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Dead In Madrid, And Looking For Your Own Murderer

Raphael Reig's previous novel, <em>Blood on the Saddle,</em> was short-listed for the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger, a prize for foreign crime fiction.
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Raphael Reig's previous novel, <em>Blood on the Saddle,</em> was short-listed for the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger, a prize for foreign crime fiction.

Every woman knows what "a pretty face" means. It's right up there with "great personality" in the backhanded compliment department. "Great personality" means "ugly," and "pretty face" means the woman is, as Maria Dolores calls herself, "a fatty." Maria, the heroine of Spanish writer Rafael Reig's A Pretty Face, is also recently deceased. The story follows her ghost as she wanders around Madrid trying to solve her own murder.

Maria dies from a shot to the head on the day she finally gets some action after leaving her brilliant (or mad?) husband, a scientist who's on a mission to defeat death with his work on the K666 neuroprotein. The friend Maria slept with left some papers behind, and two men with guns showed up to collect them.

"I always thought that on dying my life would flash before me like in one of those film trailers with bits of the main scenes... No way," says Maria, who narrates A Pretty Face with exasperation and humor. Nothing about the afterlife is what she expects — there's no white light, no peace. The only person who greets her on the other side is halfwit Benito Viruta, the main character in the young-adult novels Maria writes. The last of her books was titled You're Crazy for Reading This, so you can guess how excited she is about Benito's presence.

Reig — whose 2006 novel Blood on the Saddle was short-listed for the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger, a prize for foreign crime fiction — takes all of the traditional elements of noir and tips them on their head. The private detective her father hires might still be a scotch-drinking, world-weary mess, but Maria is not your typical noir dame. And though much of the dialog is hard-boiled, the story is set in a parallel version of Madrid, where the United States has invaded the Iberian Peninsula, Spanish is outlawed and drug dealers are strung up as warnings to others.

Reig delights in keeping his readers on their toes. For such a brief book — it can be read in one afternoon — it covers a lot of ground, and all of the elements come together at the end. Reig is playing around in A Pretty Face — and inviting his readers to play along.

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