Friday, June 28, 2013

Q&A with David C. Hall, author of Barcelona Skyline

Welcome David C. Hall

The inside scoop on David:
David C. Hall (b. 1943) grew up in the Midwest and lived in different parts of the United States—working jobs that ranged from the Forest Service in the Oregon woods to cooking pancakes in Seattle—before arriving in Barcelona in 1974. In Spain, he became involved in the surge of political activity in opposition to the Franco regime. He worked as an English teacher and later as a translator, and was active for several years as a trade unionist. His first crime novel, written in English, was published in Spanish as Cuatro días(Four Days) in 1984. Billete de vuelta (1990) appeared in the United States in 1992 asReturn Trip Ticket. Hall won the Semana Negra short story prize in 1991 and the Pou de la Neu short story prize in 2008. His latest novel, Barcelona skyline, won the 2011 City of Getafe Crime Novel Prize. 

Let's chat about Barcelona Skyline:
Describe the book in your own words.
Barcelona Skyline is about power, as seen from below. The players are mercenaries, doing a job, but however tough or smart they may be, they are also being played. They never quite know what is going on, or why—which is, I suspect, the way the world works more often than we would like to think. It is an investigation that is also a chase, seen from the point of the hunter and of the hunted. And the deeper the hunter goes, the murkier it gets.

Describe any of the major figures, personalities and characters within the book.
Elso Bari is a Chicago restaurant owner, a connoisseur of fine food and wine, who does a little detective work on the side. Elso has a certain weakness for sexual adventure, and the woman he ends up hunting uses sex as a weapon. Secondary characters include two British investigators working for a security company, art dealers working a money-­‐ laundering scam, an ex-­‐CIA man who works as a “consultant,” the leader of a sect devoted to helping ex-­‐drug addicts recover, a poet with a past and a fondness for   heroin . . .

How did you come up with the idea for the book? How did it come to be?
I always liked how on detective series on television years ago, the investigator would run up against “minor” characters who didn't really have much to do with the plot but in just a brief scene seemed to suggest a whole fascinating life of their own. I wanted, among other things, to do that, to make each chapter rich enough to stand on its own. And I wanted to bring in different themes I'm interested in: Spanish cooking, the art world and its potential for money laundering, and how private corporations are taking over security and intelligence activities that used to be reserved to government agencies. And I wanted to use as settings not just the city of Barcelona, but also the surrounding areas, towns along the coast, developments up in the hills.

How did you come up with the title of the book?
I stole it actually. A guy I used to play pool with got up before dawn every day for years and took panoramic photos of the city from up in the hills. He marketed the pictures under the trademark Barcelona Skyline. There is a scene at the end of the book with a couple of the characters looking down at just that view of the city. I thought it sounded right.

A little tease from Barcelona Skyline:
When the knock on the door came, Nicholas Southgate was sitting on a not very comfortable chair in a suite on the seventh floor of the Hotel Majestic in Barcelona listening to Così fan tutte on his iPod. He glanced at his watch, breathed a sigh, and pulled out the earphones. He stood, took a quick glance at his reflection in the mirror, smoothed his jacket and tie, and then, satisfied, walked unhurriedly out of the auxiliary bedroom and across the entryway to the door. The woman had long, wavy, ash blonde hair—probably dyed, Southgate thought—and rather striking blue-green eyes. She wore a gray, belted cashmere coat, black medium heels, light gray nylons with a bluish tint, and a black dress that came down to mid-calf and clung to her figure without being obvious. She had on a good deal of makeup, as was to be expected, but Southgate thought she would do. Mr. McAllan didn’t like it when they looked too tarty. 

“So can I come in?” 

Southgate stepped aside, catching a whiff of expensive perfume as she brushed past him, and then closed the door. Southgate hated the smell of perfume. “You’re American, if I’m not mistaken,” he said. 

“Is that a problem?” 

“I was not aware that they were going to send an American.”

You wanted someone that speaks English,” the woman said. “For what I’m going to do, do you really think it makes any difference?” 

“Only that you might be expected to provide Mr. Smith with a certain amount of intelligent conversation,” Southgate replied, with a nasty hint of a smile. 

“He’ll want me to talk to him about Lacan?” she suggested. 

Southgate cleared his throat. “Lacan …” 

“French psychoanalyst,” she told him, “disciple of Freud.”

“Oh yes,” Southgate said, faking it. They were still in the entryway, just inside the door. The wallpaper was a fleur-de-lis pattern, light blue on a cream-colored background. There was one Victorian style chair with faux silk upholstery against the wall, a murky landscape in oils above it in an elaborate gilt frame. “No doubt the agency has briefed you on what you’re to do,” Southgate went on, “but if you will bear with me for just a moment, I’d rather like to go over it just once again. First of all, Mr. Smith does not, as a rule, like being touched.” 

“Oh, really?” 

“They didn’t tell you that?” Southgate snapped. 

“Maybe I forgot.” 

“It would be advisable for you not to forget these things, Miss …” 


“That’s your given name?” 

“You really think it’s my name?”

“No, I suppose not,” Southgate muttered. “You will be expected to follow Mr. Smith’s instructions to the letter. Is that clear?” 

“It’s clear.” 

“I trust they’ve advised you,” Southgate said, “that there may be some pain involved. I believe that was specified.” 

“I don’t want any marks,” she said. 

“Nothing that can’t be taken care of with a hot bath and a bit of body cream,” Southgate assured her, with a faintly unctuous smile. 


 “You can scream if you like—I believe he rather likes that as a matter of fact—but not too loudly. This is a hotel, after all.” 


“If you have any problem with this,” Southgate insisted, “it would be best if you tell me now.” 

“Listen, Mr. …” 

“My name is irrelevant.” 

“Listen, Mr. Irrelevant, I make my living doing this. I’ve met all kinds, and I know how to give them what they want. Just wait and see the happy smile on your boss’s face.” 

“I can assure you, miss, that in all my years of working for Mr. … Smith I have yet to see what you would call a happy smile on his face. Now if you’ll excuse me for a moment, I’ll advise him of your arrival.” 

Without bothering to wait for her reply, Southgate took a cell phone out of his jacket pocket and pushed a few buttons. “Excuse me, sir,” he said into the phone, “the lady is here. She’s American, I’m afraid, but she does not, however, seem to have that Midwestern twang that can set one’s teeth on edge … Yes, sir, very good, sir. Thank you, sir, thank you so much.” 

Buy it here!


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