Crime fiction – which is enjoying a huge boom during the pandemic - has never meant much to me, perhaps because I’ve spent around 45 years researching the Holocaust and other 20th century genocides. When you read about just under two million people - including women, children and the elderly - being forced to dig their own graves before being shot in the back of the head by squads of people who were as normal as apple strudel before they put on a uniform; once you’ve discovered the logistic details of how the Germans’ six death camps between them gassed 3.1 million people (a low estimate) and you’ve learnt about the hundreds of thousands of additional deaths in labour camps, transit camps and death marches, well, the fact that Colonel Mustard (or whoever) has been bumped off with a candlestick (or whatever) in the billiard room (or wherever) makes the close observation of the gradual desiccation of wet paint seem like an invigorating pastime. Which is why the only two noir writers I’ve enjoyed reading tend to stretch the limits of the genre until it becomes something else: the Catalan Teresa Solana, who turns it into comedy; and James Ellroy, who turns it into a stylistic tour de force. But then I discovered a true crime TV series here in Catalonia called ’Crims’. (Declared interest: my son had a job on its post-production team). The brainchild of a gifted crime reporter called Carles Porta, ’Crims’ offers its viewers a highly addictive account of several murders that have taken place in Catalonia in recent years, using interviews with police, prosecutors, lawyers and journalists; CCTV and news footage; current images of the scenes of the crimes and the odd gruesome photo of the victims (though not as half as gruesome as the ones that weren’t shown).
And what crimes! For example: a young couple that murders another young couple they are sharing a house with (near Montserrat) then stuffs the bodies in a freezer and flees to France, the odd thing being that the male members of each couple were brothers: the parents now have one son murdered and another in jail for murdering him. Or the case of the businessman who is gunned down outside his home in Barcelona for no apparent reason (it turns out that an employee who suspected he might lose his job hired a hit man). Or the spine-chilling case of the psychologist Anna Permanyer, who went to see someone who said she wanted to buy a flat from her; the last anyone saw of her was when she stepped into a lift in the block of flats where the buyer lived, and then vanished from the face of the earth...until her body was found wrapped in cloth and plastic, weeks later, in open countryside near Sitges...
The one constant in these cases is the absence of any remorse whatsoever on the part of the perpetrators. When filmed in court, all of them acted as calmly as if they were waiting for a bus (Anna Permanyer’s murderer even joked to cameramen as she entered the courthouse that they shouldn’t film her because she wasn’t wearing any make-up). According to the English behavioural psychologist Daniel Nettle in his now classic study (’Personality’, 2007), approximately one in every 1,600 people are psychopaths. This doesn’t mean that they’re all reaching for the nearest blunt instrument as you read, merely that they might do if circumstances provided both a motive and an opportunity. The woman who murdered Anna Permanyer, Carme Badia, was sentenced to 23 years in 2007 (she’d also been accused of murdering her husband in 1997, for which she spent only a few months in jail before being released for lack of evidence). At the latest, she will be out in 2030.
This just so happens – and please forgive the apparent change of subject – to be the same year that Carme Forcadell will be released after having spent 11 and a half years in jail for having allowed a vote on independence as Speaker for the Catalan parliament in 2017. Jordi Cuixart, the president of a cultural association and pro-independence activist, will be out a couple of years earlier, after a nine-year spell behind bars for standing on top of a police car to tell 40,000 angry pro-indy demonstrators to go home. Oriol Junqueras, the former vice-president of Catalonia, will be out a couple of years later, for having organised a peaceful referendum that 80% of the Catalan population wanted. And so on: a reminder that pathological remorselessness can on occasion and at least in Spain, wear judicial robes.