Home > 2000, 21st Century, Crime Fiction, History of Spain, Malvar Aníbal, Noir, Polar, Spanish Literature, Translation Tragedy > A Fly’s Wing by Aníbal Malvar. A stunning Spanish crime fiction novel.

A Fly’s Wing by Aníbal Malvar. A stunning Spanish crime fiction novel.

A Fly’s Wing by Aníbal Malvar (1996). French title : Comme un blues. Translated from the Spanish into French by Hélène Serrano.

Aníbal Malvar wrote A Fly’s Wing in Galician and it was then translated into Castillan. The French translation I’ve read is based upon the Castillan version.

Madrid, winter 1996. Carlos Ovelar is at home when his ex-wife’s husband calls him on the phone. His daughter Ania is missing. She’s 18 and he doesn’t want to tell his wife that their daughter disappeared. So he doesn’t want to involve the police. But why would he call his wife’s ex to investigate their daughter’s disappeance? Because of Carlos’s past life as an agent of the Spanish secret services, the House. He was hired by his father who was at the head of the House during the tricky years of transition between the Franco era and democracy. Carlos feels that he shouldn’t accept this job and keep working on this photography business. But his only encounter with Ania was memorable enough to push him into action. He accepts and goes back to his native Galicia to start digging. Ania’s father gives him the keys to Ania’s apartment, thinking Carlos would be the first to know if she came home.

Carlos hasn’t been back to Galicia for twenty years and this trip brings back memories. He soon discovers that Ania is probably involved in the local cocaine drug trafficking. He wants to find Ania, even if it means that he ruffles some feathers or needs to cash in some favors from former colleagues of the House. He keeps on investigating even if he stumbles upon the ghosts of his married life and his years at the House or if it confronts him to his unhealthy relationship with his father.

A first murder implies that Ania is deep into a highly dangerous organization. Why does Carlo’s father show up at Ania’s place out of the blue? Why is the Old Man meddling in this? What’s in it for him?

The drug dealing plot brings us to the 1996 Galicia. More than the end of the journey for pilgrims, Santiago de Compostela is a hub for drug trafficking, tobacco and arms smuggling. The place doesn’t ooze with Christian feelings. Malvar is a journalist and he’s known for his articles about the terrorist group ETA and about drug trafficking. His plot is plausible, well drawn. He might have even heard of this quote during an investigation for a paper:

Une fois, un junkie m’a affirmé que le monde n’était qu’une hallucination que Dieu se serait tapée en pleine overdose de coke. Dieu y serait resté, mais le monde aurait survécu à l’hallu, devenue éternelle. Once, a junkie told me that the world was only a hallucination that God would have had while overdosing on cocaine. God wouldn’t have made it but the world had survived and the hallucination went on forever.

Carlos reflects on his past with the House and his relationship with his father and former boss. The two are intertwined. The Old Man was the head of the House when a coup threatened the young Spanish democracy, on February 23rd, 1981. The Old Man orchestrated this putsch to prevent a real one from Franco’s old supports and rally the people around their new democracy. This was new to me and I found this part very interesting. I never considered what happened in Spain in these early years after Franco’s death and how the old guard must have clutched the armpits of their chairs to remain in place.

Carlos delves into his past and Malvar gives life to Spain in the early 1980s. Franco died in 1975. The young democracy is trying out its fragile wings. The House has to find new occupations for their agents

Au début des années 80, la Maison s’était concentrée sur les stups et le terrorisme, une fois les franquistes tardifs convaincus que les facs ne regorgeaient plus de trostkystes et de stalinistes, mais de gens occupés à étudier et à baiser. In the early 1980s, the House focused on drug traffiking and terrorim as soon as the last Franco supporters got convinced that unis weren’t full of Trotskists and Stalinists but only full of people occupied with studying and fucking.

It is the beginning of la movida and people start to breathe, to party to shrug out of the heavy clothes of Francoism.

