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“You can’t sweep the matter under the carpet. Mariona Sobrerroca is too well known and the family, especially her brother, has best connections, here and in Madrid. That’s why the authorities think it’s better for the investigation to be reported and for us to show the enthusiasm with which our capable police are carrying out the investigation.”
The inverted commas in Sanvisens’s last sentence were impossible to miss.
“And if it comes out that someone from her family or circle of friends killed her, someone from better society?” she asked.
In Ana’s mind, like the leaves of a photo album, various pictures from the society section of the newspaper appeared: Mariona Sobrerroca at the opera, in evening dress and next to the wives of high-ranking politicians; Mariona surrounded by children at a Social Relief Society event, Mariona at a meeting of the Sección Femenina, the Francoist women’s organisation. Mariona at high mass, at receptions, at balls.
“An extraordinary example of how we are all equal before the law.” The irony had not left the editor-in-chief’s voice. “But it doesn’t look like that, it was probably a robbery-murder. Anyway, we will report on it. Exclusively.”
Mateo Sanvisens paused and looked searchingly around his desk.
“The investigation is being led by Inspector Isidro Castro, of the Brigade de Investigación Criminal.”
from: Das Flüstern der Stadt
(my own translation)
Ana Martí is a young journalist, extremely curious and adventurous. All in all, this is a dangerous combination, because Ana lives in Spain in the 1950s, where the Caudillo Francisco Franco is in charge and his comrades-in-arms have all the power in the country.
There is no free press; all publications are controlled and corrected if they don’t fit the country’s image. Ana knows the rules of the game and abides by them – otherwise she would not be able to work. Nevertheless, it happens that she is so fascinated by a story that she cannot let go and starts her own investigation. (Note: this does not mean that her findings will be printed!)
In addition, Ana often forgets which country and under which regime she lives. She is carefree and takes risks to verify her suspicions. On the one hand, there is the state power that can easily make people disappear; on the other hand, there are the evildoers who do not bat an eyelid when it comes to protecting themselves and silencing threats. In short: Ana is an investigative journalist, even if this term was probably not yet familiar back in the 1950s, who likes to swim around in dangerous waters.
In which Spain does Ana live?
She lives in Barcelona. It’s a shiny metropolis even then, with an upper class that likes to show off at balls and charity events. (This is what Ana reports on – she is actually a society reporter, her bread-and-butter business). Successful businessmen, career military men, influential politicians and the church form a rather closed social club that claims the right to call the shots – in all things.
In addition, there are those who were also part of it before the war and the Franco era, but who have lost their privileges because of their political attitudes. Ana’s father is one of them, who once worked as an influential editor-in-chief of a large daily newspaper, but lost his job, had to go to prison and now keeps himself and his family afloat by writing penny dreadfuls. In Ana’s case, her lineage does ensure a certain reputation, but she also knows that everyone knows … Ana has also taken to writing under pseudonyms; she uses several.
Ana keeps meeting people who have been denounced, slandered, tortured, sent to prison … or whose family members have been executed or simply disappeared. It is no secret what happened and what is still happening; it is part of everyday life.
In addition to the upper class, there is the lower class as a counterpoint, which is sweepingly suspected of cultivating leftist ideas, stealing and only getting through life by lying and cheating. This underclass is extremely poor and often uneducated; it lacks the ability to read and write. However, the church is omnipresent and ensures obedience when the flock goes apostate.
All in all, it is rather a sad Spain when you think of Spain today.
So Ana first practices writing society news. However, she is only too keen to write about criminal cases. In the 1950s, journalism is a male domain. It is just about tolerable for a woman to write about evening dresses and balls, but everything else is done by her male colleagues. (Not to mention that at that time the career of an educated young woman was not to become a professional at all, but to marry very quickly, have children and take care of the household). So Ana has to fight this front too.
But then she seems to be lucky and is allowed to report on a murder of a society lady. She is instructed from the beginning how and what to write – and she makes the acquaintance of Inspector Castro, a good investigator, but who also likes to strike sometimes. Trouble is inevitable as Ana begins her own investigation, which also leads to a goal and uncovers the crime. Castro wants to close the case quickly, but Ana uncovers entanglements involving influential contemporaries, there are still a few dead bodies …
In short: the case is solved or some things are cleared up internally, but Ana’s big story naturally falls by the wayside.
Over the next few years, Ana painstakingly works her way up and continues to write under a pseudonym for various magazines, including about criminal cases. She meets Castro more often. Ana is constantly confronted with the stark social contrasts. It is a tedious business, because the authorities all too often like to keep everything in the dark.
After years, Ana turns her back on journalism and becomes a writer, even though her first novel does not survive the censors. To the delight of her parents, especially her mother, she has also found a partner with whom she works and produces grandchildren. After her last adventure as an investigative journalist, it is still a good fifteen years until the Franco era ends.