The Semana Negra (“Noir Week”) prizes have no major sponsors or money attached, just the enormous prestige they have gathered in 30 editions of the festival, to which one million people flock every summer.
In keeping with the festival’s tradition of eliminating what it sees as false boundaries between high- and low-brow literature, the prizes cover a number of categories which are entertaining yet thought-provoking, original and informative.
Here are the five prize-winners from the 2017 festival whose books would make great holiday reading this summer:
The jewel in the crown is the Hammett Prize for best crime novel, named after Dashiel Hammett, the 20th century American author who practically invented modern, gritty crime writing. This year it went to “Madrid Frontera” (“Frontier Madrid”) by David Llorente.
“Although any of the finalists would have been worthy of the prize, the jury stress that the winning novel stood out for its originality and daring style, as well as its ability to use literature as a tool for protest,” jury chairwoman and crime writer Noemí Sabugal said at a packed news conference called to announce the prizes.
Llorente describes a Spanish capital peopled by the homeless who scavenge in rubbish bins to survive, people who’ve been evicted and have no access to healthcare, and for whom the country’s much-vaunted economic recovery is simply surreal. Although billed as crime novel, it has a strong dash of terror to keep the pages turning.
José María Espinar
The Silverio Cañada Memorial Prize for best first crime novel was awarded to “El Peso del Alma” (The Weight of the Soul) by José María Espinar. It begins when a private investigator called Milton Vértebra receives a ‘phone call from an old school friend saying a colleague has disappeared. Vértebra soon finds himself following a gruesome trail of bodies, all of which have their brains missing. The title is based on an estimate that bodies suddenly weigh 21 g less after death.
“La Tinta del Calamar” (Squid’s ink) won the Rodolfo Walsh prize for best non-fiction crime book, in which Miguel Barrero describes an unsolved murder committed in Gijón, in 1976, when Spain was emerging from 40 years of dictatorship and taking its first tentative steps towards democracy. The slaying of a popular fisherman, whose body was found with multiple stab wounds in a building which mysteriously burned down, caused such a commotion that it is still felt 40 years on.
Sofía Rhei took the Celsius prize for best science fiction novel with her book “Róndola”, a blend of fantasy, feminism and, above all, humour. Rhei tells the haphazard tale of Hervea, who inherits one of three kingdoms described in the book, after spending most of her life in the “High School of Sewing for Unsmirched Damsels”.
Finally, for those who like historical novels, the 2017 Espartaco (“Spartacus”) prize went to “El Impresor de Venecia” (The Venetian Printer) by Javier Azpeitia. The printer in question is Aldus Pius Manutius, a Renaissance figure who is not only credited with inventing the italic type and the modern use of the semi-colon, but also of being a humanist who published previously inaccessible works by classic Greek authors.
By Martin Roberts in Gijón