"Startling . . . Blood Crime (beautifully translated from the Catalan by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent) has a sort of concentrated power that’s rare in horror novels. It’s akin to poetry." —The New York Times Book Review
It is 1936, and Barcelona burns as the Spanish Civil War takes over. The city is a bloodbath. Yet in all this death, the murders of a Marist monk and a young boy, drained of their blood, are strange enough to catch a police inspector’s attention. His quest for justice is complicated by the politics, dangers, and espionage of daily life in a war zone. The Marist brothers of the murdered monk are being persecuted; meanwhile, a convent of Capuchin nuns hides in plain sight, trading favors with the military police to stay alive. In their midst is a thirteen-year-old novice who stumbles into the clutches of the murderer. Can she escape in this city of no happy endings?
Narrated by a vampire who thrives in the havoc of the war, this stunning novel, inspired by the true story of a massacre in the early days of the Spanish Civil War, is a gothic reflection on the nature of monsters, in all their human forms.
|Publisher:||Soho Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||4.90(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Martha Tennent & Maruxa Relaño are a mother-daughter team of English-language translators, working primarily from Catalan and Spanish. Martha Tennent has received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts for her translation of The Selected Stories of Mercè Rodoreda. Maruxa Relaño was a translation editor for The Wall Street Journal and has written about immigration, local politics, and the Latino community for several US publications, including the New York Daily News, New York Magazine, and Newsday. They currently live in Barcelona.
Read an Excerpt
Often, when I am overcome by thirst, I put myself in mind of the Holy Spirit. Contrary to what superstition holds, vampires do not experience disgust when we find ourselves in a church. The sight of the symbol of the cross has never bothered me, except on one occasion, in a tract along the Hungarian border, when a pastor seized the opportunity while I lay sleeping on my litter and drove a cross into my chest. I yanked it from my body with one hand, and with the other I ripped out the pastor’s heart, squeezed the blood from it, and drank greedily. Then I impaled his body on a stake that marked the separation between two fields. Buffeted by frigid gusts of wind, he quivered like a tattered scarecrow lost in a night without reprieve or hope. I left the cross plunged in the ground at the pastor’s feet.
No—neither the cross nor Christian temples trouble me; as a matter of fact, in another life, deep in my past, I was very devout. And now, in my present-day life, I find the thought of the Holy Spirit soothing. For finally, it too is a devil—a daemon—both of us classed among those beings whose existence is inconceivable to men. I admire the qualities ascribed to the Holy Spirit, for they are the traits best suited to the governing of one’s own nature: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, science, compassion, the fear of God. Mercy is the manifestation of a killer’s compassion; the fear of God, a euphemism for the victim’s anguish when faced with imminent death. Science to refine the method of slaughter, fortitude so as not to falter in the hunt, understanding in order to reach one’s final goal, counsel to accept the void of an existence beyond the confines of time, and wisdom to bear it. The word most frequently employed to label what I am is monster, and it does not trouble me to put it down in black and white. The Holy Spirit is also a monster. God is a monster. And it is a well-known fact that He infused monstrosity into all of creation.
From where I stand I can hear the sound of bombs exploding, resounding in the night like a threat, like an approaching thunderstorm. Men killing men, for gain or for the pleasure of it. I have seen it again and again, and I never tire of it. Places where violence reigns suit me, for there I can hunt most easily. Countries at war, ravaged cities, blood-filled streets: In all of them I have been moved by man’s perseverance in the exercise of cruelty. There is a mathematical figure that quantifies evil—unknown even to monsters, demons and most vampires—and a war always expresses at least a decimal fraction of this figure. Perhaps even more than that here in Barcelona, where an evil of uncommon brutality thrives and has taken possession of men in the most absolute of terms. I roam with complete freedom, unnoticed by brothers who sacrifice brothers, fathers who inform on sons and sons who kill fathers or have them killed; among merchants of misery and whoremasters of death, among gossipmongers of crime and peddlers of depravation. Vile, ravaged city that takes pleasure in toying with the idea of its own extinction.
