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Gaudí Afternoon (The Cassandra Reilly Mysteries)

Gaudí Afternoon - Barbara Wilson, Barbara Sjoholm I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for a review. Thanks to NetGalley and Open Road Media for the book!

I did assume that this was a new book, and requested it solely based on it being a mystery set in Barcelona. I hadn’t heard of it before, and didn’t know that there’d been a movie based on it. So I came to the book without preconceptions.

It’s very much a light, breezy mystery – nothing dire or upsetting here. If anything, I’d describe it as a comedy of gender.

Translator Cassandra Reilly (who seems to bear some resemblance to the author herself) is approached by a friend-of-a-friend and offered what seems like an easy job: someone fluent in Spanish is needed to accompany her to Barcelona to help locate her estranged husband, who needs to sign some legal paperwork. Since she’s got friends in Barcelona, loves the city, and hey – free trip! – Cassandra jumps at the chance. But once in Europe, it turns out that not everything she was told – or, possibly, anything she was told – is true.

The plot moves along at a good clip, and kept my interest – but I have to admit, at several points, I had to say, “Why is Cassandra still involved? At this point I’d’ve washed my hands of the lot of them, and called the police!” But, assuming that Cassandra is just a natural busybody who is swayed by her infatuations more than a woman of her age probably should be, her involvement in a quite dysfunctional family and their feud over child custody is quite engrossing. Sjoholm (aka Wilson) has a nice feel for language, and while the perspective of Barcelona shown is strictly a tourist’s viewpoint, not an insider’s or a resident’s (having visited Barcelona, I recognized most of her scenery, and have no doubt that the author visited as well); it comes through vividly.

It did feel slightly dated. Feminism and gender politics have changed since 1990. It probably shows my own age and perspective that I found the portrayal of the queer ‘scene’ here to be familiar, almost comforting. I felt that there were a good number of insights into gender and identity here, without the book entering the realm of politics. Mostly, however, the gender question is used as a recurring plot device.

One thing I felt was peculiar… when I did discover that there was a movie made of the book, I was half-way through. I looked at IMDB, and noticed that Juliette Lewis played the character of April. April is described as ‘ample,’ her skin is referred to as ‘brown,’ she has dark eyes and ‘frizzy black hair.’ I said, ‘huh? Juliette Lewis is a skinny white girl!’ Then, in the book, April reveals that her heritage is Czech and German!?! I dunno, I’d been seeing her as black.

Other issues – I kind of wished that the frequent ‘excerpts’ from the (fictional) novel that Cassandra is working on translating more directly informed the main storyline. While entertaining, they seemed rather random. There’s also a ‘red herring’ that seems quite shoehorned-in.

Still, quibbles aside, this was a quick and enjoyable read, and I’d certainly read more by this author.