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The BookBrowse Review

Published September 20, 2017

ISSN: 1930-0018

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The Invisible Guardian
The Invisible Guardian
by Dolores Redondo

Paperback (19 Sep 2017), 384 pages.
Publisher: Atria Books
ISBN-13: 9781501102141

Already a #1 international bestseller, this tautly written and gripping psychological thriller forces a police inspector to reluctantly return to her hometown in Basque Country - a place engulfed in mythology and superstition - to solve a series of eerie murders.

When the naked body of a teenage girl is found on a riverbank in Basque Country, Spain, homicide inspector Amaia Salazar must return to the hometown she always sought to escape. A dark secret from Amaia's past plagues her with nightmares, and as her investigation deepens, the old pagan beliefs of the community threaten to derail her astute detective work. The lines between mythology and reality begin to blur, and Amaia must discover whether the crimes are the work of a ritualistic killer or of a mythical creature known as the Basajaun, the Invisible Guardian.

Torn between the rational procedures of her job and the local superstitions of a region shaped by the Spanish Inquisition, Amaia fights against the demons of her past in order to track down a killer on the run.

Shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger 2015
Best Spanish Crime Novel of the Year, 2013 by major Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia
Top 10 Crime Novels of the Summer by Le Figaro Magazine, France
"Pluma de plata" (Silver Quill) 2014 by the Basque Booksellers Association
Best Novel of 2013 - Creatio Social Media
Best Spanish Novel of the Year, 2013 - "Continuarà" TVE Cultural Programme


AINHOA ELIZASU was the second victim of the basajaun, although the press was yet to coin that name for it. That came later, when it emerged that animal hairs, scraps of skin, and unidentifiable tracks had been found around the bodies, along with evidence of some kind of macabre purification rite. With their torn clothes, their private parts shaved, and their upturned hands, the bodies of those girls, almost still children, seemed to have been marked by a malign force, as old as the Earth.

Inspector Amaia Salazar always followed the same routine when she was called to a crime scene in the middle of the night. She would switch off the alarm clock so it wouldn't disturb James in the morning, pile up her clothes and, with her cell phone balanced on top of them, go very slowly downstairs to the kitchen. She would drink a cup of milky coffee while she dressed, leave a note for her husband, and get in the car. Then she would drive, her mind blank except for the white noise that always filled her head when she woke up before dawn.

These remnants of an interrupted night of insomnia stayed with her all the way to the crime scene, even though it was over an hour's drive from Pamplona. She took a curve in the road too sharply, and the squealing of the tires made her realize how distracted she was. After that she made herself pay attention to the highway as it wound its way upward, deep into the dense forest surrounding Elizondo. Five minutes later, she pulled over next to a police sign, where she recognized Dr. Jorge San Martín's sports car and Judge Estébanez's off-roader. Amaia got out, walked around to the back of her car, and fished out a pair of Wellingtons. She sat on the edge of the trunk to pull them on, while Deputy Inspector Jonan Etxaide and Inspector Montes joined her.

"It's not looking good, chief, the victim's a young girl." Jonan consulted his notes. "Twelve or thirteen years old. When she didn't arrive home by eleven last night, her parents contacted the police."

"A bit early to report her missing," observed Amaia.

"True. It looks like she called her older brother on his phone at about ten past eight to tell him she'd missed the bus from Arizkun."

"And her brother waited until eleven before saying anything?"

"You know how it is, 'Aita and Ama will kill me. Please don't tell them. I'm going to see if any of my friends' parents will give me a ride.' So he kept quiet and played on his PlayStation. At eleven, when he realized his sister still hadn't arrived home and his mother was starting to get hysterical, he told them Ainhoa had called. The parents went down to the station in Elizondo and insisted something must have happened to their daughter. She wasn't answering her cell phone and they'd already spoken to all her friends. A patrol found her. The officers spotted her shoes at the side of the road as they were coming around the bend." Jonan shone his flashlight toward the edge of the tarmac where a pair of black-patent high-heeled shoes glistened, perfectly aligned. Amaia leaned over to look at them.