I am sated as I write this, fully satisfied after drinking the blood of the priest I slaughtered only moments ago, though I must admit it entailed more of an effort than I had anticipated. To satisfy one’s thirst is a vampire’s only duty, and in order to fulfil it, one of the first things every vampire must learn is to single out and favor the easy prey. Men and women of faith are often precisely that, all the more so in this city, pulverized by war, that has turned them into cannon fodder. And besides, even if no one were pursuing them, a life of prayer slows one’s reflexes and weakens the muscles; devotion supposedly prepares one to accept death serenely, or at least with resignation. Supposedly, I say, because this one today made things as difficult for me as he could: He fought, struggled, scratched, and screamed as if he had gone mad; on two occasions he even uttered the most terrible blasphemies against God, whose minister he boastfully purported to be. I should mention the slight trace of incense on in his clothes, for it enhanced the sweetness that filled my mouth as I greedily swallowed the blood that gushed from the ruptured vein in his neck.
Before killing him, I paused for a moment to observe him. He was in his alcove, hunched over a desk reading the Gospel According to Saint John. He was reading in the manner of the elderly, his finger following the lines, mumbling through the text in a low voice. I was able to catch a few words. He had chosen the story of the resurrection of Lazarus, which is also the story of a monster. I have frequently asked myself: Was Jesus truly moved to see Mary Magdalene weeping? After all, she had anointed his feet and shown such veneration when she wiped them with her hair. Is it not possible, then, that by resurrecting her brother he was simply trying to please her so that she would show her gratitude by lavishing more ointments and caresses on him? Be that as it may, the evangelist recounts that, upon hearing Mary of Bethany’s weeping, Jesus asked to be led to the tomb of Lazarus, where he addressed God with solemn words and immediately thereafter ordered the sepulcher to be opened. The dead man stumbled out, his arms and legs bandaged, his face wrapped in a shroud. Jesus then instructed that he be unbound and allowed to walk. And that is what the dead man did, his intact face showing no sign of decay, not a trace of stench, his skin rosy, his limbs flexible and agile—his condition much the same as that of a vampire emerging from the tomb.
This was most assuredly not the reading that my priest made: For him, the resurrection of Lazarus could only be seen as God’s commitment to man—set down in the Sacred Texts—granting the true life promised by His Church after earthly existence. At this very moment the priest must be ascertaining the authenticity of this commitment. If he was correct, his soul must now be tumbling down through the circles of hell, because he died offending God in thought, word, and deed, as well as by omission. An entire life of renunciation and prayer only to fail at that final moment in such a pitiful and irreversible manner. As my priest writhed and I quenched my thirst, I could sense the Holy Spirt among us: Ruach HaKodesh, as the Jews say. The voice from heaven.
The futility of the human being reaches its maximum expression in the chill of the tomb and the putrefaction of the flesh. The ludicrous dream of great human endeavors—whether of empires, ideas, cities, or fortunes—finds resolution in the grey, repulsive color that dead things acquire. For not only men are mortal; the things they construct, clash over, and covet are similarly transient. Only monsters are exempt from death, for the simple reason that we are not alive. I have known men and women who have willingly surrendered their blood to me in exchange for a false promise of immortality to which they clung as an infant clutches at its mother’s breast. The transit from human form to that of a monster is arbitrary. No will can guide it, no incantation can arouse it, no peculium can procure it. No one can save anyone from death, least of all God, who has little interest in the matter.
These, then, are the terms of the farce, and one’s reaction depends solely on the expectation each has formed for himself. If there is, however, one thing I can affirm with certainty, it is that, of all the usual errors that plague the human adventure, expectation is without a doubt the most ridiculous. Not because everything can be attributed to chance, as is commonly believed, but because chance does not exist. There is no order, or pattern, or hierarchy. The human species is an isolated accident that occurs in the midst of chaos. There is nothing more.
Faced with such inconsistency, I find it surprising that men have not been more inclined to supplant God and assume His functions and powers, thus committing the great sin of imposture with the loftiest, most blasphemous intention of all: to infuse life into inanimate objects. I was in Prague when an angry, deranged rabbi known as Judah Loew created the gargantuan and clumsy Golem—a vaguely anthropomorphic doll modeled from clay. The rabbi would place in Golem’s mouth a piece of papyrus with a written command, and the doll would begin to move its arms and legs and execute its master’s directive; at a later moment, Judah Loew would retrieve the papyrus from the creature’s mouth and it would fall inert, like the simple, ordinary mass of clay that it was (the rabbi liked to spread the rumor that the command written on the piece of paper was one of the secret names for God, and curiously enough, in many people’s opinion this lent veracity to the whole charade).
