El castillo de Barbazul Terra Alta III by Javier Cercas

In 2019 Javier Cercas debuted in the crime genre with Terra Alta, a brilliant novel. It was not in vain that the work was awarded the 2019 Planeta Prize. It was later followed by a sequel, Independencia ( 2021). Now, Javier Cercas brings this trilogy to a close with El castillo de Barbazul (Ed. Tusquets, 2022), perhaps the most powerful and thrilling of the three. An absolute delight for lovers of this noir series starring Melchor Marín, a man with a dark past whose life has been changed by literature. A novel full of intrigue that keeps the reader gripped from the very beginning.


El castillo de Barbazul, Terra Alta III: exciting and addictive

El castillo de Barbazul Javier Cercas

Bluebeard is the main character of a tale that Charles Perrault published in 1697 in his book Tales of Long ago. The story of this sadistic criminal is well known, but what many may not know is that this murderer is inspired by Gilles de Rais, a real character who lived in the 15th century. This ruthless infanticide and torturer of children inspired Perrault to create the character of Bluebeard, although unlike Gilles de Rais, he was more dedicated to the murder of women whom he locked up and killed in his castle

Several years have passed since the events of the novel Independence. Melchior Marin has left the police force and now works as a librarian and in charge of the education of his daughter Cosette, now a teenager. During all this time Melchor has kept her away from the truth about her mother’s death.

When Cosette discovers the lie, she decides to escape on holiday with a friend to Mallorca to take a break and think. When her friend returns but she doesn’t, she starts not answering her father’s calls or messages, and he, convinced that something bad has happened to his daughter, decides to travel to the island to investigate her disappearance. His enquiries soon lead him to a man, Rafael Mattson, a multimillionaire who is supposedly fond of having parties at his mansion with underage girls. The reader will then realise, if he or she is familiar with the story of Bluebeard mentioned a few lines earlier, how apt the title of Cercas’ novel is.

The disappearance of a teenage girl as a starting point for reflecting on the impunity of power

Javier Cecas said in a recent interview that“the antidote to injustice is solidarity and love“. In this novel, Cercas shows us the two faces of human beings who are capable of the worst and the best. And he narrates, with an addictive rhythm, the ins and outs of power to show us a world full of violence, abuses of power and cowardice, as well as violence against women. But Cercas does not stop at this extremely pessimistic message. There are still people willing to risk their lives and gamble everything in defence of justice.

In short, a fast-paced, heart-rending, frenetic novel in which important issues such as the impunity of power, the abuse of women and unconditional love for one’s children are put on the table. A crime novel peppered, then, with current conflicts and which constitutes a socio-political critique. This time with Mallorca as the setting and written at an extremely agile pace, the novel is short. Hopefully Cercas will want to give us a fourth instalment. 100% recommended.

does the end always justify the means?

Or, to put it another way, as the novel puts it, if justice doesn’t work (or so we think), is it lawful to exercise it on our own? This question, an eternal philosophical question, endows Cercas’s novel with great depth. It no longer remains a mere crime novel, as it is capable of delving into questions that have always interested human beings. And the fact is that, although we all have (or not) beforehand what we believe to be the correct answer to the question “NO, one should not take the law into one’s own hands”, sometimes we can surprise ourselves by empathising with characters who act on the fringes of the law.

Literature, like cinema, is like that and often leads us to empathise with rogue characters. Take for example Vito Corleone who, despite being a mafia boss, is able to convince us not only that he is the “good guy” but even that he is a victim. Literature, once again, demonstrates the capacity to generate critical thinking in us.


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