I am very pleased to be part of the blog tour for the City of Drowned Souls by Chris Lloyd with a guest post from the author…
The Mossos d’Esquadra
One of the things that first enticed me to write police procedural stories set in Catalonia was that policing had been devolved to a new body, the Mossos d’Esquadra. I was intrigued by how different they’d be from the old Spanish police forces and what sort of teething problems they’d have – just imagine such a sweeping change to something so essential in our country. But if you’re not from Catalonia, the question is who or what are the Mossos d’Esquadra and how do they work. Writing about them, I’ve had to learn a lot of new things (and clear my mind of policing in the UK), so I’ll try and put down a few pointers here that I hope will put what Elisenda faces in the books into some sort of context.
The first thing is that the Mossos d’Esquadra are not actually a new body. They were originally founded in 1719 as a substitute local police force when the regular army was off fighting somewhere, and they fell in and out of existence for three centuries depending on who was in charge of the country. Roughly translated, their name means ‘boys in the squad’, by the way, which harks back to their origins.
It was in 1994 that an agreement between Catalonia and Spain saw them being phased in as the police force for Catalonia. This took place over twelve years, as region-by-region the Mossos replaced the old Policía Nacional and the Guardia Civil, and was finally completed in 2008. One of the first regions to change over was Girona, where the Elisenda stories are set. Now, they’re responsible for all aspects of policing in Catalonia except for anything to do with Spanish national security and cases involving organised crime where the investigation is led by a judge from outside Catalonia (more of that later).
This slow and steady nature of the transition meant that it was some time before the character the Catalans wanted for their police force came out. Aligning themselves more with the northern European idea of policing, they basically wanted change – and a perception of change – from the old system. This boiled down to two main areas – structure and recruitment – which inevitably has taken, and continues to take, time to carry through.
The structure of the Catalan police arguably focuses more on prevention and detection than its predecessors, with the creation of such departments as a victim support unit and gender violence teams. As for recruitment, the Catalan government wanted more women and more graduates. This didn’t happen overnight, but numbers of women and of female and male graduates entering the force has risen over the years as it has become seen more as a viable career. Today, some 21% of Mossos are women, who are now beginning to rise through the ranks to senior positions. Equally important, perhaps, is that the Mossos want to be seen as the police force of Catalonia, made up of Catalan officers and serving the Catalan community, which is a sea change from the concept of policing inherited from the Franco era.
Which brings us to Elisenda and her team. She’s a Sotsinspectora, which is probably equivalent to an inspector in the UK system. Her boss, Puigventós, is an Inspector, which is probably more like our chief inspector, although it’s impossible to be exact. All new recruits enter as a Mosso (man) or a Mossa (woman) providing they pass the entrance exams and nine-month training course at the academy outside Barcelona. Next step up is Caporal – which is the rank of Josep, Manel, Montse and Pau – followed by Sergent, Àlex in the books. Above them are Sotsinspector and Inspector, and above these are an Intendent (the head of the Girona police station in the books). The top two ranks are Intendent and Major. Each promotion is after earning credits for good service, courses taken and commendations, more exams, another stint at the training academy and panel interviews where the panel has to be made up of equal numbers of men and women.
If you’re a language geek like me, you might like the way Catalan has evolved recently to accommodate the change in society. The language has masculine and feminine forms of nouns, but the more military-sounding ranks of Caporal, Sergent and Major didn’t have a feminine equivalent for pretty antiquated reasons, but now that there are more women in the Mossos, they’ve introduced feminine forms – Caporala, Sergenta and Majora – in response. In the first book, Montse was called a Caporal, but by the second book, she’s a Caporala as that’s when the change came in.
The whole broader question of language is more important than it sounds. One of the hangovers of the Franco era is that in the past police in one part of Spain were generally brought in from other parts of the country; this was so they had more loyalty to the police and the state than to the local community. Now, with the Mossos d’Esquadra, the police in Catalonia are mainly Catalan, they speak Catalan and they’re from the community that they police, which all sounds perfectly normal to us in the UK, but it’s a huge change from the previous system in Catalonia.
One thing that is changing slowly – and which is one of Elisenda’s bugbears – is the legal system. The type of criminal detective unit that Elisenda heads up are also known as judiciary police, meaning they work within the system of courts and judges. Depending on the phase of an investigation, the police will be under the supervision of the public prosecutor’s office or a judge. The Mossos can also bring an investigation to the judiciary’s attention, but they must still get the judiciary’s permission to pursue it. Elisenda rails so much at the judges in the books as they are the ones who instruct her in how an investigation is to be run, who should be questioned, the evidence to be gathered, and so on. She doesn’t always agree with their opinions as they’re not in the front line in the way she is.