I also happened to find myself in Paris when one Vaucanson gained notoriety with his Duck, an automaton that became the talk of the town. It was a copper figure that was a perfect rendering of a duck in every way, allegedly able to eat and drink, splash about, preen, and, finally, defecate into a silver basin. “Duck with digestive tract,” it was called. Of course, eventually it was revealed that the whole thing was a hoax: The grain that was supposedly fed to the duck ended up in a compartment hidden among the gears, and the animal’s defecation was nothing more than a paste stored in the lower part of the automaton, a device far more limited and naïve than Golem. As was the mechanical chess player that another visionary—Maelzel, he called himself—paraded around Europe to the enthusiastic acclaim of the crowds. No one wished to believe that the purportedly invincible dummy housed a master player inside it, a man who indeed was never defeated by any of the incautious men who challenged him, including Emperor Napoleon himself.
All were frauds, crude attempts to imitate life, or to appear to. But the truth is that, with the same dedication expended on destroying life, men have often endeavored to understand and marshal the mechanism that makes it possible. For finally, what exactly is life? What separates it from death? Life is an enigmatic and often repulsive phenomenon: The flesh of men and animals pulsates after death, and peristaltic contractions persist in the intestines for quite a while. Even after being ripped from the body to which they belonged, muscles contract when stimulated. There is the well-known story of an English officer sentenced to death for high treason: He was slit open while still alive, his heart ripped out and tossed into the fire; the organ started bounding up and down, reaching almost a meter into the air, and continued to do so for seven or eight minutes. A similar phenomenon can also be observed in polyps, which do not simply continue to move after they have been cut into pieces—they regenerate in a matter of days and form as many new polyps as slices have been cut. And worms, caterpillars, flies, and eels all have one thing in common: Their mutilated parts preserve the ability to move; and this ability is augmented when the parts are submerged in hot water. Frog hearts can beat for more than an hour after being removed from the body, especially when exposed to the sun or placed on a surface at the proper temperature. Living bodies, like those of automatons, are merely machines. Is it a certain temperature, then, that activates their spring mechanisms? Or is the temperature the effect, rather than the cause of the process? Is the breath of the Holy Spirit the original cause of life?
I often find it difficult to distinguish men from beasts because I feed on them both and because they react with similar terror when faced with their own demise. While I was enjoying myself my priest was still writhing on the mosaic floor, spasmodic like the heart of a frog or a decapitated hen, fury and hatred in his eyes. If it is true that eternal life awaits them (not this monstrosity of a life that we vampires share with God and the Holy Spirit, but the golden, luminous redemption that people promise one another) then we can only assume that they would be capable of conducting themselves in a less disappointing fashion.
Men abhor the idea of being murdered, yet enthusiastically embrace the possibility of becoming murderers. All of them, without exception: The human race is nothing more than a long lineage—ancient and extraordinarily populous—of assassins. This is the problem of human freedom: As soon as an individual believes he has attained it, the first thing he does is to concentrate on eliminating his congeners. Order is reestablished when another person takes his life; almost without exception, order entails repressing the appetite for crime by committing another crime. That is why, more than anything else, war is the simultaneous fulfillment of the desire to kill accrued to all the individuals of a generation. A moment of collective deliverance, an enormous, devastating sigh exhaled from the depths of the souls of victims and executioners alike.
For this reason, in the presence of a boy, I do not see a child but a potential murderer, and in some instances this potential has already been fulfilled. Once I had finished with my priest, I searched for an exit that would allow me to flee without being seen, and I slipped through a small side door and found myself in a narrow, unpaved alleyway. That is where I found him: He was playing with a spinning top on the dusty ground. He couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old. He was wearing trousers of coarse cloth and a tattered sweater, and had snot all over his cheeks. There he stood in the soft light of morning with the toy in his hand, his wide-open, almond-shaped eyes fixed on the blood smeared across my face. I found myself again filled with that thirst that is never fully quenched.