The Figure in the Photograph
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Juan Camarón and his father travel across Cuba in the summer of 1898, photographing the island and its people as the war between Spain and the United States escalates. But tragedy strikes when Juan’s father is killed, and his last photos reveal a sinister truth to his final moments.
Travelling to Scotland, where he has inherited property, Juan immerses himself in the study of photography. When he pioneers a new device that inadvertently solves a crime, he is brought to the attention of local law enforcement, prompting a fateful invitation to help police hunt down a brutal serial killer plaguing the streets of Glasgow.
David Morley –
The protagonist of this murder mystery novel is Juan Camer'n, the son of a Cuban-born, Spanish photographer and a Scottish mother. The story begins in Cuba where Juan and his father are travelling to photograph the island's significant buildings which they have been commissioned to do by the Scottish publishing company, William Collins Sons & Co.
This, however, is the Cuba of the Spanish American war of 1898. The pair become caught up in the dangers and turmoil of the times and this leads to the death of Juan's father while photographing the Cathedral in the city of Santiago during its bombardment by American forces. Juan develops the last photographic plates exposed by his father before his death and learns from them that he had been murdered. It appears that the motive for the murder was that Juan's father had inherited the plantation that was being managed by the cousins that the pair were staying with while in Santiago. The cousins are themselves killed in the bombardment and Juan is able in time, despite the disruption, to claim and dispose of his inheritance before returning to Europe.
Juan travels to Scotland in order to finalise his father's last commission with his publisher, William Collins Sons & Co. While he is there he develops the his idea, gained from his examination of his father's last photographs, that it is possible to learn things from a series of photographs taken of the same view over time that an observer at the scene would not notice. He helps develop a camera for just this purpose and, while testing the machine, inadvertently produces a series of photographs of a crime scene. His detailed examination of these enables him to provide evidence to the police that leads to the solving of a murder. This success leads him to being called in by the police in Glasgow trying to track down a serial killer at work in the city's slums. There then follows a frantic effort to identify and detain the murderer.
This is an effective and well thought out murder mystery and the idea of using a photographic technique as part of a police investigation is an interesting one and allows the author to evoke a sense of Victorian Glasgow at the height of its industrial power and prestige and the scientific innovation and engineering skills that its success was built upon. The only real problem with this idea lies in the fact that the process and method that Juan has developed is inherently repetitive. The reader witnesses Juan setting up his camera, developing the photographic plates and analysing their contents several times over and there is also the problem of how Juan is to spend his time while he waits for the timed photographs to be taken over the course of the day.
Add to that the fact that we are introduced to Juan through the recounting of his experiences in Cuba and one can understand why for some readers this novel might seem a little slow in terms of the pace of the action. Personally, I did feel the plot could have moved faster in the middle of the novel but that it did repay perseverance and delivered a strong and surprising ending. The characters are engaging and well-drawn, the plot does hold the readers attention and the historical settings are evoked and described well. I enjoyed this novel very much and, as I suspect there are enough unresolved plot lines to suggest this may be the first of a series of novels, I look forward to reading of more of Juan's adventures in the future.
I would like to express my thanks to NetGalley and Allison & Busby for making a free download of this book available to me.