"They look like they've been arranged like this. Has anyone touched them?" she asked. Jonan checked his notes again. The young deputy inspector's efficiency was a godsend in cases as difficult as this one was shaping up to be.

"No, that's how they found them, side by side and pointing toward the road."

"Tell the crime scene technicians to come and check the lining of the shoes when they've finished what they're doing. Whoever arranged them like that will have had to touch the inside as well as the outside."

Inspector Montes, who had stood silently staring at the ends of his Italian designer loafers until this point, looked up abruptly as if he had just awoken from a deep sleep.

Full Excerpt

Excerpted from The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo. Copyright © 2016 by Dolores Redondo. Excerpted by permission of Atria Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

In a remote Basque country valley, Amaia Salazar has to fight off the demons of her past in order to confront the reality of a serial killer at loose.

Print Article

Dolores Redondo's The Invisible Guardian is so much more than the sum of its mystery/police procedural parts. It's also a character-driven story about coming home, family, myths, and superstitions; about the things we hold onto even as we try to let them go. On top of all that there is great joy in learning about the nuanced differences between Basque culture and language, and that of my home (the very unromantic Midwestern USA).

Inspector Amaia Salazar of the Navarre (Northern Spain) Policía Foral lives in Pamplona with her husband James, who is a successful artist from the United States. Both are in their mid-thirties and childless. Amaia is intelligent, intuitive and FBI-trained. Early one morning she learns that the bodies of two young girls (both under 15) have been discovered near Elizondo, a town about 50 miles north of Pamplona and deep into Basque country.

Both girls had been murdered – one in January, the other in February – their bodies arranged in a bizarre ritualistic fashion and left deep in the forest on the banks of the Baxtan River. Additionally the murderer has placed a pair of fancy high-heeled shoes alongside the road near where each of the bodies is located. Since Amaia is a native of Elizondo – born and raised there until she fled nearly two decades ago – and has the advantage of FBI profiling training, she is chosen to lead the investigation. Familiarity with the locale's unique and isolated geography and character might be key to solving the crimes. Not all her teammates agree that Amaia should lead, so she starts at a slight disadvantage

She and James decide to temporarily relocate to Elizondo, stay with her Aunt Engrasi, and visit with her sisters Flora and Rosaura. It's a move that takes an emotional toll on Amaia. Combined with the unspeakable cruelty of the murders, revisiting old ghosts threatens to be Amaia's undoing. Memories in the form of flashbacks to the spring of 1989 begin to wheedle their way into her subconscious, gnawing at her self-confidence.

"There were some good days, almost always Sundays, the only day her parents didn't work. He mother would bake crisp croissants and raisin bread at home, which would fill the house with a rich, sweet fragrance". Then their mother and father would dance to old Nat King Cole songs and the girls would join in, one at a time. First Flora, then Ros, while Amaia watched and laughed from the couch. "She didn't dance, because she wanted that ritual to last a bit longer, and because she knew that if she got up and joined the group, the dance would end immediately," and her mother, "would leave with a ridiculous excuse."

Between flashbacks that reveal increasingly bizarre memories, plus having a dysfunctional relationship with her sisters, the investigation moves along amid suspicions by the locals that the perpetrator is a mythological Basque cryptid called basajaun. A basajaun is a Yeti-like creature fabled to possess magical powers that guards the vast forest of Northern Spain. Indeed even Amaia, who knows better, begins referring to the murderer as basajaun. It's not hard to understand since so much about the character of this magnificently beautiful region revolves around myth and superstition. Even Aunt Engrasi and sister Ros refer to their decks of Tarot cards when faced with difficult decisions.

Redondo's narrative is slowed a bit by longish descriptive passages that plunge us into the embrace of the cold, dark, mid-winter forest. And the investigation is not necessarily conducted according to the flawless CSI TV show standards we police procedural fans have come to expect. But Amaia's character development and the glimpse of a culture and language rhythm that is so foreign to me possessed me from the start (not unlike my enthrallment with Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole series). Throughout The Invisible Guardian I found myself pausing to roll all the words (there's a glossary at the back) with so many xs and zs around in mouth. I will look forward to reading Redondo's next book in this series.