This system can create other conflicts, as a judge from outside Catalonia can order an investigation across Spain that embraces Catalonia – this can mean that the Spanish police run the investigation or they have to work with the Mossos, which isn’t always the happiest of circumstances. Rivalry between the regions/nations and the central government has led to the Catalans and the Basques being excluded from supposedly nationwide bodies, such as a missing children’s platform, which has led to all sorts of recriminations and shortfalls.
As far as possible, I try to be accurate in the books, but they are works of fiction and I do allow myself some licence from time to time – I tell people it’s for the sake of the story. The one thing I have made up is Elisenda’s unit – the Serious Crime Unit – which doesn’t exist. The reason for this is partly so I can take liberties with proper procedure when I want (it’s an experimental unit, they’re experimenting!). But mainly it’s for two other reasons: one is that in real life, the homicide units are run more or less the way Elisenda’s team is, but I didn’t want to restrict the stories to murders. The other is that her team can investigate across the whole of the Girona region – that means I don’t just get to set the books in the beautiful city of Girona itself, but in an area that stretches from the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean, which is just brimming with tales. And as for the research for all that: it’s tough work, but someone’s got to do it.
About the book…
When a child disappears, the clock starts ticking
Detective Elisenda Domènech has had a tough few years. The loss of her daughter and a team member; the constant battles against colleagues and judges; the harrowing murder investigations… But it’s about to get much worse.
When the son of a controversial local politician goes missing at election time, Elisenda is put on the case. They simply must solve it. Only the team also have to deal with a spate of horrifically violent break-ins. People are being brutalised in their own homes and the public demands answers.
Could there be a connection? Why is nobody giving a straight answer? And where is Elisenda’s key informant, apparently vanished off the face of the earth? With the body count threatening to increase and her place in the force on the line, the waters are rising…
Be careful not to drown.
About the Author
Chris was born in an ambulance racing through a town he’s only returned to once and that’s probably what did it. Soon after that, when he was about two months old, he moved with his family to West Africa, which pretty much sealed his expectation that life was one big exotic setting. He later studied Spanish and French at university, and straight after graduating, he hopped on a bus from Cardiff to Catalonia where he stayed for the next twenty-four years, falling in love with the people, the country, the language and Barcelona Football Club, probably in that order. Besides Catalonia, he’s also lived in Grenoble, the Basque Country and Madrid, teaching English, travel writing for Rough Guides and translating. He now lives in South Wales, where he works as a writer and a Catalan and Spanish translator, returning to Catalonia as often as he can.
He writes the Elisenda Domènech series, featuring a police officer with the newly-devolved Catalan police force in the beautiful city of Girona. The third book in the series, City of Drowned Souls, is published on 6 February 2017.
Others in the series:
City of Good Death
An intense and brilliantly realised crime thriller set in the myth-soaked streets of Girona
A killer is targeting hate figures in the Catalan city of Girona – a loan shark, a corrupt priest, four thugs who have blighted the streets of the old quarter – leaving clues about his next victim through mysterious effigies left hung on a statue. Each corpse is posed in a way whose meaning no one can fathom. Which is precisely the point the murderer is trying to make.
Elisenda Domènech, the solitary and haunted head of the city’s newly-formed Serious Crime Unit, is determined to do all she can to stop the attacks. She believes the attacker is drawing on the city’s legends to choose his targets, but her colleagues aren’t convinced and her investigation is blocked at every turn.
Battling against the increasing sympathy towards the killer displayed by the press, the public and even some of the police, she finds herself forced to question her own values. But when the attacks start to include less deserving victims, the pressure is suddenly on Elisenda to stop him. The question is: how?
City of Buried Ghosts
Be careful what you dig up…
Still recovering from the tragedy that hit her team, Elisenda takes on a new case. Except it’s not new. On an archaeological dig by the coast a body is uncovered, seemingly executed with a spike thrust through the base of the skull – an ancient tribal ritual. It soon becomes clear that this body is neither ancient nor modern, but a mysterious corpse from the 1980s.
Assigned to the case along with her team, Elisenda soon uncovers a complex world of star archaeologists, jealousy and missing persons. They find a dark trade in illicit antiquities, riddled with vicious professional rivalries. And even though she’s staying close to the crime scene, Elisenda is also never far from enemies of her own within the police force.
Just as the case seems to become clear it is blown wide-open by another horrific murder. Elisenda must fight her personal demons and office politics, whilst continuing to uncover plots and hatreds that were long buried. How far will she go to solve the crime? Is her place in the force secure? And can she rebuild her life?
The atmospheric second crime thriller featuring Catalan detective Elisenda Domènech, for readers of Val McDermid and Ann Cleeves