La vraie vie reprenait ses droits chaque soir. Madrid commençait à respirer la liberté, la movida, le poing et la rose. Il y avait une révolution madrilène qui ne révolutionnait que la nuit, et c’est d’elle qu’allait naître la postmodernité. La nuit était le creuset libertaire du futur imminent. Les policiers s’efforçaient de se faire discrets et le fascime ordinaire ne gueulait plus en chemise de nuit au balcon. La rue bouillonait de futur. Real life was taking over. Madrid started to exhale freedom, la movida, the fist and the rose. There was a Madrilene revolution that only revolutioned at night and postmodernity would emerge from it. The night was the libertarian pot cooking up the imminent future. Policemen made themselves scarce and ordinary fascism was no longer yelling in pyjamas from balconies. Streets bubbled with future.

Apart from the crime plot and the reflections about the young Spanish democracy, A Fly’s Wing explores the complex relationship between Carlos and the Old Man. Carlos was hired by his father when he was the House’s commandant. The Old Man is a high powered secret agent, someone who has all the strings to make history. And in his book, making history is worth all the sacrifices, including manipulating his son and killing his chance at happiness. A Fly’s Wing is also the story of their twisted relationship. Carlos is in a love-hate relationship with his father and he can never shake his hold on him.

Le problème, avec nos aînés, c’est qu’ils seront toujours plus vieux que nous; ça leur accorde une autorité fictive, on se sent comme des mômes à côté d’eux. Mon vieux était là, en train de me faire la leçon, les pieds sur la table et la bouteille de whisky à la main, bourré comme un coing et fier comme un seigneur. Mes quarante et quelques balais me sont tombés des mains et le môme que j’étais instantanément redevenu n’a pas eu la force de les ramasser. Je supposer qu’ils étaient trop lourds. The problem with our elders is that they’ll always be older than us. It grants them some fictional authority and you feel like a kid besides them. My old man was here, lecturing me, his feet on the table, a bottle of whisky in his hand, drunk as a skunk and as proud as a king. My forty and some years fell from my hands and the kid I instantly became again wasn’t strong enough to pick them up. I suppose they were too heavy.

His father is controlling and manipulative. He shows an unhealthy interest in the women in Carlos’s life. Susanna, his ex-wife. Ofelia, his girl-friend during his years at the House. And now Ania, the missing teenager. The Old Man’s actions ruined Carlos’s life. He roped him into a career he wasn’t ready for, sabotaged his son’s love life and didn’t behave as a father. Carlos came out of these years bruised and battered. He never recovered from his years working in the secret services.

Mon passé est un cimetière bourré de gens que je n’ai pas su aider. Certains cadavres respirent encore. Ce sont eux qui me font le plus mal. Il y en a d’autres que j’ai à peine connus, mais dont les yeux s’ouvrent et me regardent dès que j’éteins la lumière. Il y a tellement de fantômes autour de moi que parfois, j’ai peur de me découvrir immortel. My past is a cemetery full of people I failed. Some bodies are still breathing. Those are the ones who hurt me the most. Some of them I barely knew but their eyes open and look at me as soon as I shut the lights out. There are so many ghosts around me that sometimes I’m afraid I might be immortal.

He carries his ghosts around, invisible balls and chains.

A Fly’s Wing is a breathtaking equilibrium between the crime plot, the portrayal of pivotal years in Spain’s recent history and Carlos’s angst and personal story. All this is written in an evocative prose. Carlos’s voice sounds like a voice over in an old movie. I think it’d go well with Ascenseur pour l’échaffaud by Miles Davis, even though the book comes with a playlist. It’s available on the publisher’s website and it’s not exactly Mile Davis.

Atmospheric is the operating word to describe Malvar’s brand of prose. It’s true in the literal sense of the word, the weather is a huge part of the book. It’s winter in Galicia and it rains all the time. Carlos drives in downpours, his stakeouts are full of humidity and it gives a dramatic twist to the burial scene of the novel. It reminded me of Marlowe in rainy LA. In fact, it’s like Chandler’s manna hover over Malvar’s pen and Marlowe is giving Carlos a friendly hug. Ania is the femme fatale of the book, even if she’s absent. She weighs on the story and reminded me of Laura by Vera Caspary. You see this is one fine specimen of classic noir.