Reviewed by Donna Chavez

New York Journal of Books
Fans of thrillers with the hint of the supernatural will enjoy reading Redondo and will be on the eager lookout for the next in the trilogy

Publishers Weekly
Already an international bestseller, this engrossing psychological thriller will impress American readers as well.

Library Journal
Starred Review. The Basque backdrop gives this thriller an especially intriguing layer of depth; the superstitions and mythologies passed down from the days of Spanish Inquisition penetrate the mystery to such an extent that the reader is easily transported.

The Sunday Times Magazine, Book of the Month
An international bestseller, combining singular characters and an eerily atmospheric setting.

El Mundo (Spain)
Dolores Redondo has set a landmark in the history of Spanish novel.

Mia (Spain)
One of the biggest literary surprises of recent times.

El Periodico (Spain)
A more sophisticated kind of book...than the conventional crime novel ... Exciting, attractive, competent, well structured, full of temperance, different and fresh.

Print Article

Bernard Heuvelmans: Father of Cryptozoology

BasajaunThe eponymous guardian in Dolores Redondo's The Invisible Guardian refers to a mythical Basque creature called a basajaun. According to a character in the book, "[B]asajauns are real creatures, hominids about two and a half meters tall, with broad shoulders, long hair on their heads, and thick hair all over their bodies…They live in the woods and are an intrinsic part of them, acting as protectors. According to legends, they make sure the harmony of the forest remains intact." This fictional character may believe basajauns are real, however, like Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot, a basajaun has rarely-to-never been seen and has yet to be caught on film.

Still, regardless of their elusiveness – or maybe because of it – an entire field has arisen devoted to the study of, and hunt for, concrete proof that such creatures actually exist. According to the website New Animal, cryptozoology "is the study of animals and other creatures that have not yet been accepted by science as real. In other words, it is monster-hunting. Cryptozoologists look for creatures like sea serpents and the yeti, hoping to gather enough evidence to prove that these beings exist. They also look for more commonplace animals, such as the ivory-billed woodpecker, the giant vampire bat, the inflatable hedgehog and the pygmy elephant."

Bernard HeuvelmansA Frenchman, Bernard Heuvelmans, is commonly known as the Father of Cryptozoology. Born in 1916 Heuvelmans was captivated by the prospect that creatures yet to be catalogued by zoologists actually existed at the far corners of the planet. In 1955 he published a massive volume, On the Track of Unknown Animals, in which he chronicled as many of these so-called cryptids as were known at the time. Since there was no scientific field of study pursuant to the likes of the Abominable Snowman or Chupacabra, it is believed that he is the first to coin the term Cryptozoology, calling the creatures cryptids.

Throughout his life Heuvelmans traveled to the furthest reaches of the planet – from jungle to mountaintop and more – in pursuit of eyewitness accounts and actual physical evidence of these fantastic beasts.

ChupacabraOn the event of his death in August 2001 an obituary notes, "Heuvelmans wrote in 1984: 'I tried to write about it according to the rules of scientific documentation.' Because of the unorthodox nature of his interests, however, he had no institutional sponsorship and had to support himself with his writing. 'That is why,' he wrote, 'I have always had to make my books fascinating for the largest possible audience.' Heuvelmans and his book influenced the investigative work of oil-magnate and cryptozoology patron Tom Slick. [Biologist and writer Ivan] Sanderson, who had influenced Heuvelmans, was in turn influenced by him. Heuvelmans served as a confidential consultant, along with Ivan Sanderson and anthropologist George Agogino, on Slick's secret board of advisors."

Artist's depiction of a basajaun and its female companion, a basandere. (And what a depiction! Is this the artist's vision of a mythological beast or his fantasy of a mythological beast?)
Bernard Heuvelmans, illustrated by his wife, Alika Lindbergh
Graphic depiction of a Chupacabra, drawn by LeCire

By Donna Chavez

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