloria’s body. The following paragraphs are written from the point of view of a group of young boys who torture scorpions and discover Gloria’s body. The POV switches again, this time we are in the head of Richard Cupido, the PI hired by Marcos, Gloria’s fiancé. Marcos is sure that the Guardia Civil, the local police, are not going to investigate thoroughly and hopes Cupido will find the murderer.
Most of the story is written from Cupido’s perspective but many chapters are told from the point of view of the many suspects. When a second woman is murdered there are even more suspects. In spite of these many different perspectives, the book didn’t feel disjointed.
Most of the men who came in contact with Gloria fell in love with her. And it seems that she had affairs with most of them. Was it a crime of passion? Or has it something to do with an ongoing lawsuit? El Paternóster used to belong to a rich widow who has been fighting to get it back for years. Did she take drastic measures to discourage the public from visiting?
Cupido turns in circles for a long time. He gathers information but it’s leading nowhere. And he becomes obsessed with Gloria himself.
Having finished the novel, I’m facing a huge dilemma. I want to be fair to a novel, which is clearly on the literary side of the crime spectrum, and would most certainly delight many readers, but at the same time I have to admit that this wasn’t for me. Not because it wasn’t good but because it contained a recurring scene of an act of cruelty against an animal (a deer) that made me sick. I skipped most of the parts but still read too much for my own liking. It wasn’t a gratuitous scene but nevertheless, I wonder why an author chooses to include scenes like this. I think this is too bad because if those scenes hadn’t been included I would have liked this book. I thought that all the aspects about nature and how people value it in different ways was thought-provoking and topical. From the nature theme we’re lead to think about human nature. Clearly, the cruelty is part of these explorations. Cupido is a complex character and most of the other character studies were quite fascinating too. The way Fuentes captured this nature reserve and its remoteness, was very well done. Fascinating and eerie at the same time. And I really wanted to find out who killed those women. But overall the novel was too pessimistic for my own liking. While I agree that humans are the most cruel animals in this world, I don’t want to read about it in this way. Or Nnot if illustrating this point includes scenes with cruelty against animals. If this doesn’t bother you and you like your crime novels unusual, literary and very bleak – don’t miss this.