The second in the Baztán trilogy of murders in the Basque country of Spain. This one was translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia.
The plot: “A year after arresting Jason Medina for the rape and murder of his step-daughter, Detective Inspector Amaia Salazar has one last duty to complete before starting her maternity leave – attending Medina’s trial.
When the trial is suddenly called off, Amaia is appalled. But the judge had no choice. Jason Medina has committed suicide in the bathroom of the courthouse, leaving behind a cryptic note addressed to Amaia: the single word ‘Tarttalo’.
What message was Medina trying to send with this obscure reference to Basque mythology? To unravel the truth, Amaia must return once again to the Baztan valley, her family home and the place where she feels most vulnerable. As the investigation becomes more complicated and more personal, those closest to Amaia will be placed in mortal danger.”
OK, well she finally got preggers at the end of the last book, and now has a baby, and there is just way too much agonizing about breast feeding, about leaving the kid with her husband or aunt while she goes swanning off on her detecting job, and lots more eye-rolling paranormal elements.
This book there is some ongoing desecration of a local church, which seems to be the work of a protester of the racist policies and attitudes toward the agotes, (more on the agotes later). Small bones were left on the altar of the church. Meanwhile, other violent murders of women were investigated, some from many years ago, in which one arm of the women were cut off. These were later found in a cave of bones in the Baztán area. In each case, the murderer, a husband or father or significant other, later killed himself, after writing the word Tarttalo, the name of a local demon legend.
More and more, the cases and the church desecration seem to come round to our lady detective, as we learn more of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her demented mother, and her insane acts, who has been for a number of years incarcerated in various psychiatric hospitals.
It all ties up in the end, that is, most of it is tied up neatly in the end except for one dangling thread, which we know in advance will be resolved in the third volume. We know this because Redondo set this up as a trilogy, and the third is the last in the series.
This book cannot effectively be read as a stand alone — just too much you need to already know to fully appreciate it.
And yeah, Detective Salazar finally gives up on the breast feeding and gives in to bottle feeding because she is just not home enough to dependably breast feed and someone else is always having to feed the kid. Yawn.
OK, I promised you more on the agotes. The agotes are a small community which have been discriminated against for at least eight centuries, from the twelfth to the twentieth. There are small groups in the French Basque Country, Navarra, Guipúzcoa, Huesca, and in France, Bearn and Aquitaine.
The non-agote population attributed to them various “perverse” origins, which at no time were intended to explain but rather justify discrimination by a supposed biblical curse or because they were descendants of pagan Celts or heretics.
One theory considers that they were followers of the Albigensian heresy. Pío Baroja considers that this theory could be valid, because he thinks that only religious fanaticism could be so violent.
They were prevented from contracting marriages with the rest of the population, which is at the origin of a great inbreeding. In order to avoid it, relations with the agotes of the nearby French regions were sought, resulting in greater social rejection.
o They were forced to live outside the inhabited centers.
o They had to wear clothes to be identified as agote and to wear a red sign similar to the footprint of goose or duck.
o In many places they were forced to ring a bell in their path, so that the non-agotes could get away in time.
o In the Navarrese churches, the agotes were placed in a hole under the choir, the bell tower or the staircase to hear mass. It was common to have an own door called Agoten Athea, located next to the main door, being lower and narrower than the main one.
o In the times of oyernat (Basque race) the Basques wore their hair long, the agotes were forced to cut it to be differentiated from the rest. They were forbidden to carry weapons and dress as a gentleman.
o A baptismal font differentiated from the rest was used to baptize the agotes.
o In general in the Navarrese churches there was a line in the ground, which prevented them from accessing a part of the church, that is, they were forbidden to approach the altar. In the church of Arizkun that separating line did not exist, but a fence was raised.
o The Eucharist was given to them with a cane or some such.
o In France a non-consecrated zone was reserved in cemeteries for excommunicated, sorcerers, suicides and agotes. The agotes were buried at dusk and without bells.
o Among many other prohibitions, they were not allowed to raise livestock, drink in public fountains or participate in dances and parties.
o When there were offerings, those donated by the agotes were collected and set aside from those of the rest of the faithful.
o In the Baztan valley, they could not sit at the same table as the natives of the valley.
o Priests could not be ordained.
The hatred towards the agotes was such that the parents transmitted to their children the barbarities with which they were despised, including their anatomical form. They were said to be lustful, like all lepers, because of the color of their blood; angry, proud, susceptible, arrogant, cunning, hiding many things between them. They were defined as cretins, homosexuals, sorcerers, who joined with the beasts, who smelled badly, who smelled their breath and as we have seen, it was said that where they put a bare foot the grass never grew again.
Discrimination: the gift that keeps on giving.