The Invisible Guardian, by Delores Redondo***-****

theinvisibleguardianThe Invisible Guardian has received widespread acclaim in Spain. It will be available to English speaking audiences March 8, 2016. My thanks go to Net Galley and Atria Books for the DRC, which I received in exchange for an honest review. I rate this book 3.5 stars and round upward.

The title comes from the Basajaun, which translates to “invisible guardian”. It’s a mythological creature, large, hairy, filled with kind intentions; sort of a goodhearted Bigfoot. Protagonist Amaia Salazar is a detective who finds herself drawn back to the Basque country, where she grew up and where her family resides, in order to solve a mystery. Locally, many residents regard the Basajaun as undeniable reality. Salazar deals with this, in addition to limitless family drama, in order to solve the crime.

I really struggled with this novel. There were times I felt I was being talked to death, and I am guessing that Basque conversational tradition may be very different from that of the US. I was stunned that a detective would be permitted to run an investigation in which her own family members are considered suspects, but since it isn’t discussed beyond a brief conversation in which Salazar is offered the chance to hand the case off to someone else, it is probably a thing that is done in that part of the world. I can’t see how it would become an international best seller if not. Or perhaps I am naïve.

At times it feels as if there was far too much personal drama, and it seems to distract from the mystery. Some of it turns out to be germane to the case, and other parts are included primarily to develop the protagonist. On top of the relationship issues between Salazar and siblings, Salazar and in-laws, and Salazar and her colleague, she is trying to become pregnant, and we have to deal with her feelings about that. If it were up to me, the pregnancy thread would be yanked and saved for a future installment if used at all. It seems like one thing too many.

I did a huge eye-roll during the scene in which a local resident wants to know whether the body was bitten by a bear or the Basajaun, and Salazar explains that it’s too early in the investigation to know, one way or the other. There are also hideous sexist assumptions and statements in the dialogue throughout the book, but these will be dealt with near the end, so don’t abandon the story over this alone.

To the positive, I wanted to read this novel partly to stretch my own cultural boundaries, and in that I succeeded. When I think of Spain, I tend to think—as urban dwellers often do—of its cities, art, and music. I knew nothing, nothing, nothing about the Basque people. I still don’t know a great deal, but I got my toes wet, and everyone has to start somewhere.

In addition, Redondo can tell setting like nobody else. The descriptions of areas I have never been and never will are adroit and visceral. I felt as if I were the invisible presence standing alongside Salazar.

It seems unfortunate that there is new information introduced during the last ten percent of the novel, without which the reader has no possible opportunity to unravel the mystery. However, the plot and pace pick up significantly, and many of what seem to be extraneous story elements are braided together so deftly that my overall impression of the novel is greatly improved.

For those interested in learning more about the Basque culture, this novel is recommended.

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