I loved A Fly’s Wing and it will probably belong to my year-end list. It lingered on my mind. I was enveloped in its prose and I think that the French title of the book is aptly chosen as it sums up its atmosphere. The original title, Ala de mosca means A Fly’s Wing. It refers to the type of cocaine that is at the centre of the trafficking. The French title is richer, at least for a French reader. Comme un blues means Like a blues song. And Carlos is blue and he’ll always be a bit down because of his past. In French, bleu / blue has also another meaning. Un bleu is a rookie and that’s what Carlos remains compared to his father. Despite the passing years, he’s still a naïve beginner when it comes to shady dealings.

A Fly’s Wing is a fantastic piece of literature and I’m so grateful that Asphalte éditions picked this and brought it to the French public. I’m sorry to report to Anglophone crime fiction lovers that this little gem of Spanish literature is not available in English. In the Translation Tragedy category it goes.

To end up with a merrier tone, since I’m French and we probably have a cheese for every occasion, here’s the cheese St Jacques de Compostelle that I bought when I was reading this.

  1. May 1, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    After listening to that panel about dictatorship and the transition from Franco, I’ve been thinking that it might be an interesting period to read about. I was of course very young back then, so wouldn’t have any memory, but I don’t remember my parents mentioning anything later either – but then, they weren’t living in Spain, so perhaps little was known in other countries.

    Like

    • May 1, 2017 at 8:17 pm

      I’m with you: it’s a period that would be interesting to explore and that panel convinced me of this. I was even younger than you. I just learnt in school: “Franco died in 1975. Democracy came back to Spain. In 1986, Spain joined the EU.” But I never thought about the impacts of the changing of regime, which is stupid, really. It’s something fascinating in Balzac, the “morning after” the end of Napoléon Ier.

      Like

  2. May 1, 2017 at 8:51 pm

    At first I thought this isn’t for me but the more I read, the more it sounded appealing. Franco Spain seems an eternity away but you can still find very old people in Spain who think it was better under him.

    Like

    • May 1, 2017 at 10:01 pm

      I think you’d like this one a lot.

      Like

  3. May 2, 2017 at 8:27 am

    It sounds like a great story, an effective combination of the personal and political. What a shame it’s not available in English. We’ll have to hope that someone picks it up – Europa Editions, perhaps?

    Like

    • May 2, 2017 at 1:13 pm

      I really hope it gets translated. You and Guy would love it.

      Like

  4. May 2, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Love the cheese!

    Like

  5. May 2, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    I was just thinking I’d try this until I got to the bit about no translation…

    Like

    • May 2, 2017 at 9:45 pm

      I kept thinking of how much you’d love this. A shame it’s not available in English.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. May 2, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    Translation tragedy! Noooooo!

    It sounds very, very good. I was about ready to go and put it on a list to pick up later when I saw the translation tragedy bit. Let’s hope it does get an English translation. We should all message Europa…

    Like

    • May 2, 2017 at 9:46 pm

      Unfortunately, it’s not available in English. Is there a publisher specialised in translated Spanish lit?

      Like

  7. May 3, 2017 at 9:27 pm

    After getting quite excited about this (I like the idea of blending history of this period into the crime story) now I find I can’t get to read it unless I first significantly improve my French reading skills….

    Like

    • May 3, 2017 at 9:32 pm

      I’m sorry, I know it’s disappointing…Join Max and message Europa 🙂

      I write billets about books that are not translated because my blog is my reading journal and some of my regular readers can read in French.

      Like

      • May 3, 2017 at 9:41 pm

        Dont worry Emma, we are not having a go at you!

        Like

        • May 3, 2017 at 10:23 pm

          Phew, I’m relieved! 🙂

          Like

  8. May 7, 2017 at 9:29 am

    This sounds right up my alley! I love crime novels that mix in political events. I’m going to try and source the Castilian version. Thanks for reviewing this!

    Like

    • May 7, 2017 at 11:20 am

      Great! I hope you can find it and please let me know what you thought about it.

      Like

      • May 7, 2017 at 2:21 pm

        This is gonna be a tough one – it’s out of print. Maybe I can get a used copy somewhere…

        Like

        • May 7, 2017 at 2:44 pm

          Well it’s just been published in French, so it’s easy to get.

          Like

  1. August 11, 2017 at 4:42 pm

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

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