The Scandinavian noir novel has been fashionable for some time now. There is already an extensive range of books in this genre, with new finds popping up all the time. What’s more, the literary phenomenon’s influence on other European writers is evident. Yet, perhaps something that many people in Girona do not know is that a Welsh writer, Chris Lloyd, has been gaining increasing attention in the UK, Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, for his series of detective novels, all written in pure Nordic noir style, and all set in the city of Girona and its surrounding area.
The apparently perfect Girona of the books could just about be any other city or town in Sweden, Denmark or Iceland. Yet the city hides an underbelly of crime and human darkness. And, in keeping with the conventions of the popular literary genre, there is also a detective, in this case Mossa d’Esquadra Elisenda Domènech, who takes on the task of solving the mysteries that develop before her.
City of Drowned Souls
After the success of City of Good Death and City of Buried Ghosts, the author recently brought out, once again with the online publisher Canelo, and available on Amazon for the Kindle, the third book in the series: City of Drowned Souls, with a front cover showing Girona’s Pont de Pedra under a sinister night sky, helping to set the scene of dark suspense.
The Cardiff-born writer made his debut in 2015 with City of Good Death, which attracted his first readers with a tale of crime and mystery informed by Girona’s local legends and mythology. Yet, the author’s tales are modern and realistic, and include details of everyday life in today’s Girona and Catalonia, such as the current tensions between society and the State.
Lloyd thinks Girona is the ideal place to set a noir novel and, as with the tradition of locked-room mysteries, the action can take place in a limited space in which all the suspects are likely to be known to each other. “The idea was always to take the conventions of Nordic noir and transplant them to the Mediterranean,” he says, adding that “one of the biggest challenges is finding that middle ground between writing for English-speaking readers who perhaps do not know Catalonia so that they can enjoy the stories and travel around Catalonia in their imaginations and, at the same time,for someone from Girona itself to be able to recognise their home.”
In this first book, Lloyd introduced his readers to his leading character, Elisenda Domènech, his very own Wallander. She is a character in constant evolution, who is solitary, stubborn, with a clear moral sense and great loyalty to her people and her home. “Here too we go back to the idea of Nordic noir as well as Scottish writers, such as Val McDermind, Ian Rankin and Stuart MacBride, in which the land and the environment create the character,” he says. He compares Elisenda Domènech to Girona’s old quarter, the Barri Vell, because it is “traditional but lively, age-old but always evolving, with facades that hide stories and secrets, continuity and rupture.”
One, two, three...
Lloyd’s second book, City of Buried Ghosts (2016), is set in the city of Girona but also includes nearby Baix Empordà. The novel tells the story of a police investigation into a dead body found in an archaeological dig. The third book, City of Drowned Souls, came out only recently, and the action returns to the capital to focus on the disappearance of the son of a populist – though not very popular – politician during the election campaign for the Catalan parliament. The release of this third book in as many years has provided a continuity for readers that has seen sales rise accordingly. The author says that he has just finished doing a blog tour of the United Kingdom to publicise his work, and that the reception in bloggers’ comments has been very positive. He even says that it has raised more interest in Catalonia, with some of the bloggers posting a photo with tomato bread after finishing one of his books.
And his plans and aspirations for the future? “To continue the saga and to see my books published in Catalan,” Lloyd says.
From Cardiff to Catalonia and back again
It seems Chris Lloyd has always been a restless soul. As a child he lived in West Africa and after graduating from university, where he studied Spanish and French, he left Cardiff for Catalonia, where he settled for 24 years. He first came to know Girona in 1979 as a student, during the “fascinating” political and social Transition. He studied Spanish, but fell in love with Catalan, its people and the country, which meant he returned to Girona to work as an English teacher. “Perhaps because I am Welsh, the Catalan language and culture appealed to me,” he says. He went on to work for a publisher in Bilbao, Barcelona, Madrid... and returned to Wales, where he wrote tourist guides on Catalonia. He lives there still, working as a writer and a translator.