Mala Vida

Marc Fer­nan­dez, Molly Gro­gan (Trans­la­tor)

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - DANIEL SCHINDEL

Ar­cade (JAN­UARY) Hard­cover $24.99 (288pp) 978-1-62872-743-2

Real his­tory and contemporary events col­lide in Marc Fer­nan­dez’s crime novel Mala Vida.

Ra­dio host Diego Mar­tin finds him­self the Span­ish me­dia’s to­ken left­ist af­ter an elec­tion brings the na­tion­al­ist party back into power. Then, Is­abel Fer­rer’s ac­tivist group drops a bomb­shell: Fran­cisco Franco’s mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship, which ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975, ab­ducted thou­sands of ba­bies from dis­si­dents and put them up for adop­tion. Diego plays a key role in break­ing the story, while also in­ves­ti­gat­ing a string of mur­ders of pow­er­ful right wing fig­ures who are all con­nected to the Franco regime’s child traf­fick­ing.

The book is writ­ten in crisp present tense, of­ten with the rhythm of a tick­ing stop­watch. There’s an feel­ing of para­noia, with the leads con­stantly look­ing over their shoul­ders for spies and hur­ry­ing from one bit of busi­ness to the next. Set­ting de­tails con­dense a lot of cul­tural con­text into an eas­ily un­der­stood form.

This crime novel does not much turn the screws in on its char­ac­ters, though. Even when thugs threaten them, they are not too in­tim­i­dat­ing, and re­sults don’t al­ways feel earned as much as they seem handed to char­ac­ters. The plot feels con­strained, with only a few named in­di­vid­u­als play­ing a sig­nif­i­cant role.

The lost chil­dren of Fran­co­ism are a his­tor­i­cal fact, and the novel works hard­est to ex­plore how those in­jus­tices hap­pened. That takes pri­macy over the mur­der plot, which is all but an af­ter­thought, with the per­pe­tra­tor re­vealed to the reader early on. The de­tails of the child ab­duc­tions are com­pelling.

Mala Vida is riv­et­ing in its adap­ta­tion of his­tor­i­cal re­al­i­ties into a thriller at­mos­phere.

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