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'Blood Red' is the second book in the Primavera Blackstone series, written by Quintin Jardine, and published in January, 2010. This is the 3rd series involving crime solving that the Scottish author has written, and this one appealed to me the most of the three from the outset. I found I had a real interest in the female lead of the series, and the setting in Spain was really a good contrast to his earlier novels set mainly in Scotland.
I actually read this book first in the series. I wasn't aware it wasn't the first one, and just dived in. In this case, it didn't matter that much, as the characters were all fully fleshed and I could follow the plot of the book without any trouble. There were a couple of references to things that had happened in the earlier book, Inhuman Remains, but this just piqued my interest to read it later.
Primavera is the ex-wife of the famous movie star, Oz Blackstone. (Primavera was a character in the Oz Blackstone series also written by Jardine, so she was already a fully fleshed character to me having read some of this earlier work. Again, not necessary to have done so, as there is enough information here for her to stand alone in this series.)
Oz has died, and Primavera is now living with their son, Tom, aged 8, in the village of St Marti in Northern Spain. Trying to keep herself occupied while her son is in school, Primavera runs a tourist information booth from her house. When she hears about her friend, the owner of the local wine shop, is trying to organise a wine festival, Primavera offers her services in organising it.
Unfortunately one of the local men is directly opposing it for his own personal reasons. When Primavera tries to stand up to him, he tries to bribe her, and calls her a whore. This publicly known spat comes back to haunt her when the man turns up dead with his head bashed in, with her being the main suspect.
Primavera turns to her friend, the local Priest, who helps her go on the run and try to prove her innocence. I was left wondering all the way through if she would indeed be able to manage this, or if she would end up thrown into a spanish jail.
This novel really caught my attention in many ways. Firstly, as a crime novel, Jardine is up there among the best crime fiction authors in my opinion. Just enough gruesome forensic information to keep my interest, coupled with amateur sleuthing, and a plot that twists and turns, never ending up how you expect. Add in the lovely descriptions of the sights and scenery of Spain as seen through the eyes of an ex-pat, you feel almost like you are there seeing these unexplored areas of spain just off the beaten track.
Then there is a potential romance between Primavera and the Priest. A whole will they or won't they, which is really quite tantalising as you go along with the story. There is an obvious connection between the two, but a sense of loyalty and duty sitting in the way. And the spectre of Oz is never far from Primavera either.
I feel I can see how Jardine has become a much stronger writer through the first series he wrote featuring the police detective, Bob Skinner, and this means that the later books have few of the flaws such as lack of continuation between stories. There are also a lot fewer characters in this book, so you are not head scratching trying to work out who killed who in the garage with the spanner, cluedo style. I found this new series pretty perfect.
My only criticism is sometimes Jardine tries to hard to get in references to make the book seem modern and relevant, and make sure we are aware that the main character is a female. The style of the book is really quite chatty with lots of personal information. While some of this makes the book stand out, some of it, I really thought irrelevant. There were at least 3 references made to the fact that Primavera likes to shave off her pubic hair. Now to me, that bears no relevance to the story whatsoever, and the fact it is brought in 3 seperate times really stood out to me as a bit odd compared to the flow of the book. I didn't mind references to her showering after the gym, sleeping naked, needing to buy supplies for her menstrual cycle, or dying her hair. All that seemed relevant, but this just irked me, particularly the description of it being itchy when growing back while she is on the run. I got a cringe. Something this author has done to me a few times now in different novels, though I do keep forgiving him and reading more as it is just a minor niggle.
I've read many crime novels, and I think this one did stand out to me, mainly from the setting in Spain, but also the informal style. Primavera is one tough cookie who will deal with situations in a pretty unique way, especially if her life with her son is threatened. In some ways she reminded me of characters like Sydney Bristow in Alias. Not out for the tough life, but will deal with it if it comes her way.
Another excellent crime novel from Jardine, and I will look out for others in the series as book one and two were both powerful and entertaining.